30 October 2022 17:56:52 IST

Shubho Sengupta is a digital marketer with an analogue ad agency past. He can be found at @shubhos, pontificating on food, fetishes and football

How to crack the online commerce market

A new breed of marketers are now catering to first-time entrepreneurs running online businesses from smaller cities | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Nita* is 48, just out of a bad marriage, and sells stoles made by weavers near Calcutta for a small commission. She has been selling through WhatsApp groups and Facebook Live, but things don’t look too good lately, what with Facebook shutting down Live Shopping recently.

Kamini*, 28, has put her banking career on hold to run a Shopify-based e-commerce store where she and her partner sell women’s activewear. Unfortunately, they have to spend a lot of money to get people to visit — and buy — on Shopify, and have figured out that Amazon and Myntra give better ROI. But they aren’t happy about the high percentage of commission the e-commerce giants allegedly charge.

Rajat* is a marketing manager with a kitchenware company, among the top five in India. A top e-commerce portal will give them a sweet deal but wants them to pay way beyond their budget. The company is not happy and are wondering if social commerce is the way forward.

There’s a new breed of marketers in the house, and they are not wedded to large traditional format marketing and accompanying large budgets. Their customers are generally from smaller cities, even towns. An unusually high percentage of them are women. Many of them are first-time entrepreneurs from humble backgrounds, and do not — cannot — have family money backing them for the first few years.

I have been meeting them online and offline for the last few years, and when they hear I am a digital guy, the question they quickly ask is: “How can I sell online effectively?” So here are a few answers — or rather, attempts to answer.

I don’t think anyone is in a position to give a one-size-fits-all templated solution. Digital is too dynamic frankly — the algorithms keep changing, for one.

Hello, social commerce

In India, what works is close-knit communities that trust each other in silos. In the silo are local cultural markers, deep social biases, unique purchasing habits, and so on. Now AFMS (Amazon Flipkart Myntra Snapdeal and others) doesn’t do that of course; the only two things they offer are deals and range.

Nita (see above) — who is probably too small for Amazon — is the ideal candidate for a social commerce platform such as Meesho, Glance, Sim Sim, Glow Road, Shopsy, Deal Share, KIKO TV, Gogo Pogo. Among many others.

In fact, 80 per cent of social commerce users are women from tier 2 and 3 cities and towns, who sell sometimes highly localised products through their personal social network handles or accounts (mostly WhatsApp, one guesses). 

And once 5G kicks in, Nita will find it easier to create better short videos that highlight her stole collections. She will also have the opportunity to create more interesting video narratives, learning from other ‘sisters’. Social commerce has shifted the balance of power from large corporations and brands to content creators and D2C brands. Kamini would do well to experiment with an AFMS and a social commerce model.

Say Hi to ONDC

The unusual name threw me off track: I thought it was ONGC, the energy PSU! The Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) was launched in Bengaluru sometime back, and it looks like a giant killer, a very viable alternative to Amazon and the other biggies, at least for small biz owners. Though I understand the biggies also want in.

The open network e-commerce platform, an initiative of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, will cost small retailers a fraction of what they pay to e-commerce giants. The deal sweetener is no one company owns it, and even a small retailer will be visible on multiple platforms.

The time has come for Nita, Kamini, and Rajat. To go forth and shine, and create a new India powered by 5G and tier 2 and 3 cities. As Monica Jasuja, a global fintech leader puts it, “What UPI did for digital payments will be replicated for e-commerce by this trio — ONDC, 5G, and social commerce.”

(* Names changed)