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Race to eCommerce – Why everyone wants to sell online?

In recent years India has seen a boom in B2C eCommerce as these online shops are now offering free delivery, massive discounts, all kinds of attractive offers, exchange schemes etc., adding a sense of trust for the customers.

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India has a vast retail market. It is mainly divided into the unorganised sector which has Mom and Pop stores in every neighbourhood and a continuously evolving organised sector which has the retail chains and online shopping sites. Generally speaking, we Indians have a habit and in fact, it is a part of our culture, to go out for shopping and physically see and touch the product, and most importantly negotiate, before we buy the product. 

In recent years India has seen a boom in B2C eCommerce as these online shops are now offering free delivery, massive discounts, all kinds of attractive offers, exchange schemes etc., adding a sense of trust for the customers. Customers in India now have less hesitation in buying things online, as the earlier apprehension around online shopping is not there anymore. We also now have a large presence of digital natives amongst the purchasing demography, and they truly think of eCommerce as naturally as buying a product from a physical store. The Indian eCommerce market is undergoing a revolutionary change because of all these factors.

By the end of 2019, our world saw an outbreak of a pandemic so bad so devastating that the entire globe went under lockdown in the next few months. The year 2020 started with the spread of virus turning into a global pandemic by the month of March. First the aviation industry followed by tourism went down and then the entire global economy came to a standstill. In India a complete nationwide lockdown was enforced in the last week of March. Shops, schools and colleges, offices, restaurants, malls all pulled down their shutters which led to a panic amongst the citizens. And because social distancing was enforced, people refrained from getting out of the house and looked for an alternative to buy necessities. People had to draw a line between want and need.

The businesses that had only made small beginnings on their e-commerce journey, or others that had not yet started out into e-commerce, all accelerated their efforts to be impactful via e-commerce. Since it was clear that regular physical stores would take a while to reopen with regular working hours, it made total sense for businesses to step into the e-commerce space and enable sales as best as they could. 

Ordinarily, setting up a full-fledged e-commerce site and supporting it with necessary logistics can take several weeks of work. But because there was a sense of urgency involved, many businesses found quicker ways to sell online, even if there were some compromises involved. If not through their own website, many have found a way to sell via marketplaces. And a few have even embraced what would be termed as social commerce – selling via Facebook front-end, or even using WhatsApp. 

By that time Reliance Industries made an announcement which would change our shopping culture forever. Reliance Industries launched JIO Mart (currently in Beta phase) allowing every mom and pop store to sell its products on this platform. This revolutionised  the entire shopping mindset of the country. Many other brands saw lockdown and this growing trend as an opportunity and came up with multiple solutions of online shopping, and selling products online. In Maharashtra liquor stores started delivering liquor online, a brand named Living Liquidz has created a platform where one can literally shop liquor online which was never seen before. Maruti Suzuki India shared that every second car sold by them over the months of June-July was sold online. Significantly large proportions of stock market sales and purchases are also happening online now.

Irrespective of how and when the pandemic ends, some of these changes are irreversible.  If a traditional business is considering to “wait it out” before the “old normal” returns, the reality is that the old normal will NOT return. Some changes are for good and will stay with us. And that, indeed, is the new normal. 

Reinventing rapidly is the way forward for all the traditional brands. 

The answer does not lie in knee-jerk, isolated e-commerce plays. What is essential to do at this point in time is to embrace the entire gamut of change that can be loosely termed as “digital transformation.” High-level digital transformation is about imbibing a true digital culture across all aspects of the business.

The need of an hour is just not setting up the eCommerce front end, one also needs to consider digital marketing, marketing automation, investing into a data management platform (DMP) and perhaps a customer data platform (CDP), and investing in a rugged, state-of-the-art website and other digital touchpoints – with a key focus on user experience (UX).

To meet the customer demands now one has to go to the customer and not vice versa, it is a race which has started since the pandemic and already many players have joined the race, in near future we shall see many players across multiple industries joining this eCommerce race and try to mark their place in it.

There must be significant fundamental shift in the ways that traditional organizations both deliver value and drive revenues in this New Normal digital age!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Sanjay Mehta

The author is Joint CEO of Mirum India

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