With the advent of online retail, Delhi-based Raj Kumar Tarani’s offline retail brand of Airnet (selling mobile accessories) had to be shut down owing to heavy losses and a failed partnership. Seeing the growing popularity of online marketplaces like Flipkart and Snapdeal, the 52-year-old decided to take the plunge into ecommerce with the same product line in October 2012.
And the rest, as is said, is history. Is it? Let’s find out from Raj himself in this IOS exclusive interview, where he lets us into his ecommerce journey. In addition to his own online store Airnetindia.in and recently launched global operations with Amazon US and Amazon UK, his online business is spread across these platforms:
We started selling mobile accessories like charger, battery, earphones, covers etc. on Snapdeal. Due to our offline business, we had our procurement sorted already – we have been importing directly from China.
Being an offline seller previously, we were experienced in dealing with distributors to whom we used to dispatch goods in bulk on the lines of Rs 4-5 lakhs per shipment. But here we were required to send out single units, which was a huge cultural change for the team. We had to change our orientation focus on customers and his needs. More so as he wouldn’t be able to see or feel the product. He would be dependent on our product descriptions and we understood this.
For example, when we signed up on Snapdeal, we faced issues in order processing, inventory updation etc. Slowly we tuned ourselves to treat each order as if it is an order from a regional distributor for an entire month (as we were used to the style of B2B operations.
Best ecommerce portal in India, from a customer as well as seller point of view
- Professionally, I would vouch for Amazon.
- Emotionally, I have a liking for Snapdeal, as we started our journey here.
Challenges in the future
I think marketplaces are going to be under tremendous pressure to deliver in the bottom line in the next 12-18 months. It would affect those portals, which have laid emphasis on building loyalty of partners (Sellers) and customers, and have weak processes. This in turn would put pressure on sellers (the easiest target) and would lead to unhealthy competition.
Also, running and maintaining own store requires deep pockets. It is not easy to find employees with a sense of ownership and passion to drive it. Attracting IIMs and IITs is a distant vision.
Current product line
Insecurity about online business
The only thing that bothers and demotivates us is the faceless transaction. Most times, you are left dealing with marketplaces executives who don’t know you or your background, or your principles. Marketplaces are definitely hi-tech, but they need to be hi-touch as well for us to feel more confident.
We are left to interact with entry-level executives who carry limited authority inside the organization and hence limited capability to resolve issues that are a natural outcome of day-to-day business. Marketplaces should have regular interactions with sellers (at least the key sellers) to understand their operations and difficulties, and offer resolutions accordingly.
Staying ahead of competition
Focus on quality and offering value-for-money proposition
Regular and continued new product offerings
Tips to increase online sales
Focus on the following:
- Timely & correct dispatches.
- Availability of high-selling SKUs.
- Ratings, which measures your performance based on various factors.
Honest opinion about ecommerce
It’s been a rewarding experience but it has definitely brought the grey hair a little faster! It keeps you on tenterhooks and is of a sucking nature.
The drawbacks are many:
Lot of documentation and formalities
Responsibility of payment recovery lies on you. So you have to be very active on reconciliations with portals.
The online portals (for their own convenience) make you do a lot of additional work like deducting and depositing TDS on commission paid to them, but later recover it from you after you submit Form 16A.
We use professional photographers for ensuring correct and detailed picturisation of our product offerings. Most of the portals offer very elaborate catalogue template, which helps capture salient features properly.
Global vs Indian customer
Global customer is very matured and has adopted the “Click” mode rather than “touch & feel” mode.
Indian customer, on the other hand, is still in transition phase generally suspicious about getting a fair deal. Currently they are highly pampered with “No questions asked return policy” and heavy discounting to attract them (rather addict them to online sales). They prefer COD mode to be 200% sure that their money is safe.
This has disadvantages as a lot of customers abuse the privileges given to them. A buyer orders an expensive product but declines accepting when the product is delivered. Sometimes it is returned after being used for an occasion like a wedding!
Obviously this causes discomfort and nuisance for sellers, financially. We have to be extra careful and have deployed resources only to receive returns and related reconciliation and claims.
Advice to new sellers
Be onboard at your own risk! On a serious note, I would implore all sellers to be online only if you are serious about it. It cannot be a “me too” business.
Give up or hang on?
I have felt like giving up many times mainly because you don’t get as much respect from an online portal as an offline partner. We are part of portals where we maintain stock of Rs 50-75 lakhs in their warehouses with a monthly GMV of Rs 75-100 lakhs. Yet no senior manager is accessible to us. We are required to deal with “Entry level executives” who neither have the training nor the experience to deal with experienced retailers like us. They don’t have any loyalty or authority to help us through our problems.
It is very humiliating sometimes when you feel that you have no voice and no muscles to get your rights attended to. The current policies as well as orientation of online portals are heavily skewed towards customer, at the cost of seller many times.