In Part 1, Dipti Singla shared the story of how and why she got into online selling. The story of her perseverance, hard work, conviction and optimism is a true inspiration.
“I still feel like a newcomer… “
… Dipti shares with Piyush Goel.
Piyush Goel (PG): After the six months break, when did you decide this is a real business and you need to hire people?
Dipti Singla (DS): Immediately after that. Because when I took a break I knew that I would have to hire people to continue. I wouldn’t be able to manage packing, shipping and customer service all by myself. Actually, when I reached the saturation point I tried outsourcing also. They would do listings for me. I used to call a packaging boy to come and pack the items. But that didn’t work out for me.
So when I re-started the business, I took a very small office outside. Initially I had only one employee but the number has increased since then. Earlier I followed stock-up and sell model but now I don’t stock anything as I am completely into drop shipment.
PG: How many employees now?
DS: 10-12 people.
PG: What is the break-up- how many people are listing, how many are contacting suppliers, processing orders, packaging?
DS: There are 2 people for upload and update, 2 for order processing, 3 field boys, 1 handling accounts, 2 for Business Development ( for meeting and getting new suppliers, relationship management with suppliers etc).Then Harish (husband) and myself.
PG: What has been your mantra for growth all these years?
DS: I don’t know, probably the line in Gita which says “ Karam kiye jaa, phal ki ichcha mat kar”. That is what has worked for me. I have been honest and hardworking all along. Brands that were working with me when I started with dropship model two years back are still there with me. We add value to them also as maintaining relationships is important.
Also, multitasking and persistence required for any other successful business are required for online selling too.
PG: According to you, which ecommerce portal in India is best in terms of experience for sellers?
DS: Whatever I tell you today, my opinion will change maybe 10-15 days down the line because now everybody has started paying attention to sellers. Flipkart is one portal which started seller support system with a call centre just for sellers.
Usually any eBay seller will be of the opinion that eBay is very biased towards customers. But eBay is also becoming somewhat seller friendly now. Tradus never had a seller support number but now even tradus has seller support number and so does Snapdeal. Almost all portals are moving in that direction now. On the whole, Flipkart is ahead of others be it for seller support in terms of payment, reply to queries etc. We never faced issues with Snapdeal either.
PG: You have laid a solid foundation for your business so far. What do you think would be your challenges in the future?
DS: Industry is still growing. We don’t know what will or can happen or which website will survive in this scenario and which will not. New websites will obviously come in the scene so this industry as such has to grow for which customers have to become more online friendly.
New portals that have come in these days have increased customer expectations with services like ‘30 days no questions asked return policy’. Why 30 days? If you get something from market, you don’t return after 30 days. Even grocery stores provide 7 days return only. So why spoil a customer by saying 30 days? Customer will use and send it back. There is a party, buy the item, wear it and return!
Also, people buy because of the deals for which prices have to be cut down on. There has to be a balance between customer expectations and what sellers can fulfill. Instead of everyone wanting a piece of one customer pie, why not increase the size of the pie, ie. Customer base?
PG: So how do you think that can be done?
DS: Awareness. Customer awareness is important so that when a customer is buying online he has trust in the website or online purchasing as such. Good customer service will help to gain customer trust. Today some websites sell items worth Rs 100 for Rs 500. That’s not a good practice as it spoils the market, and reputation of the websites as well as the sellers themselves. Its better to sell at a genuine price so that we can create a market instead of spoiling the market.
PG: I think marketplaces want to make customers get used to transacting online and that’s why they are probably cutting down on costs so that more people will do online transactions. Eventually crisis will be there and at some point they will stop reducing prices, but by that time they would hope that customers are more online friendly and educated.
DS: I find that most customers buy online because of the deals. eBay distributes coupons to new customers. People create 20 IDs, receive the coupons on each ID, use them and then create 20 more ids. That’s what online customers are doing these days. So its not about the number of transactions but the value of transactions. If your average selling price is very low, number of transactions will not make any profit for you as a seller neither will it create any value for you.
Its fine that to give freebies to new customers but there should be a limit to stabilise the market. Although very gradual, the market has started stabilizing now. Jabong and Flipkart are selling at MRP and even those items sell. This shows that customers will buy as long as you give them quality and value. This is a big change from some time back when only deals and discounts could ensure sales of products.
PG: Do you plan to have your own website also along with these channels?
DS: We already have a catalogue website. We are planning to have an ecommerce website also. Withg our own ecommerce website we can design and upload products in a very short period of time. But the initial setup, then to have it up and running plus traffic generation will take time.
PG: You have experienced that in earlier days.
DS: Having your own website is more profitable. Transaction charges are lesser and you don’t have to share commission with other websites.
PG: Logistics could be an issue ..
DS: It could be an issue, but more than logistics, I think traffic generation would be an issue.
PG: You mentioned that since you started logistics have improved. Have you seen an improvement in the payment side also? Checkout processes and payment processes like ebay’s ebay guarantee, snapdeal’s trustpay, flipkart has payzippy.
DS: Snapdeal is improving a lot on the systems, be it payments or operations. Earlier we used to get payments twice a month. Now we get payments 4 times a month. They have also improved their seller support team. Now there are numbers and we know whom to call if there is a problem. Earlier, getting payment details was a big headache. We didn’t know whom to call. Even if we mailed them, they would take their own sweet time to send payment details. Now we don’t even have to call them. They send us payment details themselves. In that sense payment process has improved a lot. All the portals have improved in terms of efforts to meet customer expectations and customer service.
PG: You have been in this industry for a long time. What changes do you see in this ecommerce industry?
DS: When a new website comes into the market, it comes with a USP and keeps introducing new services. When Flipkart introduced next day delivery, accordingly everybody reduced their shipping time, including eBay. Myntra came in with 30 days no questions asked return policy, telling customer to return it if you don’t like it.. So everyone started working on that account.
When a new big player comes into the market everybody feels the heat. They also try to change their policies somewhat aligned to the new website’s policies. If flipkart can deliver the very next day why can’t we do the same? If they can provide 30 day return policy why don’t we do the same? Its business after all and if your competitor is giving extra advantage to customers you would also want to give extra advantage, either the same thing or something equivalent. Everyone is more customer centric and maybe that’s required to develop the market as customers are shopping online more now.
PG: How do you think Indian online seller community is shaping up and how is it different from UK, US etc?
DS: Problems and issues in India would be very different from problems in UK, US etc. Although market is still growing and there is so much competition, USP or differentiating factor is very predominant in India.
It is good to have a seller community like IndianOnlineSeller (IOS), a platform where we can share issues, experiences and tools that can ease online selling experience. For example, I know about Browntape, which helps sellers with inventory and order management when selling on multiple channels. Through IOS, I can share with others to help them in their selling experience. Sellers will find it useful and want to come on the platform. Like an industry union, merchants association, labour association etc. helps associated members, seller community can help online sellers.
PG: Any advice to new entrepreneurs?
DS: You should ask this question to sellers who have been in industry for 20-25 years. I am still struggling and mine is still a start-up.
PG: You are as old as the industry itself.
DS: I am still very far-off, I don’t think I would be the right authority to make a comment on this or give advice.
PG: People who are starting out, what would you want to tell them based on your experience?
DS: Industry is good, and there is potential. But this is serious business and overnight success will probably not happen. Just like any other business you have to put in time and effort and understand the dynamics of the industry. I have seen people think online selling is easy but its not that easy and it has pros and cons. So if you are coming only for timepass, I would say please do your homework before coming to this line.
PG: Any message you want to send to marketplaces?
DS: I’m on the receiving end most times, I like to listen to people talking. I still feel I am a newcomer in this industry.
PG: Maybe in terms of feedback to marketplaces or something they can improve on.
DS: Though marketplaces are waking up to it, they should recognize that sellers are as important as customers. They cannot keep ignoring sellers to satisfy customers. To some extent, penalties are good if they are justifiable. But it should not be at the cost of lack of attention towards sellers. Our feedback should be taken and considered about what’s happening right and what is not working for us. Sometimes I feel I need to communicate more with websites like eBay does. eBay conducts sellers meets and invites sellers from different categories to understand their problems, take their feedback etc. We also get to learn so many things from these meets. Why don’t other websites have these kind of meets too? Need not be like eBay but on similar lines. Most times we talk only to category managers and we don’t know anyone else in the company. We would like to know and understand the website like their structure, who is behind the scenes, what is their strategy etc. They can also learn a lot from direct feedback from sellers.