Credit cards to promote e-shopping in Chandigarh…

The Tribune,

BROWSE-till-you-drowse is replacing the shop-till-you-drop cult. The difference is that the wives on a shopping binge are missing the “Sale-Sale-Sale” banners and the ambience they are so familiar with. The only thing that remains unaltered is that it’s still the hubby’s wallet, which is being gnawed.

Online shopping is catching up in Chandigarh. Already, 20,000 families in the city love to e-shop and agencies like Glidemart are making 300 new clients each month. “The response in the city is overwhelming and we plan to start a centre in Ludhiana as well,” says General Manager A.V. Unnikrishnan. Glidemart had launched credit card facility last week to augment online sales. “Some defence personnel are preferring this even to CSD canteens,” he adds, and places his monthly net earnings at Rs 3 to 4 lakh on sales execution of Rs 40 lakh worth of items per month. Unnikrishnan feels that Glide has got a boost as an Internet service provider (ISP) because of Glidemart. “Soon we are going to include a section on automobiles and real estate,” he says.

A rival ISP, Satyam Infotech, would, however, like to remain focused on providing the Internet service. Nevertheless, Anil Kaura, a manager from Satyam, agrees that Chandigarh is fast becoming an e-shopping enabled city but says the rate of growth in Ludhiana is faster than Chandigarh. “Even Jalandhar is faring well,” he adds.

The city is a slice from the cake of the trend that’s sweeping the nation, at least the metros. Software conglomerate Nasscom says that Indian e-commerce (including online shopping sites) may do $ 7-million worth of business in 2000. This would further jump to $ 2.5 billion by 2002. Portals like Indiamart are only too happy at this projection. Indiamart witnessed Rs 600 crore of business last financial year. “We received orders worth $ 3,600 within a week’s period at indiangiftsportal.com this Divali,” says Amit Gundh, Manager, Communications, Indiamart.

Still, glitches need to be removed, feel many. Apart from the hackneyed issue of bandwidth, most of the e-shoppers feel that the “delivery-kink” too needs to be ironed out.

Recently during a 20-day refresher course on e-commerce at Panjab University, when a group of 42 participants were to be shown how online shopping actually worked, the Professor in-charge ordered sugar through Glidemart. After browsing through various kinds of sugar listed, they ordered some quantity. The sugar finally arrived after what seemed like ages. “Placing orders on the Net is okay, but how does one explain problems of actual product delivery. The Web cannot take care of traffic snarl-ups and human goof-ups,” the in-charge says.
“Initially, most Chandigarhians went in for e-shopping due to curiosity. Today, however, some of them say that the ‘feel-and-touch component’ is missing,” notes Gagan Kaur from NIIT.

Prof P.P. Arya is more specific. “Most of the products sold are branded. The feel component can be taken care of at the time of delivery. However, the choice factor may suffer,” he says, but reiterates that once Net penetration in Chandigarh goes up, e-shopping will pick up at a much faster rate.

Mr Prabhakar, Manager, Fifth Generation, an I-91 franchise, agrees and says that with terms and conditions of Net browsing getting easier through cable connectivity, online shopping will increase. “Customers will get more time to browse for the product and its components in detail,” he says. His company provides Net connections at homes through cable at Rs 400 for 4 hours a day (or 120 hours) per month through 512 Kbps of bandwidth.

Jaldi.com, an e-tailing portal that claims that sales orders on its site crossed Rs 4.5 crore in May, analysed customer behaviour and concluded that consumers prefer to e-shop for high-value products, mainly air-conditioners, refrigerators, televisions, mobile phones and audio products, though groceries remained on the top of the chart in terms of sheer volume. It was also determined that the profile of the surfers was mainly middle and upper income class.

Certainly, online shopping is not everyone’s cup of tea and many avoid it, deliberately. Says Tamanna, a housewife: “This may affect my evening outings. I am happy with conventional shopping,” she says. So the next time you see shoppers munching popcorns or digging into a softy cone in Sector 17, do not blame the bandwidth.

While the Net cannot replace the shopping plaza, it is catching on, and catching on fast.