The spread of online retail in the country makes for good watching

Last week saw the rather low-key launch of a dotcom start-up. It is called Webvastra ( www.webvastra.in) and has been started by a group of IITians from IIT Kharagpur.

It is a website where you can order customised t-shirts online and have them delivered right at your doorstep.

With each t-shirt in the price range of Rs. 259 and Rs. 285 and the site getting an average of ten orders a day, the scale of the business is small, but it is part of a much bigger picture.

While all the talk has been about the growth expected in the retail sector, the prospects are even more bullish about online retail.

With organised retail still spreading its tentacles, things are even more nascent with online retail. In terms of e-commerce, the portals with the biggest transactions have been the Indian Railways online booking arm and for a while low-cost airline Air Deccan’s website.

They are followed by the number of online shopping sites one can choose from today.

But it can be argued that it was e-ticketing that opened up Indians to transacting through the Internet.

The challenges for online retail remain the level of Internet penetration and awareness to transact online.

So, the challenge right now is to tailor your business to the existing market.

The future

Future Bazaar ( www.futurebazaar.com) a new shopping portal, for example, tied up with the retail chain Big Bazaar to set up kiosks at its malls and sell its products through them.

Ebay ( www.ebay.in) meanwhile, is tying up with Reliance Web Worlds to use their Internet café’s because 24 per cent of surfers in the country still use cyber cafes.

Dell has been offering its PCs and notebook online through its portal for India.

It has been the company’s retail strategy worldwide since the 1990s but now even it plans to tie up with retailers to reach the different corners of the country. The range of services now on offer through the Internet is quite diverse indeed.

But the segment which is seeing intense competition and is set for big growth is travel.

You first had MakeMyTrip.com, then the list added Yatra.com, ClearTrip, Ezeego and it is set to expand.

The segment is being projected to grow at an astounding 60 to 70 per cent.

The challenge in online retail has always been to make the user linger on at the site.

Thus, some of the big players in the U.S. are using a strategy to “slow down” the users at their site.

They can watch streaming video and even use social networking features.

The goal is said to be to “alter the solitary nature of online shopping”.

ANAND SANKAR

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