I recently traveled to Mumbai to attend the third annual eTailing India Expo. The three-day event featured the best and brightest of India’s fast-growing ecommerce sector, along with several international leaders in the space.
I’ve been attending similar trade shows for the past four years. They didn’t give me the impression that things were moving forward in India or that there were players with a vision and a mission for the Indian market. Until today.
I knew things were going to be different when I ran into a friend of Digital River, Ian Jindal, Internet Retailing’s co-founder and editor in chief. He was easy to spot – pretty much the only person in Mumbai wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt in the 80-degree humidity. As one of the keynote speakers, I was intrigued to hear his impressions on India and the current acceleration of the ecommerce channel in the subcontinent.
As the sessions kicked off, another deep impression was made in my mind. In a country known for short attention spans and perpetual movement, once the speakers started, the audience of over 1,000 was silent and focused.
Through nearly three hours of morning sessions led by Prakash Menon, executive director, Thought Leaders, and Ian Jindal, the audience was clearly absorbing the ideas of industry leaders and responding at the end of the session with challenges and opinions on the topics ranging from guidelines on transforming your company to connecting with connected customers.
After the keynote speakers, the panel discussions kicked off with leaders from the fashion industry discussing drivers, challenges and success factors in the online channel. This segment is particularly interesting for the India market as, unlike other emerging markets such as China, Brazil, and Russia, electronics had been the leading consumer category for online sales. However, this trend is now shifting as the leading marketplaces are embracing higher margin segments, especially fashion and accessories. One of the key controversial moments in the discussion was when a panelist exclaimed that “out-of-stock [products] are a good problem to have,” which is along the lines of “bad publicity is better than no publicity.” It was great to hear how passionately the other panelists disagreed with this premise and outlined the risks and steps necessary to avoid it.
Given the passion and engagement of the panelists and audience, I began questioning whether or not I, the passionate strategist, would be the right fit for the panel that I would be participating in: “Technology: In a country where technology is king.” How was the audience going to respond to the premise of technology being a supporting player to the strategic leader? As an eight-year product strategy veteran at Digital River, this is the way we have viewed the role that technology plays in our strategic planning. The focus on the technology panel was to address how ecommerce companies should view and plan for technology. But how would my co-panelists and the audience react to this view?
As expected, discussion on the panel focused on the strategic side of technology – how an organization evaluates, plans, and implements technology, and why. One key focus area was the comparison between hosted versus cloud-based ecommerce solutions. This was a question I was pleased to address as it really outlined the difference between Digital River and competitive solutions in India. And as this is a different model than Indian retailers are generally familiar with, it was a great topic to dig into. Other discussion topics included the need for Indian companies to adopt technology to grow, the importance of user experience, planning incremental technology investments, alternatives to technology investment to drive growth, and the impact of technology on the end-to-end sales cycle. All very compelling and relevant topics that deserved an entire hour of discussion on their own.
The entire experience left me quite heartened about the future of ecommerce in India and how soon the next entrepreneur is going to scale his business in the online channel and deliver the same compelling experience that shoppers expect in more developed markets. And I’m sure that time has come.
Have you been following the accession of the ecommerce channel in India? What are your thoughts?