E-commerce has taken the Indian retail industry by storm this year, with innovative business models emerging, investor interest in the segment growing, operations being streamlined and a plethora of start-ups making a foray into the field.
Indian e-commerce, pegged at $9.5 billion according to a study by the Internet & Mobile Association of India and KPMG, was projected to grow to $12.6 billion by the end of this year. By 2020, it is expected to contribute around 4 per cent to GDP. Currently, the Internet penetration in India stands at 11 per cent of the population, a third of the world average.
With this growth trajectory likely to continue its upward swing as internet penetration continues to improve, here's my take on the top e-commerce trends that are likely to shape the industry in 2014.
A Resurgent B2B Sector Drives Growth Across E-Commerce
In 2013, we have seen an exponential burst in the number of people shopping online. Even as the B2C wave continues, B2B online sourcing will emerge as the backbone supporting B2C channels. Globally, we have already seen procurement officers turn to the web as a cost-effective option to fulfil their sourcing needs.
With the norms for FDI in e-commerce and retail stipulating a clause for fulfilling 30% of procurement needs from local SMEs, B2B e-commerce could be the engine that drives growth for suppliers in India.
Big Data Fuels Big Changes In Business Innovation
E-commerce companies, inadvertently, have been accumulating tons of data, but necessarily putting it to good use. When applied correctly, this data could help predict emerging shopping trends and consumer preferences, allowing e-commerce sites to tailor a more personalised experience for shoppers.
Tesco, for instance, is a good example of a retailer making the most of big data to innovatively increase sales. It uses weather records and detailed sales data to help predict demand for certain products based on weather forecasts.
Brick To Click To Mobile, E-Commerce Goes The Omni-Channel Route
India has the unique distinction of mobile device penetration outstripping PC penetration. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in its recent report stated that mobile users were 89 percent of the total Internet subscriber base in Q2 2013.
With smart digital devices and improving connectivity, today’s discerning consumers have more information, choice and flexibility at their fingertips. More shoppers are now evaluating purchase decisions - comparing prices and product specs– on the web and even while on the go, using their smartphones. Shoppers are starting to expect order processing updates and delivery trackers on their mobile devices. No longer is the buying cycle and shopping experience restricted to one channel.
For both B2C e-tailers and B2B marketplaces, it will be essential to graduate from the brick and click model to be on present even on mobile platforms.
From SEO To Storytelling - Quality Content Takes Precedence
Getting ones website SEO-ready and ensuring a top spot in search results was a key priority for e-tailers in 2013. While building SEO-friendly websites will continue to remain an important business consideration, the ability to create differentiated and engaging content will emerge as a necessity in an increasingly crowded e-commerce market in India.
Using multimedia tools including high-quality images, videos and widgets will be key to draw audiences to the site and, more importantly, increase the amount of time they spend on the site. For instance, Limeroad.com, a fashion portal, uses an attractive and interactive magazine-style showcase to highlight latest deals and new products.
This trend will also be evident in the B2B segment, with players looking to shed the image of being mere e-directories, seeking to provide an online shopping experience akin to B2C e-tailers, with clutter-free, easy-to-navigate and attractive designs. Overall responsiveness and interactivity will also take centre stage in 2014.
Building Customer Confidence - Trust And Transparency Is Paramount
As Indian shoppers, it is in our very nature to be wary of the over-zealous salesperson, choosing to see and feel the products ourselves before deciding to invest in a new purchase. This cautiousness extends in the way we approach online buying as well. The emergence of the cash-on-delivery model, for instance, was the effect of the high perceived-risk of shopping online.
However, as more Indian consumers across age-groups recognise online as an affordable and convenient means of purchase, it will be critical to ensure that trust and safety measures do not remain mere policies but are ingrained throughout business practices.
From Cash-On-Delivery To Next-Day-Delivery
Earlier this year, I recall, Flipkart drew high praise from consumers who tweeted their delight up on receiving their orders in 24 hours! However, increasingly this trend is going to move from being a tactic to drive customer delight to a business imperative.
In 2013, the Cash-On-Delivery business model became a key differentiator for e-commerce companies; in 2014, I expect that the ability to guarantee Next-Day-Delivery will emerge as a competitive advantage. As the e-commerce market becomes more crowded, a growing number of e-commerce portals are likely to try and satisfy people’s desire for immediacy by offering next or even same day delivery.
The pressures to meet tighter delivery expectations will impact the sourcing channel, presenting opportunities for B2B channels to innovate and scale up operations.
Sell Everything Online!
Even as e-tailers gear up to meet the pressures of same-day-shipping and next-day-delivery, the trend throws up another opportunity. With streamlined logistics and supply chain management, e-tailers could look at expanding the width of product range.
For instance, this year saw the emergence of various online grocery stores including the likes of Bigbasket and Ekstop. Imagine the possibilities that could emerge in 2014 in areas including fruits, fresh foods, and other perishables!