My thoughts on experiences this far…
Tuesday September 19th 2017

Online Retail Therapy

I’ve been drawn to online shopping from pre-ecommerce days in India. The experience of buying gadgets from Bhphotovideo or Amazon and seeing them respectfully delivering to US addresses of friends and family, had helped overcome the fear of getting damaged materials or em­pty boxes–as rumored in the VPP delivery phase of my childhood. I’d been longing to see this convenience in the country of my abode so began shopping from Ebay.in and Indiatimes.com as soon as I got to know about them. Ebay.in was the first ecommerce platform to deliver a gadget to me in a ship-shape condition or otherwise I had just bought books or flowers from Indiatimes.  Later, Flipkart’s entry into my world made book shopping so very predictable in a good sort of way that I’ve been using them for books for self-use and gifts without any worries of when? or how?  for a while now.

Presently, I’m even more contented to see the online shopping platform widening in the country. Earlier, we’d hear that customer is the king but saw how bad it was for us in physical stores…we found a limited range of brands or models, saw uncaring shop executives, and had to commute far and beyond to get the brands we wanted. Or, only bought from that small store some place as it’d give us our 10% discount. Now, with ecommerce sites increasing by the month, the range of products to buy is broadening, prices are easier to ascertain and compare, and that without having to stir about much, so now I do experience that king like feeling while shopping online!

Even so, why shop online? Living in a place like Gurgaon, I’ve such a problem getting a price cheaper than MRP for gadgets and appliances that at least for small gadgets like mp3 players or economy model mobile phones, I keep my life simple by going online. Then, I find that economy models of many products go out-of-stock rather rapidly from physical stores, and give me a limited choice of models to choose from. Gurgaon also has a scarcity of brick and mortar handicraft shops for impromptu gift shopping and its parking woes too keep me off its Shopping Malls. For many reasons therefore online shopping seems more pragmatic to me on most days. Beyond Gurgaon, I’m also a part-time dweller of Goa and I’ve seen how harrowing it was to stock my flat with appliances or furniture that in future, I’d just go online for such shopping…that rice-cooker I need in the flat can simply come from Flipkart and at a discounted price than what Panjim or Mapusa shops would charge me. Online shopping sites are beginning to give a wide product range at discounted prices so trawling physical shops is increasingly appearing unnecessary for varying merchandize. Plus, most have an acceptable product return policy that physical stores lack.

Very recently, online shopping has earned itself another brownie point. Much like American Black Fridays or Cyber Mondays, we’re beginning to witness major online sale days that may make shopping this way even more worthwhile. Citibank had its first OMG! Sale 2 days ago for its card holders. I was too busy that day and spent only some time looking through the sponsoring sites but would be sure to look at the next sale more closely. Meanwhile, Google is planning one such Great Online Shopping Festival on December 12 that should be fun to explore.

What is best bought online? Books. DVDs. Branded electronics and peripherals that come with the manufacturer’s service warranty. Branded appliances. Branded wear especially male Tshirts, shirts, sweatshirts and tracksuits. Even unbranded inexpensive female wear such as Indian kurtas, tops or scarves. Sweaters and shawls. Ladies bags and wallets. Some lingerie. Inexpensive jewelry. Furnishing such as branded bedsheets or even handmade coasters, table-covers and more. Stationery. Small furniture items. Crockery. Kitchen containers. Branded toys and games.

With some sites beginning to provide a mix-n-match interface on clothing ensembles and footwear, and thus a more hands-on experience of picking up products, I find myself accepting more and more products for online purchase.

I might add that for gifts, online shopping works out fabulously as items can be shipped directly to the recipient.

What impresses me about online shopping spaces? Initially, the site interface. Then the product range and pricing. Later, their delivery service, frequency of email/mobile updates, language used in their tracking email, and how responsive they are in case of problems of any kind. Importantly too, their feedback process.

Online shopping sites should offer a good experience of browsing, let me wishlist my choices for later shopping and offer a clean payment process. A discount coupon or another benefit would also lure me to the site repeatedly. Most of all though, these sites should build in a solid customer review option. The reviews should be unbiased and authentic. I buy products from Amazon with a high degree of confidence because of the product reviews I manage to read. Flipkart’s products offer customer reviews so enhance one’s confidence but not many sites think of building reviews into product details to educate a new customer. Similarly, on a multi-vendor platform like Ebay.in, it helps to have its vendor rating process in place.

Things I would be wary of buying online. Expensive jewellery. Western wear like trousers, jeans, skirts or dresses. Shoes. Expensive sarees as I’d like to check the fabric texture most of the time. Big furniture items as I’d like to see the wood grain and product finish closely. But increasingly I’d relent, and my need and online pricing may make me buy these items too.

Problems with online shopping. Most of all, it’s spam that keeps me harried. Barring a few, many sites send weekly newsletters announcing their products and that gets to be too much too often. Plus, I don’t quite know what these sites are doing with my personal information! Their sale sops also feel empty on a close look.

I’ve had some usual anticipated problems with my shopping too. A bag turns out to be too large. A digital kitchen scale ends up being smaller than the envisaged size. Earrings feel too large and heavy. An ordered wallet is received twice so I’m forced to deal with a courier agency, provide product declarations for its return and have to endure phone calls and emails to explain my position… And yet, there is more pleasure than pain involved in the whole experience. Being an early adopter of online shopping, I feel that I must persevere in the interest of human advancement ;-)

How to track online merchants?  It’s beginning to get difficult as many players are entering the field. Other than using our own memory aids of browser bookmarking and following the beloved brands on Facebook, using comparison websites like Junglee, Naaptol and Indiabookstore would start making sense to make our shopping decisions. Google too offers a comparison tool from google.in where using a product keyword (say, bag) followed by selecting ‘Shopping’ from ‘More’ options would help know about bags being sold by many online vendors.

As this segment matures, there will definitely be more tracking tools. Till then let’s enjoy the show with the chaos that comes with it.

For now, here’s my collection of online shopping ideas for everyone’s use. Do tell me about fantastic places I’ve missed or any I should try with added caution.

Sites I’ve been shopping from (in the order of preference):

itshandmade – lovely handicraft to browse. More products keep adding. I’ve loved crochet bookmarks, fabric pouches and small trinkets I’ve bought from there.

shopo – wider choice in handicraft than itshandmade but frequent (and taxing) pop-up messages on sellers gone on vacations. Still a delight to browse and shop from. I’ve enjoyed owning stationery, tote bags and inexpensive trinkets bought from there.

Inkfruit – their plain polo Tshirts for men offer a good range of colours at great prices. Sales and discounts actually help save. Most other clothes have a fussy print but youngsters may like them.

Flipkart – fantastic packing and delivery. Wishlist remains online indefinitely. Product range has been increasing. With their awesome service of mp3 downloads through Flyte, single song downloads are instantly possible. Out-of-stock product availability system works well. My first choice for book and toy purchases.

Jabong – Good product range and site interface. Wishlist remains intact. Next day delivery in Gurgaon. Sign up discount didn’t work out. Its widespread customized advertising makes one’s wishlist or purchase history appear on many sites–can be eerie till one gets used to the idea.

Ebay.in – pioneers in the Indian online market and offer a mind-boggling product range. I’ve bought many mp3 players, 1 mobile phone, pendrives, gadget accessories and more such items from them.

Foodmandi – a Gurgaon based fruit, vegetable and organic produce online store. Deliveries happen the next day. About 5% of perishables delivered end up looking forlorn but the rest feels good to work with.

Anandprakash – nice filigree bookmarks in brass. I keep a few handy to give away with books.

Swiss Military — I quite like the idea of browsing and buying adventure gear. Even though Victorinox knives and swisscards are more widely seen in stores, it’s the Swiss Military website that works better than the former for online shopping.

Nethaat — I like only 30-40% of handicraft displayed here. Its interface isn’t as attractive as Itshandmade or Shopo and many items just seem to be there to fill pages. And yet, through Nethaat, I found a small NGO called Charkha in Bikaner and been buying their soft and warm khadi stoles.

Infibeam — I seek them out for books that I don’t spot on Flipkart. Their delivery time is longer but prices a wee bit lower than Flipkart. I still prefer Flipkart’s delivery assurance and interface.

Indiatimes — I’d bought books from them years ago by joining their bookclub that was discontinued by them later. I even sent flowers to people but didn’t hear happy noises in return so I haven’t used them for some time now.

Sites I’m actively seeking: Reliable, reasonably priced but good quality cake and flower delivery sites. There are hundreds of them in this space but none that I can trust with my eyes closed!

I’d also love to see online businesses selling bird-feeders, birdhouses and birdbaths. America is full of such sites but businesses are still to appease bird-lovers in our country.

Sites I must check out before too long (listed in no particular order):

http://styletag.com
http://www.9rasa.com/

http://www.bagittoday.com

http://www.kidzoba.com/

http://www.firstcry.com/

http://www.babyoye.com/

http://vividha.in/
http://www.momandmeshop.in/

http://www.homeshop18.com/

http://www.urbanladder.com/
http://www.inliving.com
http://www.induscraft.com/
http://www.snapdeal.com/

http://www.juvalia.in/

http://www.bluestone.com/

http://zovi.com

http://www.limeroad.com/
http://greedyforgreen.com
http://www.zansaar.com/

http://www.excitinglives.com/
http://www.craftsvilla.com/
http://www.decathlon.in/
http://prettysecrets.com/
http://www.herstyle.in/
http://www.strapsandstrings.com/
http://www.shopimagine.in/
http://www.oyegirl.com/
http://www.yebhi.com/
http://www.bwitch.in/
http://www.myntra.com/
http://mithaimate.com/

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