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Dipstick: Is offline a necessary prop for online retail?

Many online stores are setting up physical stores. Last year FirstCry.com was the first to come up with multiple stores, followed by Lenskart, Zivame and Pepperfry. Does this mean that online players are facing consumer reluctance?

Archit Ambekar | Mumbai | January 8, 2016

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In the recent past one has noticed that some online stores have been stepping into the offline space with studios and stores being set up in different cities. Last year FirstCry.com was the first one to come up with multiple stores across cities. Following the trend of being omni-channel, major players like Lenskart, Zivame and Pepperfry also began experimenting in the offline retail space.

While the global trend of lazy shopping has kicked off well, the Indian market is yet to get the comfort of lazy shopping. To match that level, brands are going offline so that consumers can see the products physically and order them online.

To explore the thought further, Bestmediainfo.com spoke to brands that went offline, competition brands and brand consultants on whether online shopping is going to be relevant in the near future or will it see a declining curve. The overriding view that came across is that online shopping is definitely going to grow at a rapid pace, but offline presence will become increasingly necessary to build consumer trust and enable them to look and feel the products physically.

Ashish Goel, CEO & Co-founder, Urban Ladder:

"There is definitely a strong consumer need to move online. With changing lifestyle, longer working hours and more congestion on roads, the Indian consumer needs easy access to shopping. However, the consumer might find few important things missing in the online purchase experience: one, trust in the brand, and, two, incomplete information about the product. It is extremely important for e-commerce companies to work on these two aspects to make online shopping extremely convenient for the customer. At Urban Ladder, we work very hard to build trust and ensure the experience is seamless and hassle free. A few ways of doing this is our no questions asked return policy, warranty, quality assurance, etc. On the second part, we are working on innovative technological solutions to help customer visualize our products better. For instance, we launched the Living Spaces app which helps customer visualise our sofa in their living room with the help of augmented reality.”

Supam Maheshwari, CEO & Founder, FirstCry.com:

“FirstCry.com was the first e-tailer to have started with a seamless offline and online integration in India. The customer base in India is highly diverse resulting in a dynamic purchasing behaviour pattern. Whether online or offline, both markets individually hold great potential. Moreover, when integrated with each, they turn out to be a successful business model. Currently, the online market is 5% of the total retail market and is expected to grow tremendously. Our omni-channel strategy is aimed at providing parents with an effortless shopping experience. We already have over 150 stores and plan to open 400 stores by 2017. There is a significant rise in online and mobile shopping that is expected to go hand in hand with the offline shopping format.”

Aparna Chopra, Vice President, Global Strategy, Lenskart:

“The e-commerce industry in India has come a long way in the past few years and we feel that it will continue to experience high growth. As per industry sources, India's e-commerce market is likely to touch the $38-billion-mark this year. The industry is now fast realising that in addition to having presence online, they need multiple touch-points to reach their consumers – from app, mobile websites to physical stores. Therefore, one reigning trend for 2015 was e-tailers foraying into physical stores. This is because offline store enjoys immense consumer trust and Indian consumers prefer to have tangible access while shopping and be in direct contact with sellers. Physical stores help e-commerce companies reinforce their online brand and make a stronger connect with the consumers. This trend has immense potential to redefine the e-commerce industry in the coming years. We therefore feel that online shopping will continue to gain momentum and e-tailers will continue to draw focus towards assisting consumers through various initiatives and ultimately driving people to the website to make a purchase.”

Harish Bijoor Harish Bijoor

Harish Bijoor, Founder, Harish Bijoor Consultants:

“Online shopping will certainly remain relevant because it offers a great degree of cross mark rates and it also ensures that people are able to shop in the lazy format. I call this lazy format shopping and to an extent lazy format shopping will always be accepted in this country. People will like to shop from the comfort of their homes.

“Having said that, what will really happen is that online stores will suddenly realize that they have to reinvent the “experiential” part of the store. And experience is something that the shopper normally expects and that is difficult to create in an online platform at the moment. But possibly tomorrow there will be texture enabled websites, etc., which will help you feel the material and you should be able to smell the items that you are about to buy. Which cannot happen at this point of time due to remoteness but there are technologies being worked on where you can synthetize transmit and digitize smell. So that can happen in the future.”

Lastly, he said, “This sensorium act will take a long time to fall in place. In the meanwhile, there is an interim period where e-commerce players might want to offer their physical experience through a physical outlet. This is a place where people will experience offerings physically and after that they’ll place the order online. It’s going to be a future style but a temporary future style, in the sense that it is just going to be a starter and not spread like Wi-Fi.”

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