Where did you shop this Diwali?
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.