Like most people, I get an average of about four or five messages a week from online retail websites announcing special offers. This basically amounts to one message from each of the online retail sites I have visited over the months, which added me, at the speed of light, to their mailing lists. Over the past ten days or so, the messages have become like Typhoon Phailin, ferocious in frequency and intensity. Each day brings a battering of offers and deals to do with the festival season, all very tempting because of the difference in prices from their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The fireworks, it seems, are mostly happening online. A recent survey, by Assocham, says online retail websites have recorded a 65% rise in traffic this festival season compared to last year.
A 65% rise is huge, considering the market for online shopping in India is estimated at R52,000 crore. What seems to have led to the jump is that online retail is fast catching on in smaller cities. This makes sense since it’s generally in the metros that customers are spoilt for choice. The online marketplace makes everyone equal. There’s another possible reason for the big jump in consumer confidence. Whether it’s to do with the economic downturn or greater competition, most professionals are working longer hours. Online retail is open 24x7 so customers can access them when they get home. There is also the fact that their overheads are considerably lower than regular stores, which have to pay rents, electricity, sales staff and a host of other costs, allowing them to offer products cheaper. They also buy in bulk for storage in a huge warehouse, so they get large discounts, which they mostly pass on to e-customers. They also use courier services to ship their products to customers, cutting out the infamous middlemen.
Here’s the interesting twist. The survey reveals that NRIs are most active shopping at Indian online sites during the festival season, mainly for gifts to their relatives based here. During Diwali, NRIs account for a major share of online sales. NRIs have been exposed to e-retail much longer—Amazon and eBay both opened in America in 1995, while Flipkart, India’s biggest online store, started operations in 2007. However, despite the surge in online shopping from smaller cities, the survey found that e-retail is most popular in Delhi, followed by Mumbai and Ahmedabad. An amazing 62% of Delhiites prefer