Kolkata: Lured by heavy online discounts and easy home delivery of almost any product at the click of a button, shopping for Indians would never be the same again after 2014. What was limited to books, gadgets and few accessories in the earlier years, now expanded to include apparel, kitchen items, consumer durables, high-end jewellery, furniture, or any other product you can think of buying over the Internet.
The big breakthrough in e-commerce came in October when the big three of Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal went into an overdrive to win customers and offered pre-Diwali sales with eye-popping discounts. Gadgets like smartphones, tablets, laptops, computer peripherals, consumer electronics, etc were sold way below their market price.
Flipkart claimed to have sold goods worth 100 million USD (over Rs 600 crore) within 10 hours of its 'Big Billion Day' on October 6 but disrungtled bargain hunters complained of technical glitches and cheating. Snapdeal also pegged its sales figure to a similar amount while Amazon didn't disclose figures.
In the past many used to research online about products and then buy it from a shop. Now the trend reversed as people walked into shopping malls to try which colour and size of clothes or shoes suit them best and then went home to get a good deal online. Consumers even in smaller cities joined the bandwagon as standalone shops noticed drop in sales.
To retain his customer base, a computer hardware seller in the small Howrah town of West Bengal put up this board outside his shop: "Why buy online? We will offer you a lower price". Shopping malls, which had high footfalls couldn't translate it into equivalently higher turnover as they struggled hard to become more than just hangout joints.
According to a latest study by Assocham-PwC, about 40 million consumers purchased something online this year and the number is expected to grow to 65 million by 2015. As smartphones become common and internet access easier, buying online became more simpler with mobile apps.
Cash on delivery option attracted a whole new set of customers as it meant that those outside the ambit of netbanking or credit cards could also shop online. It also won over those who were pessimistic about the quality of stuff bought over the internet as they could see the product before paying.
Google's annual Great Online Shopping Festival (GOSF) kept the momentum at the end of this year with 80 lakh visitors to the site in three days. Interestingly, high-value products like flats, cars and bikes were also sold online.
Exclusive deals and tie-ups like that of Xiaomi phones with Flipkart added more spice to the boom. In some cities, young entrepreneurs even experimented with e-grocery stores. Snapdeal went a step ahead and launched an online agriculture store offering products like seeds, fertiliser and irrigation tools to farmers.
Physical retailers who have alleged that e-tailers indulge in predatory pricing during flash sales online remain the most affected by the mad rush. The fear among mom-and-pop stores of being overshadowed by large retail chains and shopping malls are now a thing of the past as they have found a new common enemy....