E-commerce Offers Consumers A Convenient Way To Shop Globally

Mumbai | Updated: Jul 30 2004, 04:36am hrs
Neeraj Kumar Sharma, a computer professional in the US, was deep in work when he suddenly remembered that it was his fiance Anjali Mehtas birthday. It would be 6 AM in Mumbai. Immediately he logged onto Sify Shopping and ordered a bouquet of 50 roses and asked for Express Delivery. Before he could reach the venue of the bachelors party, he was throwing for his friends, the bouquet had reached Ms Mehta. She called him up and thanked him for the fresh roses!

Welcome to the world of e-commerce. Whether you are looking for a hard-to-find item, need something delivered to a friend on the other side of the world, or are seeking the perfect birthday present, online shopping lets you find what you are looking for with the click of your mouse.

The rapidly emerging world of Internet commerce, or e-commerce, has changed the way goods and services are bought and sold. Consumers gain a fast, convenient way to shop globally, and merchants gain a cost-effective means of increasing their customer base.

The share of e-commerce as a percentage of overall commerce is growing year after year. For 2004, estimates expect online retail sales in USA, including travel sales, to grow 27 per cent over last year to reach $144 billion. The trend is the same all over Europe and other developed countries.

What About India
Internet penetration is very low, largely restricted to urban India, and Indians dont use credit card online. The current size of the e-commerce market may be small now, but will grow as Internet penetration increases.

Broadly, there are three drivers to e-commerce: Ease and Convenience; Bargains/Discount; and Wide Selection. The Indian Railways online ticket booking site http://www.irctc.co.in has made booking train tickets extremely easy and convenient. Several auction sites in India have airline tickets, which can be bought online at one-third of the cost of the actual price. Such bargains and discounts help customers to get the best deal and provide airline companies with an alternative retail channel to sell their tickets.

Books which are not available in the physical bookstores can now be ordered online. Landmark bookstore on Sify has a wide selection of one million books online. Landmark, through their partnership with book distributors worldwide, imports these books for the customer and has it delivered within a specified period of time.

Challenges faced by the industry are not just the size of the market. There are other inhibiting factors which have been handled creatively, and this has led to the growth of e-commerce in India.

The first is payment using credit cards. The biggest challenge in India is to find alternate modes of payment, which are taking shape in the form of cash on delivery, cash on order and debit cards. The second concern of people shopping online is the fear of their credit cards getting misused. Using credit cards online with premier sites is safe, since the customer is taken directly to the bank site where the person transacts and the credit card information is not captured by the website.

The third concern is the quality of product that is delivered. Most of the reputed sites have tied up with good vendors and have clear returns and refund policies. In addition, the consumer feedback and reviews are available in major ecommerce websites.

Fulfillment within the promised time is another area of concern. Main e-commerce sites have tied up with good logistics service providers, and the entire process from order collection to dispatch is captured online. This information is available online or through customer care service. Reputed sites have a 24X7 customer care facility where the customer can call or mail to address grievances or other issues.

The industry has been growing in the last few years, though the size of the e-commerce industry is still small compared to normal commerce. However, all major websites have invested in technology and vendor relationships, which will help them scale their e-commerce rapidly as Internet penetration increases.

E-shopping Is Evolving
Today, the customer has a choice of payment modes: credit cards, cash on delivery, Internet banking accounts, demand drafts and cash on order.

The number of categories of products available for sale online in websites like rediff.com is also increasing. Fulfilment reliability with online tracking of shipments has added to the customer experience. With the spread of Internet penetration and the decreasing cost of connectivity, more people are expected to take advantage of the ease and convenience, wide selection and bargains that online shopping offers.

For any marketer or trader, expanding business onto the Web has several advantages. It is not very expensive to create a website for customers or to advertise. The web offers possibilities for local businesses to expand their customer base nationally and even internationally. The website also opens a direct contact with consumers and serves as a critical feedback channel.