What the Crystal Ball Says about AskMe’s Future?
It was Indian film actress Kangana Ranaut who convinced online seller Sachin Gala to sign up for AskMe Bazaar.
Gala, a seller of home appliances brand Anjalimix was looking for new ecommerce portals to increase his online sales. After thorough research, he zeroed down on AskMe Bazaar, Mebelkart and few others.
“We saw their (AskMe) ad on TV featuring Kangana Ranaut. We thought ad like this may have good foot fall on AskMe bazaar. So we opted for it too,” he states while speaking to Indian Online Seller (IOS).
But within few months, he has stopped selling on the platform due to non-payment of dues.
“We started following up with AskMe in the month of June 2016 for the payment of products sold in May 2016. After following up with seller support for one week, we come to know that no one is answering properly about our issue and we decided to stop selling on AskMe. And by that time we come to know that AskMe is main investor in Mebelkart also, where we are facing payment issue as well,” shares Gala.
When asked about the total amount due, he discloses,
“We are following up with Mebelkart since 2 months and the total amount due in Mebelkart is apprx. Rs. 90,000. The amount of money due in AskMe Rs. 15000.”
The poor state of affairs
Other sellers too have similar stories to share. They all went looking for a new platform besides Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal and got stuck in a sticky mess. Tired of the high-handed behaviour of ecommerce biggies, the sellers assumed that a new entrant won’t disappoint them. But the search for greener pastures led them to an even barren land.
The amount of money to be paid by the marketplace to each affected seller ranges from Rs. 10000 to Rs. 40 lakhs!
Delayed payment is just the tip of the iceberg. IOS’s feature on AskMe Bazaar’s service standard listed down that poor seller panel, clueless support team, cumbersome returns process and lack of transparency makes it one of the least favourite marketplaces of sellers. Add to that list brand infringement, fake orders and shady services.
A seller SS (name withheld on request) says,
“We have started working with them since Sep 2015. In starting 3-4 months we were getting good orders, approximately 50 orders in a month. But later we found that most of the orders are fake orders as addresses were incomplete, phone numbers were wrong. Many orders like these were lost in transit.”
“Later we started processing orders by contacting the customers directly, we shipped order only once we got confirmed that the customer is genuine. Due to this practice, we refused to process many orders that were found to be fake. But after this we are getting very less orders from AskMe. Only 7-8 orders in a month and now only 4-5 in a month.”
Buyers and employees are seething as well
Madhura Naik, who bought furniture from Mebelkart, is yet to receive her order or the refund.
“I had placed an order worth Rs. 40,000 two months back on Mebelkart. I have paid all the advance. I didn’t get the delivery not have got even my money back. They called me up after 2 months as I created a lot of havoc. I will plan a legal action. I’ll take them to consumer court,” said Naik to IOS.
“We worked hard the entire year and we are let go without the pay we deserve.”
Senior Management underplaying the issue
IOS spoke to Ankit Jain, Co-Founder of AskMe Grocery and a minority shareholder of AskMe Group.
On being asked about the several pending seller payment & buyer refund cases, he was dismissive about the ‘several’ part and insists that there may be ‘few’ one-off cases.
“I have around 1500 sellers onboard with me in grocery. We are having a transaction base of around 10000 orders a day. And you can very well go through my page of AskMe grocery on Facebook and have a look if there are any seller complaints. Some complaint would be there but not at this magnitude,” says Jain.
His argument is that if there was a major issue within AskMe Group, then it would have reflected on its other businesses like grocery as well besides the marketplace AskMe Bazaar and online furniture arm Mebelkart.
“Grocery is an integral part. In fact Most of the GMV which is being driven in AskMe Group is through grocery itself. We are No 2 in India as an online grocery player then issue would have been grocery as well,” Jain pointed out while talking about the news circulating in the media about AskMe’s non-payment and other issues.
Are things getting back on track?
Jain assures that things are getting back on track.
“Now things are being sorted out. And in fact as we stand today, some payments have been made and in this week most of the payments will be cleared off. So our dispute (with Astro) is kind of being sorted with them and that’s the positive side we are moving right now,” he assures.
This is somewhat true as Mebelkart did release some pending payments.
Seller SS also said that the situation has improved a little bit. “Nowadays they are releasing payments monthly but that too after reminders. We don’t have much outstanding against AskMe now. Approximately we have dues of Rs 10,000 left,” revealed the seller. The sum due was Rs. 25,000 earlier, which she was trying to recover from the past 3 months.
Don’t lose faith and trust us, requests AskMe Group’s shareholder
IOS asked Sachin Gala – If and when AskMe clears all the pending payments, would he continue selling on that platform.
He replied, “No, we will not continue with AskMe Bazaar. As no one knows anything and they just keep passing time.We have many more things to do, instead of following up with AskMe bazaar.”
When we raised the point of sellers losing faith in AskMe, Ankit Jain expressed, “Don’t lose trust. We are here to stay. There were issues. We were grappling with issues. But now issues are being sorted. So I would humbly request, all the seller associations and the sellers that keep trust as they have done in the past. We are not a new company. We are the ones who owned Tata Yellow Pages; we have been there for decades. And just trust us and be with us for some more time as positive things are coming.”
The real test would begin after 31st July, when the management buyout is scheduled. As of now dues are being paid up by Astro, but after the buyout investors who will back the company will takeover.
Will AskMe Group get suitable investors before 31st July? What will happen if they won’t? And online sellers, whose statement would you rather believe – seller Sachin Gala or AskMe’s Ankit Jain?