In this guest post written by Mr. Sanjay Mehta – the president of Homeindia.com, he shares his experiences and insights from doing online retail business geared towards Indian customers. He describes Homeindia’s journey over the period of last 7 years, that has seen it all – the start, the boom, the bust and today’s rising wave. The article presents excellent all-rounded points on various business aspects including but not limited to product positioning, customer focus and sailing through the highs and lows of economic conditions. Needless to say, the article has lots to take home for entrepreneurs in the Indian Internet space. Many thanks to Sanjay for sharing this with our readers. Feel free to present your thoughts and even ask questions to Sanjay, if you have any. [If you have a story to share which fits the theme of iLeher and would like to publish, please contact madhur at iLeher dot com]
Here goes the story in his own words:
When you think retail, you think walk-in, you think proximity. And yet, we are running a retail business where we are thousands of miles away from our nearest customer!
Yes, I refer to our e-retail business, running at Homeindia.com, where we have focused exclusively on customers outside of India. Even today, nearly 7 years after starting this business, it fascinates me that sitting in a small office in Lower Parel, Mumbai, we are selling ethnic Indian products to customers located in far flung areas, all over the world.
We evolved into this. Starting from a pioneering, first of its kind web-to-snail-mail service (“Online Post”) that we launched in 1998, then extending to other services for NRIs, and then to a gifting service for NRIs, and finally evolving into this present state of an e-retailer, catering to NRIs and non-Indians, outside India.
I thank Madhur for inviting me to make this guest posting, and I take the opportunity to share some stray thoughts emerging out of the learnings of our journey of the last 6-7 years:
1. While we could have opened up our store to the Indian customer, it is clear that the customer in India is very different from the customer outside India. A single brand, a single URL will be hard pressed to do justice to both of these customer types, at the same time. From merchandising, to presentation, to pricing, and to the key value proposition offered, these will be entirely different for the two customer types. Even the quality of service that one needs to give to the customer, and which one can afford to give to the customer, varies a lot, between these two markets. As an organization also, this means two different cultures or attitudes, which cannot co-exist easily. So where we see many others attempting to address both of these markets simultaneously, it is our firm belief that we need to be focused to a market, and ensure that we have the best offering for that market.
2. Back in 1998-99, the decision to go NRI or India, was a simple one. There was no serious user base or market in India, and the NRI space certainly appeared far more attractive. Today, one may actually sit back and think – where should one rather be. And of course, each one will come to their own conclusion. For us, it still remains a relatively simple question to answer. The Indian consumer still has a distance to go before he embraces online shopping, especially for products that are otherwise in easy reach of his, in the offline world. There will be some early adaptors, and there will be specific unique product niches, where traction will happen. However on a mass acceptance front, I believe, it is still a while away. On the other hand, the market outside India has got only more attractive. In addition to the NRI, we see an increasing interest in things Indian, from foreigners – Americans, Europeans, etc. With the increasing interest in India, there is an increasing interest in things Indian. And while finding the specific customer/s for Indian products in the large global population may be like finding needles in a haystack, yet, once found, these needles are made of gold and diamond tipped – essentially in terms of what they buy, the transaction size, etc. So the search is worth the while!