Dipti Singla, happily married with 2 daughters (aged 5 and 12), found her true calling in online selling. Having previously worked in the corporate sector and as a lecturer in management institutes, ecommerce was a welcome change from the hassles of long distance commute in Mumbai. Setting aside her PhD aspirations, she started out on her own and today is the proud owner of a successful ecommerce business, REIT India, selling fashion and lifestyle products on almost all online marketplaces in India.
“There has been no looking back.”
Piyush Goel (PG): When and how did it all begin?
Dipti Singla (DS): Began around 7 yrs back.
PG: What were you doing before that? How did you get introduced to online selling?
DS: I had worked as a lecturer in some management institutes, following which I started working in the corporate sector. When we (husband, 5 year old daughter and me) decided to shift to Mumbai, I thought of pursuing PhD. But I got a corporate job offer in Mumbai and I decided to take that up.
Once I started, I felt the daily long commute to and from work was becoming a headache and I was not enjoying it. Also, I wanted to be at home more and spend time with family. So I decided to start something small on my own to have the flexibility and convenience of working from home.
I started with a website selling greetings cards and moved to gifts category later on. Eventually, I extended to other channels like eBay and NGpay (a mobile application for selling). Slowly, I started using other channels too and moved into fashion and lifestyle category.
PG: Were you introduced to these channels- eBay, NGpay and homeshop 18-by someone or did you find out yourself?
DS: I found out myself. eBay was the easiest to join. I went through all those help pages and I called up customer care whenever I came across a problem. In time they assigned an account manager. So that’s how I stared, slow, and increased my sales channels gradually.
PG: So did you see an eBay ad or magazine ad or something?
DS: Actually, I don’t remember now how I came to know. There are so many sources when you are online.
PG: But NGpay is a very unusual kind of channel. Not many people know about it or try it out.
DS: NGpay had just started at that time and they had a tie-up with HDFC bank. So whenever I used HDFC ATM, NGpay messages were there on their slips and receipts. So I got curious and after checking their website I sent them a message. They were interested in my products and I was able to start selling on NGpay.
It was a very good concept and still is. Now eBay, homeshop18 and others have their own mobile app. 5-6 years back, these websites either did not have their own apps or they were not known or popular. Only NGpay was there and its reach has been into tier 2 and 3 cities also since then due to which I was getting good order from NGpay.
I am still there on NGpay although we have delisted 95% of our products from there when I moved to new product categories. So the later stores are not there but my old store is still there, though there are not many products on it. I have started listing branded products also on NGpay now to try and reinvent the old relationship.
PG: Where did you source your initial products from?
DS: I had a tie-up with Archies gifts and greetings. I used to list their products on our website. Archies doesn’t sell all their product range on their website. But I had almost all their products on my website including greeting cards.
PG: How did you get data? Did you click pictures of the cards or they gave files?
DS: We got them scanned. Actually in India, the trend of gifting cards is still not that big. I had a very good NRI clientele. Then I started personalized greeting cards collection for corporate clients only. I got very good response from corporate clients as I used to give helpful services like printing the name of each customer on the card- front or inside, address labels on the envelopes, logo and photo of sender.
PG: Did you reach a dead-end or bottle neck somewhere when you decided to switch to other products?
DS: I moved to gifting and then to fashion.
PG: So it was a natural progression.
DS: Yes, I never thought or planned to move from one category to another, rather the business moved itself. Sourcing was good, market was good, supply was good; hence everything just clicked.
PG: You started with your own website first and then moved to other channels. Were there any challenges you faced with your own website? Is that why you moved to eBay?
DS: With my own website, website maintenance was a slightly complicated process. I had to hire someone for maintaining website or for changing quotes or things like that.It was becoming a big headache as I had to be dependent on someone to change even a small thing. Also I started receiving more orders from other channels than from my own website.
Traffic generation to website is again very time consuming and a costly process. I needed additional expertise for search engine optimization and marketing, which are ongoing. Whereas, with sites like eBay and homeshop18, I didn’t have to work on these externally as there was customer traffic to these sites anyway. So eventually I started selling through these channels only.
PG: What were the difficulties you had to overcome in the starting days when you decided to sell online?
DS: Not much as I was going slow and steady. Earlier logistics was a big problem as there were only 5-6 courier companies then with their nakhras and inefficiencies. Now that is sorted as most marketplaces have their own logistic services. Also there are so many courier companies, some of them serving only ecommerce.
PG: What kind of problems were there earlier?
DS: Earlier, logistics was our responsibility and problems varied from damaged cases to delayed deliveries. Loss of items was also common- they were neither delivered to customers nor given back to us. Now with marketplaces and companies handling own logistics, it is their responsibility to ensure smooth operations.
PG: When you were selling on eBay did your account get suspended a few times or anything like that?
DS: Those cases have always been there and probably always will, so it is a cause of concern for every seller. They have delisted some of my products and I have faced selling restrictions too but they have never closed down my account. When they delisted it was without giving any reason. Inspite of asking repeatedly for the reason, atleast so I could be careful in future, they would just send a link asking me to visit those help pages .
PG: At any point did you feel like giving up or thoughts like enough of online selling, there is too much trouble etc.
DS: Initially when I started I was working from home only. But I couldn’t call employees home and ask them to work from there. I was the only one handling sales and operations on eBay and website. I was the only one handling everything. So I reached a saturation point wherein I thought I will either close it down or move forward for growth.
I decided to take a six months break to explore other business opportunities. I thought of options like franchising or opening a school or a restaurant and similar. Just before Diwali, I decided to stop and realized that I wanted to get back into online selling. Diwali to Valentines day is the best period for sellers so the time also seemed apt for my re-entry into online selling.
After that I did a 3 month course for women entrepreneurs run by ISB in association with Goldman Sachs. After completing the course, there has been no looking back.
Watch this space for part 2 of Dipti Singla’s story.