Some see these days with apprehension, and some think of it as great opportunities to come, the choice is always yours!
Every year starts with new hopes and same was the case for 2020. We lined up new thoughts, scheduled hirings, made expansion plans, and thought of new projects. The Corona virus was in the air whilst we planned the strategies for a new year. All of a sudden, the strategies became futile and people started finding options to save their business. The term ‘Digital Transformation’ is no more a strategy; it has become the basis for survival for most companies. Companies were forced to adopt digital options to continue their businesses and ‘Work From Home (WFH)’ became a mandate to avoid the social spread of Covid-19. It was in the news that many of the top consulting and IT companies were migrating to create virtual office concepts by making WFH a mandate for their employees. Those few, that were amongst the major companies could at least try to face the challenges but for rest, it was a nightmare. IT infrastructure employees had to work day and night to set up the infrastructure and get them ready for operations in the current situation, the rest had to halt their operations for a few days to figure out and come up with a plan, they slowly adapted what they could afford; especially the SMEs and startups.
A myriad of changes happened over the last two months, everybody talked about how industries across various sectors have undergone change and about the losses that everyone had to accept owing to the sudden change. Many startups had to pink slip their employees or had to initiate the process of layoffs. On the contrary, what we saw in the startup consulting field was the number of enquiries we received for software development in the last two months. We can simply say that, there was an exponential growth in the business leads and conversion for small scale IT companies during the current scenario. Also, many who had ideas but could not proceed further due to the hectic schedule found time to pursue their business plans in these days. Lockdown days opened a great deal of opportunities for people who have dreamt to start their own business and develop the ideas in detail. And, fortunately many of the businesses that couldn't survive in the regular working days have found traction now, people started exploring online options locally as big entities stayed away from running operations in tier 2 and 3 cities. All these factors contributed towards developing new applications or towards revamping the existing platforms to accommodate more users.
Some sectors have seen tremendous tractions in terms of new business in the last two months, utilising the opportunity due to absence of big players and rising demand for online services.
Ecommerce website development has seen a boom in the last two months when the government announced the delivery of essentials during lockdown. Many of the local supermarkets and startups took initiative to immediately run the operations locally as everyone found the opportunity in the absence of players like Amazon, Flipkart, Big Basket due to their lackness of resources locally. Many of the players have used basic templates like Open Cart to launch their business, and supermarkets found this time to revamp their website, which they have never bothered to update in the past,in order to reach their existing customers. It was interesting to see the flyers in newspapers where each day you could see a new launch in the city. The feature of mobile number sharing with the new application could save upto Rs. 100 every day in grocery purchase.
It was interesting to know from various social media posts and newspaper articles that many regular ecommerce users have turned out to be kirana shops users, the reason they quote was the importance of helping nearby shops in epidemic scenarios as their survival is very important for the communities nearby. Facebook’s investment in Jio suddenly brought Reliance into the ecommerce sector (Jio Mart) when they introduced Whatsapp based grocery delivery across the nation; within no time, thanks to their strong supply chain. Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) launched BharatMarket, and also hyperlocal delivery applications like Swiggy and Zomato, real estate applications like NoBroker.in and other funded startups invested in grocery and related ecommerce services for their existing customers as complementary offerings. This could engage few of their customers even though it cannot be seen as a long term business for these entities, further investment and expansion will obviously be a challenge as they move further.
Having said all this, We could not see any kind of innovations in the e-commerce sector even during this stage of the e-commerce boom. I feel that the e-commerce sector is not evolving from its age old ways, similar to the negligible changes in the traditional businesses. Most of the players in the field discuss copying one or the other ecommerce app but nobody seems to come up with a groundbreaking idea that may change the face of the ecommerce sector as a whole. The discussion always spiralled around development and the UI design, we have never seen anyone talk further on the improvement of supply chain, delivery, procurement or how sellers work or on any process to make the supply chain simple. It is always just about developing or integrating one template for the business to reach users in a short time. This attitude might have killed the local platforms when they try to compete against top players. Business operations, last mile delivery or supply chain management is always pushed to the last priority as the concentration is always towards launching their sites. The requirement more or less is always like this; “I need a simple site like Amazon with this and that features, you should help me develop the features and train me how to run this.“. The quote ‘ Rome was not built in a day’ suits those who want to build platforms similar to those that took years to perfect. This is where I can proudly say one project we have signed up on ecommerce recently will change the social commerce sector with high customer engagement. We, as a product management company, got this project as a reward for our past efforts to work on unique concepts or new products. It's rare when one gets to work with clients who understand the cycle of product development and improvements, it makes you work better, comes out with innovations in the ecommerce sector and creates your space in the competition.
Hyperlocal deliveries have seen a huge growth in the last 3 months due to the demand in getting things at the doorstep. And, it was listed among essential services during the lockdown period and the users’ hesitation to leave their houses also fueled the business. Many small and big companies have started hyperlocal services in the area bringing in a mix of ecommerce and delivery services. Local merchants and Kirana Stores quickly adopted hyperlocal channels like Swiggy and Zomato, to fulfil the demands of consumers for essential goods such as groceries and medicines. Food business went down by 80-90% during this time and hyperlocal delivery became the option to survive and the top brands expanded to tier II and Tier III cities.
Even as the market grows, players in the local market try to tap into this opportunity and attempt to copy the same business model of top players to compete in the same market. Initial orders have created a trust in prospects of expanding business, these players entered into this business space as most of the top players failed to run their operations initially; but this condition will change as soon as the lockdown period expires. The bigger players will return with exciting offers to regain the customers back into their platform. Local platforms with the same business model overlook to leverage the technology, operational capabilities and cash reserves of top players while getting into the same markets. But, the pandemic has created tremendous opportunity for local delivery services not limited to store delivery but by adding C2C (Customer to Customer) pickup and delivery services that has huge demand in the local markets.
Online payment has grown to an all time high after the lockdown, as the merchants started accepting online payments more in the local areas. UPI has become a major contributor in the growth of business, the search for contactless payments brought UPI to the forefront. 42% Indians have used digital payment mode multiple times as compared to the pre lockdown period in the last months as per Economic Times report. PayTM and Google Pay are among the top beneficiaries of this business. As the market for essential services has expanded and further opened after lockdown, the retail stores have also witnessed a growth in the number of payments made via payment apps. National Payments Corporation of India has taken all the possible measures to promote the digital payment modes and avoid the use of Cash or ATM withdrawals to avoid the possible spread of virus
Even when the taxi services have seen a drastic drop in the volume even after the lockdown was lifted, home services and beauty services have grown in large numbers. The number of requirements for On demand services in the last few months has grown exponentially, many facility management and individual companies have identified the lack of having an ecommerce portal. The positive trend has attracted people to invest in local On demand services as the return of skilled workers from GCC may boost the market with better supply of resources. There were many discussions in social media regarding the creation of such platforms and the utilization of returned resources. This is currently the trend across the world as most of the users have faced problems in identifying resources during the lockdown days.
Last but not least, local career consulting has made a great comeback as most of the companies started looking for local resources for their vacancies. We as a product company have received too many enquiries from local consultants who focus on unskilled resources and local talents. Also, the people who had resigned before the unexpected lockdown are now approaching the consultants nearby to avail a job in their area thereby creating more demands in the business.
There isn’t a need to explain the possibility for online academics, in the current scenario. Schools and colleges are in search of a suitable platform that meets all their requirements and that can help build an effective day to day operations schedule. Currently most institutions use a mix of products or just stick to the basic products to continue the classes and some of the apps have brought additional features to keep the business live. But, not one platform has claimed that they are 100% ready to be onboarded for digital academic transformation. One of the most common observations is about the teacher student engagement through online provisions or students' capacity to focus in classes for a long time. Secondly, online platforms do not meet the need for lower primary and KG students and effective sessions cannot be handled for these sections of academics. And, the major question is about the maturity of our market to adopt online academics. However, there is a huge potential for online academics in the market.
Even when the demand goes high for digitalisation in all areas of business, people are not ready to think out of the box and create better solutions, some of the common observations are;
People hope to follow the same business model of top players and compete in the same market. This is not a sustainable business model as the business will be forced to go down when the big entities get back on action.
New businesses are the result of expeditious thought processes, making it difficult to find a service/product. This product creation just follows existing business models without having enough market research done. This will not create any impact in the market nor will it see the light.
Digitalising the business will surely bring more users to the platform and help to engage with existing users. Offline business development or push models may not work in the next few months as it's difficult for face to face meetings.
Users expect more features compared to existing products or features that are missing while onboarding for a new product, just following the same business trend may not give expected results.
There is a tremendous amount of opportunity in the market and there are a whole lot of users ready to accept a new product as well. One must be able to come out with a product or a business model that has the potential to keep the customer engaged with the right features and they also have to exceed the customer expectations, as the companies that exist right now have set the bars high.