Where did you shop this Di­wali?

Consumer Voice - - Editor's Voice -

The thing is, we all be­gan as wary shop­pers in the on­line mar­ket­place. And now we seem to not able to do with­out it. At least that’s what the lat­est num­bers tell us. A survey by in­dus­try body Assocham had es­ti­mated that the to­tal value of on­line shop­ping was likely to jump 350 per cent to over Rs 10,000 crore dur­ing this Di­wali fes­tive sea­son. This would ap­par­ently be driven by huge price dis­counts by e-tail­ers and bet­ter ac­ces­si­bil­ity of In­ter­net, par­tic­u­larly through smart­phones. Then there are the gen­eral fac­tors such as con­ve­nience, choices, ris­ing fuel prices and se­cu­rity con­cerns.

Flip­kart’s Big Bil­lion Day sale on 6th Oc­to­ber – con­tro­ver­sies, tech­ni­cal glitches and all – was quite the twist in In­dia’s on­line mar­ket­place dy­nam­ics. The huge dis­counts on con­sumer elec­tron­ics goods and other mer­chan­dise prod­ucts had the buy­ers scur­ry­ing about. The e-tailer claimed it sold prod­ucts worth $100 mil­lion (over Rs 600 crore) within 10 hours on the sale day.

That Flip­kart’s con­trol over stocks left much to be de­sired will hope­fully not be lost on oth­ers plan­ning to follow suit. The e-tailer was sim­ply not pre­pared for the traf­fic that was headed to­wards it on D-day, lead­ing to dis­sat­is­fac­tion about the listed of­fers, prod­uct un­avail­abil­ity, or­der can­cel­la­tions and tech­ni­cal mess.

As for us 25 mil­lion on­line shop­pers (num­ber as per the In­ter­net and Mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia [IAMAI]), we are busy or­der­ing prod­ucts rang­ing from baby di­a­pers and toys to gro­ceries and home fur­ni­ture from our comfy chairs. We are also buy­ing and sell­ing sec­ond­hand prod­ucts, be it an un­wanted phone, clothes, or other ac­ces­sories. That it­self is some leap in mind­set, one has to agree. In In­dia, peo­ple don’t tend to buy things from each other off­line.

In­ter­est­ingly, the ag­gres­sive, all-over-the-place ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns by lo­cal web­sites like Snapdeal and OLX are in­creas­ing the pro­file of the mar­ket­place—and ef­fec­tively build­ing up aware­ness and trust among con­sumers. The ad­ver­tise­ments also con­veyed the easy re­turn pol­icy of th­ese e-tail­ers.

Another thing that is em­pow­er­ing us con­sumers is the abil­ity to now com­pare the same prod­uct sold by var­i­ous re­tail­ers, in­clud­ing the tra­di­tional ones. The lat­ter, who are aware of the dis­counts be­ing dan­gled on­line, are more amenable to bar­gain. As con­sumers, we can take our pick and choose the price that works for us, and that is never a bad thing.

What then is the bad thing? Well, as our own ear­lier survey (pub­lished in Con­sumer Voice Fe­bru­ary 2014) shows, we ought to be cau­tious when shop­ping on­line. Why so? Be­cause the shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence can be marred by de­liv­ery prob­lems, poor qual­ity of ser­vice, de­fec­tive prod­ucts, etc. Var­i­ous cus­tomers from among the sam­ple size of 1,327 had faced prob­lems con­cern­ing de­lay in de­liv­ery, non-de­liv­ery, de­fec­tive prod­ucts, re­turn/ re­place­ment/re­fund is­sues and poor re­sponse of cus­tomer care.

There is wis­dom in­deed in con­firm­ing the e-tailer’s re­fund pol­icy be­fore the or­der is placed. Some do not give full re­funds and in some sit­u­a­tions they pro­vide only vouch­ers for fu­ture pur­chases. What is heart­en­ing to note is that con­sumers are get­ting savvy as they are will­ing to com­plain if they face any con­sumer detri­ment. So, be pre­pared to com­plain if you face a prob­lem.

In any case, go ahead and shop. Es­pe­cially if you feel there are ben­e­fits like cost sav­ings or con­ve­nience. Risks are low as com­pared to ben­e­fits. For sure, on­line shop­ping is giv­ing tra­di­tional brick-and-mor­tar re­tail­ers strong price com­pe­ti­tion. And com­pe­ti­tion there is al­ways a good thing for us con­sumers.

Padma

Joint ed­i­tor

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