E-commerce – Meeting the Tech Challenges

EXPRESS COMPUTER,

For an e-tailer, using the right technology tools is critical to scale up the website and keep online shoppers coming back for more. Here is a look at the IT problem faced by some online start-ups and how they are tackling them.

Where there have been several downward revisions for the GDP growth of the Indian economy in the past couple of years, there is one segment that seems to be growing by leaps and bounds: the nascent but burgeoning e-commerce space. The country has been witnessing an e-commerce revolution of sorts, transforming the way people shop not just in metros but in smaller cities and towns as well. From apparel and electronic items to grocery and luxury goods, almost everything is available and sold online. According to experts, the 70% year-on-year growth of the roughly $110 billion e-commerce market in India is expected to continue for the next few years. So far, it has been largely dominated by online travel industry (80% market share), with electronic retail (e-tailing) holding the distant spot (6.4% market share). Nevertheless, more and more players are entering e-tailing space and India seems to have just scratched the surface here. Within e-tailing, according to eBay data available online, technology products are the most popular (44%), followed by the lifestyle category (35%).

Express computer spoke to some of the e-tailers across various categories to find out their technology challenges and how they go about putting together various software tools to run their websites and keep customers happy

In-house or off-the-shelf?
Most e-tailers swear by in-house solutions rather than of-the-shelf products, since the former cater to their needs better and offer more flexibility in terms of customization and scalability. Says Ankit Khanna, VP-Product at Snapdeal.com, “For large-scale businesses, in-house solutions work best, as there are just too many things involved which a branded or off-the-shelf software can’t handle. Also, with in-house solutions, managing the entire user base becomes much easier.”

Shopclues.com is another e-commerce start-up that uses in-house solutions. According to Founder and CEO Sandeep Aggarwal,” We built our technologies using multiple open-source tools. It was done in-house because we had unique requirements and no off-the-shelf solution seemed to meet them. Also, we are building our business for long-term horizon and with very high level of scale in mind. The biggest advantage of an in-house solution is that it is fully customizable, scalable, familiar, and you can develop technology around the company’s processes.”

On the flip side, an in-house solution turns out to be more expensive, has a longer gestation periods, and requires very specialized skills to develop and run. Some companies are also known to have experimented with off-the-shelf products but later chose to come back to in-house solutions. One such example is Mysdala.com, which started off by using Zen Cart, an open-source shopping cart software, but later switched to in-house solutions.

Getting customer relations right

Tools that help companies manage and improve customer loyalty and satisfaction and extremely important in any business. Perhaps even more so for online shopping destinations where there is little face-to-face interactions with customers and a lot depends on how user friendly the site is and how sophisticated the tolls are at the back end.

Here again, most players that EC spoke to prefer in-house solutions. Dinesh Agarwal, Founder and CEO, IndiaMART.com, a B2B website that brings together buyers and suppliers says, “We do use a CRM application, which is developed in-house. As a business, our aim has been to be extremely accessible to our customers and there are multiple channels like a toll-free phone line, e-mail, online posting that can be used to reach us. All queries and feedback that we get are centrally received and then directed to the concerned person for efficient resolution. Once the query is resolved from out side, our teams actually get back to the custlmer to ensure that they are satisfied with the outcome.” All this is only possible with an in-house solution that knows your needs perfectly well, he adds…

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