What started out as a daily deal site in February 2010, SnapDeal has over the past year consciously made an effort to move away from just deals and is today focusing on becoming a marketplace to connect merchants and buyers. Along with the shift in focus, it has also taken steps towards establishing presence on the mobile platform, by first launching a mobile site and following it up by launching an app. We spoke to Ankit Khanna, VP-Product Management, Snapdeal.com to know more about the mobile site and Snapdeal's plans for future.

A couple of years ago, riding on the wave of the popularity of deals and coupons, we witnessed a launch of several e-commerce sites, Snapdeal being one of them. But later, as the initial excitement fizzled out, a lot of the deal sites shut shop. While some like Snapdeal adapted to the changing scenario and decided to create a marketplace to connect merchants with consumers. This move was also largely influenced by the consumers, as Ankit says, “Snapdeal started as a local deals business and within 12-15 months of launch, we captured 70 percent of the market share. Around that time, our consumers started demanding deals on more tangible products across various categories, because they were happy with the trust we had built over the period of time. That’s when we started exploring deals on products where we were tied up with local merchants and offered certain discounts on very limited products. That really helped us in accessing that there is a huge demand of products across categories and catering to them was well within our reach. Today, after one year of operation, we are present in over 250 categories and have almost million products on our site.”

Along with the shift in focus with their core offering, they were also quick to realise that in order to survive and sustain the business, they needed to adopt innovative means and newer technology platforms. This saw the launch of their m-site. One of the few players in the industry to have established their presence on the mobile platform, Ankit admits getting started wasn’t an easy task, he explains, “Establishing our mobile platform was quite difficult and challenging. To begin with, making people transact on the web was itself a biggest challenge due to things like trust issues, limited card reach and the fact that people wanted to have a price advantage over offline in order to make them buy. Secondly, even though the mobile Internet penetration has grown a lot in the last twelve-fifteen months, it’s largely limited to the content that is in the lines of social network, emails, and browsing sites. People were not looking to shop. And the third reason is that the infrastructure to facilitate mobile transactions is bad, I would say that there are not enough payment gateways to make payment solutions available on the mobile to enable transactions. But we realised that if we take steps today, then six to nine months down the line when people are ready to do transactions on mobile, we will have a great edge. With that philosophy, we started working on the mobile platform around start of this year and I think overall we have done a good job in the last 7-8 months.” 

snapDeal's mobile site is easy to navigate

Snapdeal's mobile site is easy to navigate

While many e-commerce sites have launched an app, a very few of them have launched an m-site. Ankit says that decision to launch an m-site before launching an app was a conscious one, he elaborates, “For any shopping site where people are not browsing content that already resides on the mobile, it make sense to actually develop a mobile site before developing an app. Because applications are suited to those businesses or products where the interaction is more on the client side and there is less dependency on the server side for pushing the content. And secondly, you really need native mobile features to make that application worth considering. Because of these two reasons, we started with our mobile site. There has been a tremendous response and our mobile site gets around 15 percent of traffic and transaction. In the last month, we launched our Android and Windows app, while our iPhone app is pending for approval and should get launched by next month. This is how we have expanded our reach on mobile.”

While many may look at m-site as a mere alternative to web portal, Ankit is quick to point out that it’s more than that. And it’s definitely not just a matter of convenience, he says, “I think its accessibility rather than convenience. Because people have started browsing on mobile for various reasons, so I think people said why not can I do shopping? And it’s on the move, mobile is always accessible…so I think these are the drivers rather than convenience. Because I think convenience is also there when transacting on the web from PC, but I think the advantage of mobile is that you can do transactions anywhere. And mobile these days, especially have big screens as well so I think it’s easy.”

Ankit has a word of advice though for e-commerce sites wanting to develop their m-site, as there are a couple of things to keep in mind. He elaborates, “I think there are three things any shopping sites primarily should do, one they should build a navigation system, which is not only intuitive, but it should follow a single line of flow. So if you visit our m-site, it only carries a single line of navigation, as opposed to web where you can have multiple lines of navigation. And it’s backed by a great search feature. Second thing is to make your m-site work with all kinds of handsets and screen-sizes, that’s essential. And another aspect is making the m-site less image heavy and make it text oriented, because lot of people are still browsing Internet on 2G. So it’s very important that you make your m-site work on those connections as well. And third is the payment option, you really need to give them good avenues or good payment instruments to transact on mobile.”  

SnapDeal features products across a wide range of categories

Snapdeal features products across a wide range of categories

Whether it is ease of use or reach and accessibility, an important factor that will determine the adoption of m-site is security, as that’s something most customers are concerned about. Ankit says shopping on the mobile isn’t any different to shopping on the web and they have ensured that the infrastructure is similar as well, he says, “Shopping on the mobile is no different than shopping on the web. And our biggest concern was that people shouldn’t feel that transactions online are more convenient to mobile. We have the same payment options available on mobile as well, including cash on delivery. And it is backed with good payment gateway, which is on the lines of the web. However, it isn’t that good or clear of what we have on the web, but we can say for sure that it’s much better than any other payment solutions or m-sites available. Having said that, the safety isn’t compromised at all, and it is as safe as transacting on the web. We have used the same framework and all the communication that happens on the mobile is encrypted. So even if somebody tries to hack, they won’t be able to decrypt the details that are passed on to the payment gateways. So it is pretty much safe.” 

When it came to promoting the m-site, they allowed it to grow organically. Ankit believes that the m-site will provide them a huge edge, looking at the rate at which mobile Internet penetration is increasing and also the number of people accessing web. He feels that m-commerce will prove a key to business, he says, “Like I mentioned before, m-commerce gives a great advantage when it comes to reach and accessibility. For example, I personally browse Facebook maybe one or two times on the web, but I frequently browse it on my mobile. Mobile is very close to you, so that’s a great advantage if people can browse your site or content anywhere. And the best part is that without spending anything, you are actually reaching out to maximum number of people. Soon more people will transact or probably browse content on mobile as far as 2013 is concerned. And I am very sure that for any good scalable business they should atleast get 25 percent of their transactions from m-commerce. If they are not doing that, then I think that they really need to seriously look at their game-plan.”

Being amongst the first, Ankit feels that Snapdeal will have an advantage over the rest of the players in the industry. But he feels that there is still a lot that needs to be done, before m-commerce picks up in the country. He elaborates, “I think somehow all the operators should try to still bring down cost for 3G for sure and on the other side, more and more smartphone penetration will really help. So I think these two things combined can do that. And third, which I think is already happening is that every web-portal, be it content-based or even search based, is pushing for more and more browsing on mobile. Overall, I think these two three things will help, because ultimately people will not do transaction on mobile because somebody has advertised somewhere, but people will do transaction when they will see everything available on the mobile, because then they don’t have to switch between different devices.”

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