Click to Buy seminar organised by IAMAI and agencyfaqs! on Thursday in Chennai, the definition of online retailing itself was a matter of interest to the panellists. Is an online retailer an Internet company or a retail company? In the first session, 'Online Retail - The Future in Indian Scenario', moderated by J Murugavel, chairman of IAMAI and founder and CEO of the BharatMatrimony Group, Sankarson Banerjee, CEO of Future Bazaar, said, "Internet retailing is not really about the Internet." He suggested that online retailing was only one of the competing formats wherein a customer can pick up a product.
Also on the panel, V Sivaramakrishnan, president, Portals, Sify Ltd, said that shopping is not the key driver of e-commerce in India. It comes after banking, travel and classifieds. "We have to learn from the other three," he said, citing the infrastructure, security and local language barriers to online retail in India. However, he did not see offline retail as a threat to online, rather, as one of its drivers. "If there is a compelling proposition online, it will drive customers, just like offline stores."
In fact, Subhiksha is planning to venture into online grocery sales wherein customers will have the flexibility of placing and paying for their orders online and picking up the groceries from the outlet. This service will also be extended to mobile, said Khattar, and should be in place in two months' time.
Among the other panellists in the session, Dinesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of Indiamart, emphasised the need to understand the cultural sensitivities of India. He suggested that travel tickets and ringtones have been the drivers of e-commerce in India and that there are hidden opportunities in B2B trading and service retailing (such as education, financial and legal services) online.
In the second session, 'Technology and Beyond', the discussion centred on how the right technological solutions are essential for an online retailer. Moderator K Vaitheeswaran, COO of India Plaza, set the ball rolling with the question, "Is it the millions of books that make Amazon a cool company, or is it the technology behind it?"
Priyadarshi Mohapatra, head, retail practice, Sun Microsystems, said we must refrain from looking at online retail as an isolated business model and ensure that the technology used is flexible enough to meet the needs of the company. Other panelists, including Rajesh Nahar of Chennai Bazaar, Chetan Uberoy of MakeMyTrip and Uday Sodhi of Rediff.com, illustrated the various features that could be added to a site to prevent the customer from dropping off the purchase, including recommended items, price comparison and one-click checkout.
The concept of 'social shopping' was also touched upon in the session and the possibility of networking-based shopping sites was raised. Uberoy of Rediff.com cited the examples of social shopping sites such as Shoppero, Kaboodle and Style Hive, which can also be successful business models.
In the third session on 'Online Payments', one of the lesser virtues of e-commerce in India was discussed yet again with the same conclusion - there's a lot to be done. Aditya Menon, chief information and technology officer, Obopay, pointed out that 88 per cent of retail transactions still happen in cash. In fact, Obopay will soon launch its mobile payments and funds transfer service in India, towards which end it is tying up with banks. Probir Roy, co-founder and board director of Paymate, was understandably enthusiastic about mobile payments. "The face of the Internet will be the mobile. We will skip the (desktop) Internet revolution," he declared.
At the end of the first three sessions, many questions lingered, the role of technology, for one. Can a small retailer make it on grit alone or is a large investment in technological processes required? In other words, is an online retailer a technology company first or your friendly neighbourhood retailer on the Net? Though the discussions were engaging, no clear answer emerged.