The key role of marketing is to communicate the value of a product to its potential consumer. With the 21st century’s holistic approach, the motto is ‘Everything matters in marketing.’ Relationship marketing is a part of this holistic approach to marketing a brand or a product, which focuses on the needs of the customer and fulfilling the same.
Online sellers have taken their cue. They want to do everything they can to ensure customer satisfaction and trust in the course of product purchase and delivery. Sellers have come up with different tactics such as virtual trial-rooms, virtual wardrobe, 3D virtual room decorator, 14-day returns, whatsapp customer service, etc., to make online shopping easier and more trustworthy. To add to this list, several online sellers have now started to add the Try and Buy option to their products.
Started by a few niche online retailers such as Lenskart, Bluestone, Caratlane, UrbanLadder, etc., Try and Buy is a sales model which allows the consumer to try a product before purchasing it.
Upon trial if the customer is not satisfied with the quality of the product, the product can always be returned. Try and Buy has also been expanded into clothing and other lifestyle products through online marketplaces such as Yebhi.com and Myntra.com (specific regions) in India.
In spite of its efficiency and wide market, people are still sceptical about shopping online. Touching and feeling a product has become a major influence in the purchase of a product, especially clothes, jewellery and shoes. No matter how accurately one chooses his/her size whilst shopping online, the delivered product can always be a misfit. This is one area where offline shopping scores over online shopping. Offline shopping offers the retail experience which online shopping doesn’t. From entering an air-conditioned showroom, being assisted by sales persons and heading to the trail room over and over again, just to find that one perfect dress, offline retail has it all. Of course, the elaborate discounts and membership benefits are only available to the online shopper.
Manmohan Agarwal, chief executive officer, Yebhi.com, said, “Online shopping is fast becoming a part of the mainstream retail. Indian consumer demands complete satisfaction before paying for their purchase – online or offline. We are happy to announce our unique Try-and-Buy feature which offers an opportunity to first try and then buy. We have launched this keeping in mind strong consumer insight around inability to touch and feel while buying online. At Yebhi, we are determined to be the category leader by defining the customer winning propositions.”
Judging the lack of the retail experience in online shopping, it is evident that online marketplaces and sellers are doing their best to overcome this bridge.
In India, the trend of Try and Buy has been adopted by both niche online sellers and a few other non-segmented large sellers.
“Try Eye-Frames at Home: We don’t stock just 10 or 20 Try Eye-Frames at Home styles–we stock 1896 of them!” So goes a caption on Lenskart’s online shop. According to their website, their ‘Try Eye-Frames at Home’ has been rated 4.3 out of 5 by 189 reviewers. Around 1896 frames are available for the Try-and-Buy service and range between Rs. 200 and Rs. 5285. Apart from this service, Lenskart also offers a ‘Home Eye Test’ in 11 cities for a charge of Rs.50.
Bluestone, the successful online portal has launched several customer oriented experiences including free shipping on returns and ‘Home Try On’ for customers where the customer can book an appointment to try out a few products from Bluestone. This service is currently available in 16 cities in India.
CaratLane, a close competing rival of Bluestone in the online jewellery market of India offers a small collection of jewellery (around 500 products) which can be tried at home. Customers can choose 5 pieces of jewellery from its collection, book an appointment and try it on in the comforts of their homes. In spite of the smaller inventory available for the Try-and-Buy service when compared to competitor Bluestone, this service is available in 22 cities across India.
UrbanLadder, a leading online furniture sales portal has opened to a ‘Home Trial’ service where a customer can queue up to 3 single-seater sofas for trial in the space of their home. This service is charged at Rs.299 and also includes a catalogue of swatches of different types and colours of fabric which the customer can inspect alongside the décor of the house for suitability. The service charge is redeemable upon purchase of a piece of furniture. Except for sofa beds, the service is available on all other categories such as fabric, wooden, leather, and leatherette sofas.
Myntra.com is not a niche retailer but has been bold enough to institute the Try and Buy concept in specific regions. Since Myntra works with its own logistics, it is expected to do better than other large scale marketplaces who find it difficult to stock up on the large scale inventory for the Try-and-Buy model to work.
Speaking about Myntra’s current and future plans, Ashutosh Lawania, the company’s Co-Founder & Head Sales said, “We as of now are just offering try n buy, in specific regions, where we have our own logistics team. We are soon coming up with a tool which will enable the consumer to create his/her virtual mannequin by giving their vital stats. They then can try the product on that mannequin.”
Yebhi.com is another online marketplace which features textiles, shoes and other lifestyle products. In a campaign launched recently to promote both Yebhi.com and its Try and Buy, we hear, “Go to Yebhi.com. Pick what you like, try those items at home in different sizes, colours and styles. Try then buy.”
Talking about Yebhi’s new approach, cofounder and chief executive Peyush Bansal said, “Home trials work for specialised categories where people want to be sure they make a right decision. We have seen that about 60-70% of the users end up placing an order. The conversion rates are higher and results in half of regular return rates of 7% for items ordered online.”
In most of the above examples, except for Myntra.com and Yebhi.com we see that Try and Buy has been instituted by niche sellers whose focus is on a particular segment. Lenskart’s focus is on eye-wear whereas Bluestone and Caratlane focus on jewellery. UrbanLadder focuses on furniture. It is easier for such niche sellers to provoke a necessity for Try and Buy whereas a larger online marketplace with regular lifestyle products offering Try and Buy could be taken for granted given the prevalence of physical stores selling similar lifestyle products.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that major online marketplaces such as Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal do not offer Try and Buy services, given the difficulty to stock up on inventory in all cities of outreach.
“Try and Buy policies will work for specialised companies that deal in high-value and high-margin products to lock in the customer. The cost of exchange can be recovered from the high margins in these products,” said Seema Gupta, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. “Inventory players have better quality control and hence Try and Buy is likely to be more successful in them than a marketplace.”
If more sellers and marketplaces open their products to Try and Buy, the customer can no longer give a reason as to why they will not look at online shopping in a positive manner.
Manmohan Agarwal, chief executive officer, Yebhi.com, said, “The customer has responded with great delight. She feels more empowered, more in control of the purchases, since she gets to see, touch and even try on what she has ordered. It is the wave of the future and it increases the base of people willing to shop online.”
Try and Buy can reduce the cost of shipping returns that is incurred on the sellers and marketplaces, given that there is a high number of rejections and returns in every segment.
Try and Buy can be used as a powerful tool for feedback from customers. Also, constant monitoring and analysis of the products that are tried and rejected can improve a seller’s understanding of product demand. After all, the seller’s revenue depends on the sales quotient and demand of his products.
The main disadvantage of ‘Try-and-Buy’ is the cost that marketplaces and sellers incur for this service. Even though some sellers like UrbanLadder charge for their try-and-buy services, the cost and labour of shipping 3 single-seater sofas in a metropolitan city (in the case of UrbanLadder) is going to be more than the price of the service which is charged at Rs. 299.
Also, in the times when delivery services have become very pricey, it seems that Try and Buy will flourish better with in-house logistics services.
Another disadvantage of ‘Try and Buy’ is the necessity to stock up on inventory in all the cities where this service is provided to customers. Even if the catalogue of Try and Buy products is very small – in the case of Caratlane – the necessity to stock these in all 22 cities is cost-incurring.
The reach of Try and Buy may expand in the coming years but given that this service is offered only in major cities where physical stores are available, the limitations of Try and Buy in terms of the number of products that can be tried on, etc., can make Try and Buy an unnecessary concept to many. Lenskart reports that 8% of 150,000 shipments a month is purchase after Try and Buy. Even though this is a high percentage for a new concept, whether this is worth the commute and time is difficult to judge. Especially given that Lenskart’s Try and Buy products begin at a low cost of Rs. 200.
Warby Parker, an American brand of prescription eye glasses with a limited number of physical stores operates the ‘Try-and-Buy’ option through its online store. It also has a virtual try and buy section where the frames are superimposed on a picture of the individual uploaded by the customer. This works effectively in the niche segment of eye glasses. Customers who are satisfied upon trying glasses on through this virtual method use the physical Try and Buy where samples are brought to their residence as a second filter before choosing eyewear.
True & Co., an American online lingerie retailer used an online quiz to analyse the various issues women who tried out bras at physical trial rooms across America faced. The quiz also incorporated other questions about bras in general and what women experienced by way of discomfort. Through this quiz, True & Co. identified 6000 body types and stocked up on products to fulfil all the expectations of these varied body types. After taking the ‘Fit Quiz’ online, customers choose five bras which are sent to their homes. They can take up to five days to try and buy amongst these five bras. This Try and Buy model works very well for them because after every trial, if a purchase is made, they update their database with a particular fit of bra for a particular body type. This comes in handy for future customers and also if existing customers want to shop again. Through these methods, they’ve built a constant membership base.
Another equally innovative but a sales model slightly different from Try and Buy is employed by Rocksbox, an American online jewellery store targeted at women. For a membership of $19/month, a customer can become a ‘Shine Insider’ after which the customer can choose three pieces of jewellery. The customer can keep these pieces for as long as they want and then later exchange them for 3 other pieces.
TrunkClub which is targeted at men, assists them in creating a wardrobe for themselves. There are personal stylists who work with the customer online and assemble a set of products which may be suited to the style of the customer. This is then sent in a trunk to the customer. The customer can try and buy as he wishes. The customer will not be charged for the products as long as they are returned within ten days.
When online shopping was first introduced, it was targeted at the upper class elite with the sales of books and a few lifestyle products. Now, the internet has opened itself to sales of almost everything. From health products to organic food products, there is nothing that hasn’t been put up for sale on the internet.
Perhaps the future of Try and Buy is yet to come. It will take a few decades before online marketplaces and sellers can truly master the supply chain of Try and Buy. That said, there is no doubt that this is the right time for sellers and marketplaces to introduce this concept, given that they manage to deliver excellent service.