In 'once bitten, twice shy' mode, India's top three e-tailers got their act together for this year's festive sales season. But the war only got racier as players stepped over each other for the consumer’s wallet.
E-commerce is the business opportunity which caters to the needs of ‘Young India’—convenience, after-sales service, ease of ordering and above all, bringing your purchase to your doorstep. However, a significant chunk of the annual sales of e-commerce firms in the country still comes during the third quarter of the fiscal, which coincides with the festive season in India.
Amazon’s ‘Great Indian Festive Sale’, Flipkart’s ‘The Big Billion Days Sale’ and Snapdeal’s ‘5 Day Diwali Sale’ determined the tonality of big bang offers for consumers this festive season. The overall key topics of concern for the players were in terms of products, logistics, pricing and delivery.
Flipkart’s The Big Billion Day Sale’ (TBBD) last year was a case study on both ‘how to make it big in a day’ as well as ‘how to goof up a big day’. Flipkart seems to have learnt its lesson from last year, when major technical and logistical glitches led to the retailer making personal apologies to customers whose orders were cancelled post confirmation, or delivered way past the date committed. This year, Flipkart took several steps to avoid a repeat, and make a success of the TBBD:
Instead of a single day, it was spread out over five days, from October 13-17. A category was added each subsequent day, starting with only lifestyle and apparels on Day One. Electronics was added on the next day when a record-breaking 500,000 mobile phone handsets were sold in 10 hours.
Sales were also promoted in a much more balanced way using a 360-degree approach—ensuring best consumer experiences, including non-metro consumers, moving away from conventional advertising and investing in innovation.
In preparation for the big billion sale this year, the horizontal e-commerce player increased its logistics footprint and added four more warehouses. To ensure efficient delivery, Flipkart put in place close to 20,000 additional delivery boys. It also ramped up the number of fulfilment centres from 13 to 16 this year in order to cater also to customers from smaller cities.
In order to empower and prepare sellers better for the peak festive demand season, Flipkart launched, two months in advance, a special training schedule for over 6000 sellers on managing demand spikes called ‘Flipkart Seller Campus’ and a manpower ecosystem programme, ‘Flipkart Helping Hands’.
The result was that Flipkart’s Big Billion Days Sale, in its second edition, saw a business turnover of over $300 million in gross merchandise volume (GMV), which was three times higher than last year with the participation of 40,000 sellers and millions of visitors.
Snapdeal, not to be left behind, innovated by extending its festive sales to every Monday till Diwali in a bid to grow business by seven times sequentially this season over the preceding period. Other players who participated in the festive offers, also having learnt from Flipkart’s mistakes last year, were better prepared in their first year of ‘festival offers’, having invested significantly in both logistics and backend over the past few months leading up to the festive season.
In terms of advertising, though spends by the players were huge, there was no clear differentiation between their communication. It was more in the space of ‘textile type’ advertising where the consumer goes to all the platforms before making a choice.
Flipkart took up the ‘Abhi Nahi Toh Kabhi Nahi’ theme of building the urgency of the offer. Amazon worked on the ‘Great Indian Festival Sale’ campaign of ‘Try Toh Kar, Hoke Befikar’, focusing on purchase of all the festival needs—appliances, apparels, electronic and gifts—at one place. Snapdeal highlighted the ‘Dil ki Deal’ thematic campaign with Aamir Khan talking of “Yeh Diwali, Dil ki Deal Wali” and the route taken was ‘Sale-o-shayari’. The campaign focused on buying gifts for loved ones this Diwali.
As to which of the retailers finally won the festive battle, the tussle was between Amazon and Flipkart that ran offers parallelly from October 13-17. Snapdeal safely chose one day of the week to avoid being hemmed in between its competitors. But no one player garnered brand loyalty or ensured customer acquisition.
The e-commerce players will also need to look at a wider competitive landscape where even offline retailers like Big Bazaar, Lifestyle, and Shoppers Stop hold festive offers and offer ‘touch and feel’ of the product to the consumer. How the e-commerce players get to overcome this area will determine their rate of growth. Another point that they would need to decide for the future would be whether to hold all the offers and campaigns for the festive season only or phase it out through the year.
Going forward, e-commerce players will need to look at three broad spaces—differentiated campaigns/ positioning with wide product offerings, an extended competitive landscape, and impeccably prompt after-sales service. Consistency will be the name of the game.
The author is founder and chairman, SKA Advisors, and former MD & CEO, Britannia Industries