If you are a technology enthusiast in India, finding what you want can often be a frustrating experience – largely because of the wait to get what you want. Whether it’s the delay in launch of products in India by manufacturers, or the difficulty to locate what you want (if you’re particular), things tend to move excruciatingly slowly through the ‘supply chain’.
It’s the main reason that many of us end up doing much of our technology shopping on international ecommerce sites. For several years now, Newegg.com has been my personal favourite for computer components and Amazon.com is clearly a winner for other gadgets.
For many in India, the revolution in ecommerce for technology products probably began with Baazee.com (or Ebay.in), which started a small revolution and remains one of the places that you are likely to find a wide range of choices. More recently though, on Ebay India the selection of products available gets increasingly uninspiring and uninteresting. Also, they don’t really seem to be innovating and improving, and some of their procedures also put off both sellers and buyers. As a buyer I find that the information that is available on individual products is a huge step below the quality that we have become used to elsewhere. As far as enabling payments and deliveries are concerned however, there really isn’t any place better (POD rocks).
It's all about online money
But the most admirable effort in addressing the needs of enthusiasts in India so far has come from an innovative set of old-school IT resellers (lynx-india.com, primeabgb.com, theitdepot.com to name a few) who offer a range of niche and specialised products. They’ve clearly been able to make a transition from the box-selling mentality that pervades our IT industry. But the ‘online transaction’ experience that they’ve provided is far less than satisfactory. Usability of their websites is generally poor, and integration with payment gateways has been either not been implemented, or is extremely unintuitive at best. There is also too much offline interaction involved in making things work and delivery times are also often well below acceptable standards for certain products.
Strangely, ‘New Age’ technology retailers like Croma, EZone and Reliance Digital have been extremely slow to make products available online and even now don’t really put their hearts into it. This is despite their considerable achievement in revolutionising the technology retail experience. What’s worse their product selection is often abysmal, with low prices largely taking precedence over good value and quality. Ezone seems to be the most active of these online, but it’s not easy to find something specific even here – especially since computer components seem mostly off the menu. I wonder why?
One of the newer entrants in this space may change all of this. Flipkart.com, already a favourite for purchasing books online, is moving quickly to expand its gadget portfolio. It’s sometimes the first to feature newly launched products – especially the phone and tablets – and it seems to have a good set of choices for other products like MP3 players and laptops too. Where the site scores highest (along with Letsbuy.com), of course is in its usability and silky smooth transactions and deliveries. And if they can manage to combine this with decent tech support and an expanding set of offerings, then WOW!
The real fun will come however, when enthusiasts can buy even niche and specialised products online (in India) and not just what’s mainstream. Today the industry is at the ‘provide access stage’ where just the easy availability of products is enough to delight customers. But as more and more buyers learn exactly what they need (more experience in buying), ‘search-ability and compare-ability’ is going to become their priority and that’s what retailers will need to provide.
The next most interesting phase of technology retailing will be driven by those who can provide a growing base of enthusiasts with quality and specialised products, an intuitive and seamless online purchase experience and reliable basic customer support. These retailers will attract the attention and loyalty of a growing audience of enthusiasts who continue to be more profitable and influential than other types of technology buyers.
But despite the recent progress the real New Age of technology ecommerce is clearly still ahead of us in India. Niche IT resellers (like lynx-india.com, primeabgb.com etc.) seem best placed do this, provided they are able to dramatically scale up the quality of technology they are using (solutions like Magento and Shopify need to replace glorified shopping carts). They also need to learn how to substantially redefine their standards in the management of inventories, customer support and logistics like Flipkart seems to have done. If they manage this now, they’ll be the envy of more traditional technology retail chains whose early successes seem to be causing a degree of inexplicable inertia.
Newegg, TigerDirect, and several others already provide a great model for them to grow and prosper. But the clock is ticking.