Anirban Roy Choudhury

"Niche players will dominate the industry": Shivani Suri, eBay India

Is the e-commerce sector still driven by deals and discounts? How will GST affect the category? Which regions show maximum potential for growth? Over to eBay India's Shivani Suri.

Edited Excerpts

How is the role of the CMO/marketing head changing?

The focus is on combining technology and data. With evolving consumer behavior and media consumption patterns, the journey of the shopper prior to buying a product online is of immense importance to marketers.

Content marketing has also become important. There's a shift from channel marketing to integrated consumer marketing, driven by an understanding of consumer behavior and personalisation.

Name one recent 'OMG' moment, i.e. an intense professional challenge that you faced. How did you tide over it?

We launched our TVC #ThingsDontJudge after a gap of three years, last September. It was very well received and got great traction. It led to a significant increase in eBay India’s first-time consumers. The OMG moment was being able to do something which was not just marketing spiel. We were able to initiate a much larger societal dialogue with an underlying theme of empowerment. But the actual OMG moment for us was when the campaign was received with such great enthusiasm by the masses.

In what way has the quality/quantity of the information/data that you receive about your consumers changed over the past 12 months? Has this change led to any tangible impact on your marketing decisions?

In today's times, marketing is completely data-driven. There is a heavy focus on personalisation as every shopper's online journey and consumption patterns are different. Focus is shifting towards consumer lifecycle management.

What is your lead medium of communication today? Why?

Being a digital company, as most of our consumers are online, we will continue to invest in the digital platform to maximise reach.

Marketers today deal with way too many external brand custodians - agree? What can be done about it?

Given the fast-evolving media space, evolution of user-generated content and push media, it is important to realise that a brand cannot be held together by a few custodians. The concept of a custodian ceases to exist and is no longer restricted to a particular individual such as a brand manager or marketing head. Each and every stakeholder of the brand, and most importantly the consumers, are brand custodians today.

In what way has your expectation from your agency partners - creative and media planning/buying - changed of late? And what's the biggest change in the way you deal with them?

We expect them to suggest unique and creative ideas/initiatives that are in sync with the current changes in the e-commerce sector. Our partners need to stay abreast of industry dynamics. A brand must have a relationship with all its partners and supplement them with the requisite information to evolve quickly.

Review the last 12 months - for (a) the category and (b) the company. And what are the big challenges that you see coming your way in the next 12 months?

Indian shoppers have become mature as online shopping has become mainstream. Consumers are moving beyond discounts and are starting to include online shopping into their lifestyle. Over the last 12 months, there were certain amendments to government rules and regulations that have had an impact on the e-commerce industry. Demonetisation has impacted the cash transactions and COD deliveries in the e-commerce segment.

The Press Note 3 (2016 Series) issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, had a positive impact and significantly reduced discounting in the e-commerce sector.

The e-commerce category has finally started to rationalise. Companies are working on enhanced consumer engagement, greater integration of back-end logistics, customisation, timely deliveries and expanding reach to newer audiences across small markets and regions in India.

Going forward, we expect fewer and niche players to dominate the industry.

Have you noticed any change in consumption patterns? In what ways are changing urban lifestyles affecting your category, if at all?

Consumption from tier II and III markets as well as urban areas has amplified. We are witnessing an increased demand from existing users. Shopping is no longer restricted to the mobile and electronics category. Segments such as lifestyle, home and living, clothing and accessories and beauty are growing. Online shopping has become mainstream. It is no longer a one-off event influenced by discounts and offers.

Are there any changes in technology/manufacturing that could affect your category? Is the environment around your category changing?

Artificial intelligence, big data analysis and behavioural science are crucial aspects that preempt consumer behavior. The category is going to be driven by predictive economics rather than push economics. Traditional business analytics is moving into predictive and prescriptive analytics supported by big data and machine learning.

The manner in which the implementation of GST takes place will also have an impact on the growth of the sector. For us, consensus on the constitution amendment bill is welcome, as it will help small and medium enterprises who aspire to sell online across the length and breadth of the country. GST will create a single national market and improve business operations and efficiency.

Have there been any geographical/demographical shifts - effort driven or incidental - in the demand for and consumption of your product?

Urban consumers definitely exhibit increased consumption in terms of online shopping. However, the actual spread of consumers comes from tier II and III markets. These markets have huge potential in terms of gaining ‘first-time buyers’.

We have witnessed increased traction from younger audiences and women. Audiences from lower economic backgrounds are also taking to online shopping. Consumers are beginning to feel more secure while shopping online.

Where will your next million/5 million/10 million (pick the figure that's most appropriate) consumers come from? And what will you do to get them?

Tier II and III markets. We plan to tap in to the next wave of consumers by ensuring logistic expansion and by reaching out to pin codes which are not yet covered. We have joined hands with India Post which has about 90 percent of its post offices in rural areas.

(This interview is part of our Marketers' Special Issue - afaqs!Reporter magazine, June 15, 2017)

Have news to share? Write to us