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A shopaholic’s paradise

GEETA PADMANABHAN
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Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Single’s Day entice the e-shopper with fantastic offers and record bumper sales

In the virtual realmMaking the most of mega deals
In the virtual realmMaking the most of mega deals

In just a few hours till lunchtime on November 11, 2013, shoppers in China clicked their way to a new record in e-sales in one day. It was Single’s Day (11.11) — China’s equivalent to Valentine’s Day. Welcoming them in the virtual realm were retailers and e-commerce companies with endless promos and deep discounts. It also helped that China declares it a national holiday.

The turnover was humongous. By 1.04 p.m., Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce group, reported $3.1 billion in sales. By midnight, the sales figure doubled to $5.7 billion — proof that the Chinese have taken to online shopping in a way that’ll make China the largest market globally for e-commerce. “Crazy,” wrote the People’s Daily on microblog Weibo . Bottles of fiery Maotai liquor sold for 1 Renminbi (Rmb) in designated minutes (10-10:01 a.m. in one offer), Nokia Lumia phones, sneakers and women’s clothing flew off the virtual shelves. And to think just 31 per cent of the households have broadband internet, and 21 per cent mobile broadband, according to CLSA.

Cyber Monday

This one-day affair with e-shopping began as Cyber Monday in the U.S., when Shop.org analysed a noticeable spurt in Internet sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend in 2005, realised that orders came from workplace computers and named it Cyber Monday. It marked the beginning of Christmas shopping, and e-tailers jumped on the bandwagon with discounts, incentives, savings options, free shipping — and watched the upsurge. Sales doubled to $1.2 billion by 2011, despite a week’s wait for delivery close to Christmas, despite discounts through the holiday season. When broadband connections grew, e-buying sprinted; the Cyber Monday concept crossed the border, spreading its wings across the Atlantic.

Smartphones brought in mobile ads that entice us to click-order goods, do comparison-shopping, and buy stuff on-the-go. Mobile apps help us look up products — ‘hey, I’m getting steeper bargains here! Never mind, it’s already cheaper online than in brick-and-mortar stores.’ Major retailers jumped online, using their websites as marketing tools for in-house bargains, even as they promoted online sales through physical stores. “Cyber Monday is a whole week for us, check out our deals for 2013 when you get back to work,” said Amazon.com. “I browse, order my brand online and collect it offline,” said Sumana, a Cyber Monday shopper. “I get redeemable e-mail coupons and QR codes online for offline shopping.” Financial consultant Kannan calls it “mystery shopping.” “You don’t know till midnight what items are on sale. They are typically e-stuff — computers, laptops, mobiles, cameras.”

Black Friday

The real thrill of shopping, however, is in snatching a Black Friday bargain, he said. In an eagerly awaited reduction sale ritual, stores in the U.S. throw open their doors at the break of dawn on the day after Thanksgiving, with a promise of mega deals. I once joined the long line outside a Denver shop at midnight, hoping to pick up inexpensive clothes. The gate opened at 4 a.m., the line collapsed and a tsunami of shoppers swept me in. Screaming, buffeting gale-force women shoppers pushed me from aisle to aisle as they plucked clothes/gadgets off the stands and in half-an-hour edged me to the pavement! “The shelves were empty anyway and the check-out lines were long,” my companion consoled me.

So that is Black Friday, I told Sandip Shah, Co-Founder/MD, ShopYourWorld. It’s a police code name for the traffic nightmare caused by football fans pouring into Philadelphia on Thanksgiving Friday and stepping out to shop, he said. “It could be a book-keeping term — losses in red, profits in black.” The mark-downs are real, he said. “Black Friday is for stock clearance, profit is not the motive.” Since Black Friday shopping turned a tad violent at times, e-tailers initiated Cyber Black Friday sales, which stretch to Cyber Monday.”

Indian context

With internet-user numbers (Juxt figures) touching 250 million, where is India in this? Indian shopaholics are aware of Black Friday, said Sandip. Some ask relatives in the U.S. to buy on Amazon. “Last year, Google ran an Online Shopping Festival in India. It ran for just a day (12-12-2012), and the site traffic increased by 75 per cent, sales multiplied to three times the normal amount. Many Indian e-tailers plan to throw open a Black Friday sale, giving a chance to the expanding customer base to shop online. ShopYourWorld’s Black Friday sales were phenomenal last year, he bragged. “It went to ten times that of daily sales! Our servers crashed with the response!”

Aren’t the New Year, Aadi, Akshaya Tritiya sales our own Black Fridays? “The post-Diwali clearance is the closest we can get to a Black Friday-type of shopping event,” said Kashyap Vadapalli, CMO & Head–New Business, Pepperfry.com. After Diwali, retailers/merchants/marketplaces get together to “re-ignite” sales. Marketplaces benefit from this since merchants put up offers on e-marketplaces where consumers are already present. Banks and internet-traffic-driving companies work with e-commerce portals to create this kind of an event.”

So, is it online or offline? It depends on gift choices, price, delivery options and safety. Says Sandip, “Whether your cousin is waiting in the wee hours for the Minnesota shop to open or fighting the internet speed to clinch the best deal online, every shopper’s dream-of-a-day is just around the corner!”

GEETA PADMANABHAN

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