Occupying a small room equipped with a few computers is a three-member team that handles the ebb and flow of purchase orders from across the globe for Auroville’s range of products, ranging from fragrance sticks to clothing and accessories and cosmetics.
The team, comprising Aurovilians and a few employees from the locality, processes purchase orders, coordinates with more than 30 manufacturing units in the universal township, and also handles customer experience management, from order confirmation through real-time consignment location updates and delivery at the doorstep.
Launched in 2008, the Auroville Online Store (auroville.com), began with books, spirulina, jam and body care products.
“At the launch, the store offered only about 20 per cent of the products that are on display now,” says Stephan Himmer, who leads the team here.
Numerous incremental improvements since then, auroville.com now offers a much better user interface and ease of shopping experience.
Apart from rich product information and zoom feature on the displayed product, the site offers choice of multiple currencies (rupee, USD or Euro) for overseas buyers. A clearer stratification of product categories, faster page loads and an option to show shipping cost to any location in the world are among the improvements.
Auroville online store ships its products across India and to overseas destinations such as France, Germany, Russia and cities across the US. Almost 60 per cent of online shoppers are international while 40 per cent of the demand is within India, though that ratio has reversed to 30:70, following a strategic decision to focus more on the domestic market.
Auroville now has a tie up with the Postal Department for shipping consignments but is exploring similar arrangements with private players as well.
Auroville has also made a speciality of packaging to ensure that its products, sometimes ceramic art, survive the long haul in one piece. “We’ve had customers writing in to say how good the packaging was,” says Vera who handles customer management at auroville.com
Auroville online tracks traffic to its site to gauge what its customers are getting hooked to, the products they browse and those that they end up buying.
“The observations go into updating our website, not only the front end which is seen by the customers but also in upgradation of the open source software. For example it will soon be much easier to buy products on auroville.com using mobile phones and tablets because we plan to launch a mobile compliant platform,” Mr. Himmer said.
Auroville.com supports four currencies and has several payment options for our customers - credit/debit card, PayPal, bank transfer and cheque collection/ money orders.
The unit also maintains a data base of customers and has recently started to reach out to them, beginning with mailers about the start of our auroville.com Facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/aurovilledotcomwww.facebook.com/aurovilledotcom .
“We will start sending mailers more often, announcing new products but also other news regarding Auroville that may be of a general interest. We will also start sending relevant news to customer groups - like an event by Auroville artists in Puducherry to clients in Chennai or Bengaluru,” said Mr. Himmer.
Auroville’s production philosophy follows this basic premise---not produce many trendy items that outlive their usefulness in a couple of weeks.
“As an offshoot, the purchasing habits of our customers are relatively stable. Our customers often buy products as a steady supply of trusted products for their personal use in their household and also to gift them to friends and family - which we can see from gift or birthday messages and delivery addresses,” Mr. Himmer said.
Going forward, auroville.com intends to add more products of Auroville, especially from small producers and craftsmen. The story of the creation of the product is as important as the product itself.
“It is important to us that our customers understand where the products are coming from and how they are produced. We proceed carefully because www.auroville.com does not aim to be a revenue producer only. For our customers we are a window into Auroville and hence we like to see ourselves as a reflection of Auroville itself,” said Mr. Himmer.