Not too long ago—a little over two decades ago, to be precise—some online companies (the word ‘start-up’ had not surfaced then) like IndiaMart, Hometrade, Indya, Caltiger, Firstandsecond.com and Arzoo were sowing the seeds of a sector that was not even fated to germinate. Most of them failed to withstand the sands of time, but the writing on the wall was clear: this was an area that was going to disrupt business paradigms and change the way products and services are brought, sold and consumed in the country. The second wave was more in line. This was the time (2005-2010) when Air Deccan made air travel commonplace and the Indian Railways opened up online booking services to the layman, one that set the resurgence of the e-commerce sector in India. This, in turn, paved the way for online travel agents like MakeMyTrip, Yatra and Cleartrip, which even today account for the lion’s share of the e-commerce market in India.By this time, the consumer was fairly aware and was keen to compare what the market had to offer. This, combined with the high growth rate of the country’s economy and the increasing penetration of Internet usage, brought about a number of new business models. For instance, Flipkart began deep discounting or listing of products at prices less than the cost price; Snapdeal started ‘group buying’, a group of customers bargaining with sellers for the purchase of products; and so on. In the ensuing years, the Indian consumer has not only accepted e-commerce wholeheartedly, but has also fuelled the growth of new and compelling businesses that have changed the way products are bought and sold today.
Jagmohan Bhanver and Komal Bhanver’s Click! The Amazing Story of India’s E-commerce Boom and Where It’s Headed sets out to explore the inspiring stories of a few such businesses. It brings together the events and developments that led to the creation of some of the most ground-breaking achievements in the history of e-commerce in India—businesses that dared to think differently, and changed the rules of the game forever.
It doesn’t throw in too many surprises, though. You have Flipkart, Snapdeal, Paytm, Pepperfry, Redbus, InMobi, JustDial, MakeMyTrip—the usual suspects. The authors themselves admit that while writing the book, the greatest difficulty arose while choosing the companies to feature and analyse. “Needless to say, there was a plethora to choose from. In the end, the ones that don’t feature here are no less relevant in the larger story of Indian e-commerce than those that do,” the authors write.However, what sets this book apart is the way the authors have treated the topic—probably one of the hottest in business around the world today. We all know that stories aren’t about what happens as much as they are about how they make us feel. The experience of starting up and running a successful venture may not be a universal one, but the mix of emotions—fear, anxiety, joy, triumph—can speak to everyone. This book does just that—instead of just compiling the profiles, textbook-style, the authors have tried to engage the reader through powerful storytelling and in-depth analyses.
The book is also timely, considering Indian e-commerce is going through some of the most tumultuous times in its short but eventful history in the country as a result of intense competition among players. Once known as the next frontier for tech investments, India has seen many of its top start-ups, including high-profile unicorns, losing much of their sheen lately. The impending high-profile merger between Flipkart and Snapdeal is a case in point. Click! also highlights some lesser-known facts; for instance, very few people would remember that Indiaplaza was the first to introduce cash on delivery as a payment option at a time when Flipkart hadn’t even been set up. It is Flipkart that is credited today with making a success of the payment option most suited to the Indian market. Rightly so, write the authors, as Flipkart was the first one to use it to its advantage and revolutionise the e-commerce sector in India.
For easy comprehension, the book is divided into three parts. While the first part deals with the changing face of e-commerce in India, the second shares the stories of the eight entrepreneurs and their disruption. The third, The Battleground, decodes the online war and attempts to answer three important posers: how does India compare to other e-commerce markets? What are the challenges of the e-commerce sector in India? Why do e-commerce ventures fail? Why Click! should click is because it has something for almost everyone. While readers with entrepreneurial dreams will find valuable insights in this book, others who have been simply following this sector will particularly relate to its analysis section (Part 3), as it covers all that has happened in the sector till date and also explores future possibilities. All in all, it’s a book worth reading, at least to be in tune with the times.