Category Archives: Consumer Internet

The App World is Flat!

The App World is Flat

With Apps / Mobile growth, things are changing at a fast pace in the eCommerce / mCommerce space in India & around the world; for purpose of simplicity – calling it eCommerce without bothering about on which platform the transaction happens on.

The world is fast discovering web on smartphones, gets on-boarded to services like WhatsApp & Facebook, doing their first online transactions on Mobile Recharge services like FreeCharge & Paytm, and evolving to eCommerce, On-Demand Services & Travel. Unlike the previous predictions made in 2011/2012 – which were very company specific, this time the focus is largely around the trends in the Mobile App world.

 

The (App) World is Flat!

In old days of Internet Marketing, there were strategies to acquire users / customers by categories through multiple marketing channels – Adwords, SEO, Email, Display advertising, etc

The App World is flat. Be it large commerce startups like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Ola, Uber or the ones that were launched yesterday in any space, the common ground for everyone to get started today is exactly the same – getting the App Installed. This is disruptive in many ways – if someone has $1 Mn to spend on user acquisition – no matter at what stage / scale a startup is, the cost to get the app installed now remains the more or less similar for everyone.

As other core functions of eCommerce like Logistics, Merchants, Payments get more organised & commoditised; and User Acquisition starts with getting the app installed – a new ecommerce marketplace startup that launches today with $5 Mn Series A investment has much better chance to succeed than ever before or give existing large players good competition.

That puts everything in a interesting perspective – As cost is exactly the same, what are the differentiators? Its the core value proposition of the startup – the one communicated before user installs the app and one actually delivered. This change makes every startup focus a lot on building a great product and an awesome consumer experience than ever before!

 

Discovery, Marketing & Product Experiences:

In the ‘web’ world, Google allowed marketers to reach ‘users with intent’ through Adwords (or SEO) and so did Facebook to reach a certain demographic of users on its platform. This has changed fast. For high growth mobile startups that are scaling up in India – Google & Facebook’s share of marketing spends is shrinking when compared to others.

App Installs plays a level playing field in User Acquisition today; networks & affiliates are able to drive App Installs at better volumes with very competitive rates when compared to Google, Facebook or Twitter. Discounts, cashbacks & user driven growth form new means of acquiring users at a exponential rate. Share of wallet from marketing spends for Google & Facebook is going down.

Any consumer app like Flipkart / Snapdeal or Google / Facebook can now read multiple signals off user’s phones – apps, locations, contacts, texts messages, and so on and redefine how users are targeted for advertising. Flipkart’s plans to build online advertising business are well known; could be huge opportunity if kept independent.

Mobile App capabilities can also translate into building relevant product experiences for end users. For example – a Cleartrip trying optimise its Hotel Booking Offering for users when it reads a Flight Booking SMS from Airline website on user’s phone; Housing showing financing options for house from HDFC knowing that the user has the HDFC Bank App installed on phone; or Flipkart showcasing user products based on how quickly they can be delivered; of a Finance App recommending user investment options based on his Account Balance and so on. In one of my recent conversations this came up – today a user’s mobile phone location is his delivery address.

Till now, Ecommerce products today have just transformed from web to app, not essentially unlocked the value the mobile platform brings. If existing players don’t innovate, some new startups will. Focus on building awesome products.

 

App Discovery will evolve:

App Discovery and Install today act as the top of the funnel for every User Acquisition effort. Visiting a App Store to download any app is a redundant step; its not required if app is discovered through other channels. Expect Google Play to take the Install button (or trigger) outside the Google Play Store and let users install apps without explicitly visiting the Play Store in background. If that happens, expect APIs that will trigger app installs for publishers & advertisers making user acquisition & advertising dollars more efficient. Yes – that possibly kills ASO, App Discovery as we know of today on App Store, and Google’s Adwords product for Play Store.

Mobile Apps ecosystem is cursed with high uninstall rates. Users & Marketers would want to move towards the philosophy – you acquire user only once, does not matter through which channel – App Store or Browsers. Users would want the product / service on-demand on every platform – Smartphone or Desktop Browser whenever they want without hassles of user / account management. Expect browsers integrations & enhanced capabilities on Chrome with App Stores (Google Play to start with) that enables users to access the Apps installed on their smartphones on desktop or any other platforms without having to log-in separately.

App Stores like Google Play or Apple iTunes will also evolve from their current stage of ‘enabling discovery of mobile apps’ to ‘authentication of user credentials’. App Stores will retain user information – personal details, payment info (saved cards or wallet), delivery details and so on to transform into 1-click authentication platforms. Example – Users while shopping on Snapdeal, Flipkart or Amazon Mobile App can do 1-click checkout with App Store authentication that gives the Ecommerce service all user information w/t payment information data that is required for Ecommerce sites to fulfil the transaction.

This is something similar to what Facebook did earlier where Apps & Games on Facebook Platform received user information on Login-with-Facebook. Its still early days for Mobile App Stores, they will evolve in big way going forward.

Note: Google is already working in this direction to distribute Install action with App Invites (Beta)

Engagement v/s Instant Gratification:

As consumers get habituated to transactional & on-demand services – social products & social commerce products (like Wishberg – my previous startup) or any other would find it extremely difficult now to scale up or grow without providing the instant gratification experience.

Existing large companies in this space are picking up clues and started to move towards a transactional experience with Buy buttons. To ecommerce companies, working with large networks for such 1-click transaction experiences is a big win.

Expect focus of large social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc) & discovery channels (Google, Pinterest, etc) to move from top of the funnel (i.e. product discovery or media spends) to bottom of the funnel (enabling transactions or margins). They are currently driving Mobile Installs or Traffic for their current advertisers, going forward may be looking at driving customers. Such products or services know more about users than anyone else.

Products like Facebook, Google will retain customer information (delivery, location & saved card details) and move towards enabling the one-touch buy experience.

 

Frequency is all that matters now!

This topic itself calls for a longish post (may be for some other time), for now the point to note is that Mobile App makes perfect use-case for a high frequency consumer behaviour. There are already many studies that have concluded that consumers prefer to have only few apps on their smartphones – ones that are frequently used.

Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram etc which see extremely high engagement (and frequency) are less likely to be uninstalled by user while an app that is not used for few weeks (or even days) is very likely to get uninstalled. Ecommerce products would not be able to match levels of usage demonstrated by Social Apps.

Transactional apps that have a daily / weekly use case like Cabs, Food Delivery, Grocery, etc would see better usage compared to others. As that gets discovered, expect Ecommerce apps to expand into multiple categories / segments that could be completely diverse – Paytm moving to eCommerce or Travel, Ola moving to Food Delivery and so on to drive frequent usage.

This strategy works well with two big motives – increases app usage as users have more reasons to open & engage with the app and also adds up to their topline. But for vertical commerce players like Home Repairs, Home Furnishing, Jewellery, Footwear or others – surviving in App World with infrequent usage will be extremely challenging.

Today, Success or Failure of any startup is just an uninstall away!

 

OnDemand Services may disrupt eCommerce forever.

In past few months, many on-demand services have raised massive Series A rounds, the ones focussing on infrequent use-cases like Home Repairs, etc will start struggling with user retention and other ones who are driving high frequency use-cases like groceries, food delivery will start bleeding because of poor unit economics.

Ecommerce today as we know it has its own challenges – relying on third party logistics, depending on unverified sellers & products, deep discounting of products to drive volumes and their attempts to move from cash on delivery to cashless transactions.

On other hand, offline retailers in India are up in arms against online players but have little competition to offer. If OnDemand services like Groffers, Swiggy and others in this on-demand space started delivering users Ecommerce products partnering with your offline retail giants and local stores – eCommerce changes in this country forever.

No more waiting for even for 24-48 hours, the product that you want, from the trusted store of your choice, in the payment mode of your choice, in your hand – in next 30 minutes. The Amazon Prime or Flipkart First experience delivered to you, every time. This changes everything we have learned or known about ‘traditional ecommerce’.

Concluding Notes

Mobile app & growth story is just getting started. Its too early to declare winners because the App World is Flat!

14 Ways to Emotionally Engage users with your Product

Most conversations with entrepreneurs and product managers who want drive engagement and bring viral features to their products are answered as ‘We will gamify our product through features’. This post is about clearing some nuisance around the topic of gamification in products.

Gamification has nothing to do with building features. In fact, even Product Management has nothing to do with building features. It is not a rocket science, product managers usually figure out the ‘building features’ part of it with time and experience.

“People don’t buy products. They buy better versions of Themselves.”

So how do you ‘connect’ users with your product? Not through features, not through gamification, but by triggering certain emotions with your users.

Gamification = Getting People Emotionally Engaged with Product.

Below are some of the most powerful emotions people have along with few examples that will help you figure out how get users to emotionally engaged with your product / startup.
PS: The number of emotions could be more, I have referred to only 14 here.

1. Expression

Expression – People love to express themselves. Enable it.

Products that allow users to express themselves:

  1. Tumblr
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook
  4. Medium

Products that allow users to express themselves anonymously:

  1. Secret
  2. Whisper
  3. FML

Tip: ‘Expression’ is used as a core use-case in product.

2. Acknowledgment

Acknowledgment: People love getting acknowledged. With interactions & endorsements.

Help people getting acknowledged. They love it!

  1. LinkedIn – Recommendations & Endorsements are social acknowledgments which users love.
  2. Twitter – Retweets and Replies on tweets are great way to be acknowledged.
  3. Facebook – Likes & Comments are acknowledgments to status messages users shares
  4. Quora – Upvotes & Comments is acknowledgment to your answers.
  5. Tumblr – Love & Reposts are acknowledgments to you posts.

Tip: ‘Acknowledgments’ lead to ‘User Notifications’ which further lead to Engagement. Always build features that enable acknowledgments in products that use ‘expression’ as use-case in product.

3. Exclusivity

Exclusivity or Privilege: People love being privileged. Make it exclusive.

Make it exclusive. No one likes the feeling of being left out.

  1. Gmail – Gmail invites were exclusive to few users. People were ready to buy invites off Ebay.
  2. Quora – Only existing users can invite new users.
  3. Pinterest – Users need to apply for access. After few days they were granted it.
  4. Mailbox – Users were in queue to get access to the app.

Tip: ‘Exclusivity’ works best for initial referral program for driving sign-ups.

4. Being Cool

Being Cool: People want to be Cool. People want others to know they are Cool.

Make your users look cool when they share your product.

  1. Frontback – Share a snap along with a selfie. Lets users be cool.
  2. Vine – Short cool creative videos.

Tip: ‘Being Cool’ will help you drive sharing on Social Networks.

5. Nostalgia

Nostalgia: People have memories. Sweet Memories. Remind them about it.

Remind users about some of the best times they have experienced.

  1. Timehop – Complete product is built around Nostalgia. Reminds users of special moments from the past.
  2. Facebook – 2014: Year in Review videos
  3. Twitter – 8th Anniversary: Which was your first tweet.

Tip: ‘Nostalgia’ helps get back old users and revives their interest. Can be only used once in a year on special occasions.

6. Curiosity

Curiosity: People want to know. They fear on losing out. Keep them curious.

Keep users curious. Keep them looking for more.

  1. LinkedIn – The feature ‘who viewed my profile’ tries to keep its users curious, and engaged.
  2. Twitter – Catching up with Timeline, mostly is the fear of losing out.
  3. BuzzFeed / UpWorthy / ViralNova – All try to trigger curiosity of readers through their post titles.

Tip: ‘Curiosity’ in products helps you increase repeat usage.

7. Competitiveness

Competitiveness: People love to compete with others. Creates a sense of achievement. Make it happen.

Drive users to compete with friends / others.

  1. Foursquare – The leaderboards between Friends was a great way 4SQ ensured people kept checking in.
  2. Quora – The feeling of ‘I have a better answer’ or ‘I can answer this question in a better way’ keeps driving engagement.
  3. Fitbit – Leaderboard that tracks your fitness with friends.
  4. Hackrank – Programming challenges.

Tip: ‘Competitiveness’ leads to greater engagement. Though its novelty in private group is lost after some time.

8. Stay Organized

Stay Organized: People love to organize things. Organize everything. Make it happen

Give users stuff that they want to sort / organize. Keep them busy.

  1. Pinterest – Lets you organize pins / interests/ stuff you love.
  2. Evernote – Organize all your notes.
  3. Wanelo – Organize fashion stuff. Ask girls how much they love doing this.
  4. Calendar / Contacts – They are always in a mess. Its a never-ending struggle to organize this. Google Contacts & Google Calendar help you keep them in place.

Tip: ‘Staying Organized’ helps your users spend more time in your product. It soon becomes a habit.

9. Importance

Importance: People love to feel important. Its about them. Their identity. They want to show off.

Make your users feel important about themselves.

  1. LinkedIn – My professional achievements., that is how a user sees it.
  2. Twitter – My views. My opinions., that is how a user tweets.
  3. FourSquare – Checkin is telling the world – I am here.
  4. About.me – This is me. This is my identity.

Tip: ‘Importance’, everyone wants to be important. The product usually ends up being shared, talked about – and results in others wanting to do the same.

10. Authority

Authority: People love to display their authority on a topic. Give them opportunity to do that.

Help create authority for users. Users want to be acknowledged as influencers by others.

  1. Quora – Authority by Topics. Asked to Answer is being authoritative.
  2. StackExchange – For programmers.
  3. HackerOne – For hackers.
  4. Hacker News – For Geeks.

Tip: ‘Authority’ is the importance others in a community or forum assigns to select users. Users want to be acknowledged as being authoritative, it helps increasing engagement and spending time on the product.

11. Visual

Visual: People love stunning visuals. Its a powerful emotion.

Visuals create impact in product. Don’t miss on it.

  1. Instagram – Personal Emotions.
  2. Flickr – Professional Emotions (yes unfortunately for Flickr).
  3. 500px – Photography community.

Tip: ‘Visual’ is a substitute to all unsaid emotions. Use well when your product is build around pictures and photographs.

12. Freebies

Freebies: People love Freebies. Badges. Credits. It all works.

Freebies work. Make use of them correctly.

  1. Quora – Credits users get when other upvote their answers.
  2. FourSquare – Badges for Check-in.
  3. Uber – Credits to Refer Friends.
  4. Facebook / Twitter / Google – Regularly use Advertising Credits to on-board new advertisers.

Tip: ‘Freebies’ – use it only for one purpose. Can be used for activations, sharing or driving engagement. Use it for one use-case that can measured.

13. Money

Money: People want to make Money. People want to receive Money.

Money is one of the strongest emotions. Portray it positively.

  1. Google Adsense – Opportunity for bloggers, individuals, publishers to earn money online.
  2. PayPal – Receive money from anyone.
  3. Elance – Get paid for free-time work.
  4. Kickstarter – Raise money for your projects.
  5. Gumroad – Make money by selling digital goods.

Tip: ‘Money’ – Receiving Money / Making Money is a positive emotion. Giving away is negative.

14. Sex

Sex: People want Companions. People want Dates. People want Sex.

Keep it simple, keep it safe.

  1. Tinder – Helps you find date.
  2. Match.com – Helps you find date.
  3. OkCupid – Helps you find date.

Tip: ‘Sex’ – It is more about selling the Hope. Keep the product simple. Don’t over engineer.

Concluding Notes:

When you build any feature, try to trigger a emotional engagement with user. If you are in early stage of your product development or in process of making your product roadmap, spent some time with this methodology – 15 Steps Towards Building a Great Product.

When it comes to including emotions in your product, ensure the following:

  1. Use max 2-3 emotions per product.
  2. Gamification is not about building features. It is about emotionally engaging a user.
  3. Don’t exploit users. Be subtle. Be good.

Building The Next Disruptive Startup

The most disruptive word in Startup Ecosystem is ‘disruption’. Its used / abused / misused by almost everyone – entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, mentors, press and so on.

Founders love to call their product / startup as disruptive and so do investors who keep saying they are looking for disruptive ideas, both have very limited explanation of what disruptive startup actually means for them or they run out of examples or ideas when you ask them what exactly is disruptive about it. Most of the answers are – ‘If this becomes big, it could disrupt the market’.

Disruption

This is a random post, not intended to draw any conclusion or summary but sharing few things I have learned about disruptive startups and ideas. Probably also on how to get ideas to build your next big ‘disruptive’ start-up.

Circa 2008

Early 2008, I moved in my new role at Rediff as Product Head for Ecommerce. This was still the time when Ecommerce was extremely small in India, concentrated with some players – Rediff, Indiatimes, Ebay and couple of others; and the other side of Ecommerce was Travel which was growing steadily. At Rediff, we had 3 ecommerce products – Rediff Shopping, Rediff Books and Rediff Auctions (We shut down auctions soon after).

These were the early days of Ecommerce and to say we were not innovating then would be wrong. To bring up more users to Ecommerce, COD (Cash On Delivery) was introduced. To expand reach beyond (limited) online audience, experiments like Reader’s Offers (in Newspapers) were attempted by many. We introduced real-time customer support calls to users who dropped out during checkouts and assisted conversions via IVRs. Debit Cards were integrated. Top 20% products in top 20 cities were delivered in less than 3 days. Back then, all major players were marketplaces – that involved a lot of co-ordination with vendors / sellers for inventory, logistics, deals, order status and operations.

Few days into my new role a colleague mentioned to me about a new service – Flipkart. It was selling books. I loved what I had seen on Flipkart. The product was good if not best, but for a site that was launched just few months back – it did all that it was supposed to do perfectly with attention to detail. Prices were comparable if not the best; what blew my mind was the shipping times – awesome 4-6 days of delivery time.

In 2008, books sold on any ecommerce service took 6-10 days to dispatch (most of them had common vendors) and books that required procurement from US took 25 days on a minimum side (and customers used to wait!). Flipkart was quickly dismissed as a niche website, and books contributed to a smaller percentage of overall business. In fact there was a time that competition was more worried about Futurebazaar for its blistering marketing budget (oh, btw its in dead-pool now).

By end of 2009 I moved out of Rediff. And over time I started ordering books (and then other products) much frequently on Flipkart and was never disappointed by its service. I knew friends and colleagues were admiring loving it too. Flipkart kept growing and so did the word of mouth for them. Flipkart was rejected not just by many Investors, but also by its competitors. Over a period of time, all its competitors lost out on Flipkart as it emerged to be the face of Ecommerce in India.

So what did Flipkart do differently to disrupt Ecommerce? Instead of marketplace approach, it started off as a self-managed service. It picked up Books – the most under-served category then (under-served, but large – in 2008 Rediff Books had 1.2 Million Titles listed). It used most simplest channel for $0 marketing – Search Engine Optimization. Adding a million books to Google Index (this is in 2008) in a category that had less than 10 players helped them rank up well. And they rarely did goof up on delivery, dispatch or customer experience.

That was Flipkart. And the story about ‘disrupting a industry’ by a startup or underdog remains similar across the world. Startups / Entrepreneurs don’t disrupt a industry or vertical by ‘launching just another product’ in existing market. There needs to be a remarkably different approach, addressing a large market which is loved (or appreciated) by its initial users / customers.

So how do you get ideas for a disruptive startup?

Another example in Indian context is Housing.com – picked up real estate as a vertical that had more or less no differentiation and existing players were hardly innovating on product and consumer experience over years. Everyone was a copy-paste product of everyone else. Housing launched with a better product from day one for discovering real estate properties, focused on verified data, authentic photos and awesome user experience. While its competitors were serving advertisers, Housing started serving users. It is still in its initial days, but I am hoping Housing.com will become big someday (PS: its product is now bit more complex that it was in the initial days).

Coming back, a existing market / vertical, a large category, that has not changed for a long time are prefect for disrupting with a product that brings a fresh approach to it. While existing players keep thinking that their ‘yet another feature’ will kill this new startup that is making a dent, unfortunately this never happens. ‘Yet another product’ in a large market does not really disrupt a industry.

This probably is true for almost every big startup or product that is out there today.

  • AWS for Hosting:
    Huge market, frustrating times to set up & costly infrastructure, disrupted by on-demand computing and pay-as-you go.
  • Gmail for Email:
    Huge market, competition offering 4-10 MB inboxes, disrupted by 1 GB mailbox and of-course better product.
  • Square for Offline Payments:
    Huge offline payments market, under-served, simple product to accept payments with a phone.
  • Dropbox for Syncing Files:
    Huge need; users mailed files to save on multiple PCs or used USB drives. Simple & fast web storage.
  • Stripe for Online Payments:
    Huge need; developers where busy doing complex PG integrations. Simple to use payment APIs.
  • Uber for Transport:
    Huge market, demand > supply; Under-served market. Cool product that made the customer look smart.
  • … and so many more I can think of…

So where do you go looking for big markets to disrupt and build large businesses?

 

1. Look for market segments that have not changed for years.

In India context, Flipkart and Housing mentioned above fit in this example. We are (probably) done with phase of getting most of the products / services from offline world to online. Some of the verticals are still broken despite being online for so many years.

Examples that come to my mind are – Travel (Vacations – it is still an broken and under-served market), Matrimony (Nothing has changed in this vertical for more than 10 yrs, however people and culture has changed a lot), Classifieds (Largely served by few players and the model hasn’t evolved much) and so on.

Some markets are so big that there is room for multiple big players – Fashion being one of them. Some of the verticals just came online (Online Grocery & Vegetables) but are struggling to grow, maybe they need to approach differently.

One of my favorite examples here is Stripe and how it differentiated itself from others in Payment Gateway vertical. Or even Quora that came up in QnA space that had sleeping products like Yahoo! Answers or Answers.com

 

2. Look for large products that are ageing fast.

Look for large products that are ageing fast and its early users are complaining or it fails to provide value to them.

Some of the examples, LinkedIn (The product has not changed much over years, its early adopters are not using it as they did earlier or now they have other ways to connect with them) or Facebook (Its evident that the engagement levels are dropping and instant messaging has taken over Social Networking). Twitter (Yes, Twitter is ageing. For new users its complex to use, to understand).

More directions – Facebook was default private product; then came Twitter that was default public product. There is lot of opportunity for both products to reverse privacy. For example, Twitter is a public identity to many people, its private aspect ie. direct messaging is massively broken. Forget private product, even Twitter as a public conversation platform is also broken or difficult to explain to new users. Twitter itself is experimenting with removing @ replies to appeal to new users (while existing users will miss the feature most).

 

3. Look for large products that serve multiple purposes.

Look for large products that serve multiple purposes. Perfect one of their use-cases.

Best example here is Facebook. Large products like Facebook serve(d) multiple purpose – Status Updates, Messaging, Photos, Staying in touch with friends, etc. WhatsApp took up Instant Messaging, Instagram took up photos, perfected the use case and in turn made a big dent with their products. Since usage on a large product already validates the market need, build something that makes it work for users.

One of my favorite examples here is Vine how it figured out a niche for itself in the online videos vertical owned by YouTube. Though Vine was not the first to start off (there was Viddy and Social Cam who focused too much on spamy growth hacking techniques on Facebook), it was Twitter’s push that built this one up.

Also recently Zuck announced ‘Un-Bundling of Facebook‘ which serves similar use-case.

 

4. Look for missing components in daily used products that are ignored

Look for broken / boring experiences in the products around you that are in daily use. Broken, because you can fix them. Boring, because you can make them cool (or add value).

This probably over laps the above mentioned use-cases. Mobile OS features like Camera got replaced by Instagram, Text Messaging got replaced by WhatsApp, Mobile Phone Book got replaced by Gmail Contacts. There is a big opportunity if you can identify and replace basic utilities around you with products.

PS: The biggest broken experience on phone or devices today is battery / charging. And this is a tough one!

 

5. Look for big news or market changes around you

If you are too much into technology news look for changes around you and a need for product that you could build because of market changes and opportunities that come up.

Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011. Ever since (and even before that) there have been tons of connectivity issues with Skype. Its time for a reliable Skype, one that works as it should. Big opportunity! There is Google Hangouts, but it still doesn’t make a cut and unfortunately Google still treats this product as a part of Google+ and/or Google Talk. It requires attention as a independent product like Chrome, YouTube or Android.

Another big blow was when Google decided to make Gmail for Business a paid service for all. There are other paid business service providers, I tried a few myself when I recently was looking out for a free / alternate solution, finally giving up and settled for a paid Gmail account. Its a great opportunity to build a awesome product here.

My favorite example here is AngelList, Naval is an angel investor in 100+ startups – sensed the opportunity of creating a platform that connects startups to angels much before anyone else did. Another one is how Admob discovered mobile advertising when the world started making mobile websites (WAP sites then).

——————

Concluding Notes:

How to find Disruptive Ideas for Startup?

Listing down the 5 methods mentioned above:
1. Look for market segments that have not changed for years.
2. Look for large products that are ageing fast.
3. Look for large products that serve multiple purposes.
4. Look for missing components in daily use that are ignored.
5. Look for big news or market changes around you.

Wait, your existing startup does not fit in the above criteria? Nothing to get disheartened with, this is just a reference point. In fact I also realized that my own startup does not fit in this :)

Some takeaways,

  • The above 5 pointers all lead to a large addressable market. So next time a investor tells you he/she is looking for a large market, you fit in.
  • Just another startup or just another feature in large market does not make a cut. It should be a differentiated solution / product.
  • Disruptive ideas are plenty, it is the execution and team behind that matters most.
  • Most importantly, don’t build a product or startup in a market that is considered hot. Instead build something that you understand (or understand it well before you start).

And Flipkart, you have my respect for life!

PS: All notes referring to Rediff are expressed as my personal opinion. Most details mentioned here are in public domain already.

Ecommerce Product Management – Getting the Product Page Right

Just few days back I exchanged some notes with Founder & CEO of a Ecommerce company on why I never shop online with them. This venture is among the best known Ecommerce brands in India, but its product experience never gave enough confidence to transact with them.This post is result of that interaction. All screenshots included in this post are not meant to single out any particular ecommerce website and this is meant to be a general post on best practices.

This post is also an extension to my previous post on the topic – Product Management and Ecommerce that was written about two years back. While that post was about general product management principles for Ecommerce, this one is a series of posts that are specific towards reducing cart abandonment and improving conversion rates in transaction businesses. Limiting the scope of this post only to Product Page -> Checkout, this post is first in this series and talks about building the right Product Page and best practices to be observed.

Getting the Right Product Page for Ecommerce – Best Practices

When users land up on product pages through some effort (search, discovery, social, email, adwords, etc), the intent of a users here is positively inclined towards ‘knowing more about the product’ or ‘making a transaction’ and not towards abandoning the page.

The positive reinforcements on a product page are –

  • Product (the product itself), Photos, Price
  • Shipping Information (and Payment Details)
  • Additional Information – If the product, photos & price do not help make a purchase decision, then the additional information that can assist in decision making process.
  • Alternatives & Suggestions

Building Product Pages is a science & art put together with lots of common sense. They should be built / designed as decision enablers and not with the focus that allows users to look at other options in an event the user is not interested in these products.

a. Focus on One Action – ‘Add to Cart’

Yes this is the obvious point. Why is it here, everyone knows this right?

It is here because everyone knows this and because they also know everything else other than this. Simply look at the product pages of the Ecommerce websites, the number of colors on the design elements of page, multiple call to actions – take away the focus from ‘Add to Cart’ button.

As a standard practice, don’t let more than 3-4 colors creep-in on to the product page. Having a color palette helps here and intelligent use of shades of gray to highlight important information if required. Also most critical aspect is knowing that all information cannot be considered as important.

Showcased below are screenshots from top ecommerce websites in India. Notice the excessive focus on highlighting every piece on information, use of ‘design’ and colors in every product element. Have specifically chosen products that have variables like Size, Color – since those are the most complex ones to get right.

Multiple Components asking for Attention, One of top Ecommerce Sites in India

Multiple Components asking for Attention, One of top Ecommerce Sites in India

Multiple Components asking for Attention, One of top Ecommerce Sites in India

Multiple Components asking for Attention, One of top Ecommerce Sites in India

Know how to make ‘Add to Cart’ stand out – look at a product page from NastyGal.com

NastyGal Product Page - Notice the focus on 'Add to Cart'

NastyGal Product Page – Notice the focus on ‘Add to Cart’

 

b. Getting all Decision Enablers next to ‘Add to Cart’ Button

The most important decision enablers (either features or information) should be as closed to the ‘Add to Cart’ button as possible, not miles away. The information should be presented in a top-down readable format – specially for categories and verticals like Clothes, Shoes and others where to process the order you need Size, Style, Color and other such information.

Factors making up the Purchase Decision

Factors making up the Purchase Decision

It is first essential to figure out what are the most crucial 2-3 factors / information that a user needs to know and also accepting that not all information is must.

Add to Cart on Bonobos

Add to Cart on Bonobos

Add to Cart on Zappos

Add to Cart on Zappos

c. Use Standardized Communication & Symbols

One of the key things to focus on your product page (or anywhere on the product) is user communication. From simple things like should it be ‘Add to Cart’ or ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Add to Bag’ to another simpler things – its a tough job.

Standardization? Its a mess out there.

Standardization? Its a mess out there.

Choose widely used terms for communication. I would always suggest using ‘Add to Cart’ because 90% of other websites use it. Remember user is moving on multiple websites, and he has got familiarized with the term. Do not re-invent things for the user. Even for symbols, Shopping Cart has a universal symbol across millions of website.

Same for terms like Cash on Delivery. Free Shipping.

Another issue with Ecommerce websites is the excessive focus on branding everything. It starts from ABC TrustPay, XYZ Assurance, LMN 100% Purchase Protection or PQRS Guarantee, etc to putting up details for Sellers (Marketplaces) – ratings, stars, % feedback, etc. While all that is great, why does a customer need to know this? If its for assurance – there is no need to copy paste such fancy terms across the website.

Thinking from a consumer point of view, if there is any goof-up on any transaction – user will hold the website liable for its service, whether or not it is a marketplace or a store. A simple message like one from ASOS – “Free Returns. Not quite right? Send it back for Free” or from Jabong – “30 Days Free Return / Exchange” does the trick.

One of the leading ecommerce venture says uses the term ‘Free Home Delivery’ which I relate more with restaurant food deliveries and less with ecommerce.

PS: For some reasons, Indian Ecommerce websites love coming up with their own Glossary of Terms!

d. Handling Exceptions on Product Pages

Some of the best user experience practices are seen on products that handle exceptions really well. Only following a simple principle – “Do not show user information that is not applicable’ goes a long way in removing information overload and simplifying user’s buyer experience.

Here are the few common ones that should be displayed only when applicable –

  1. EMI on Rs. 3000 – shown for all the products even those priced below that limit.
  2. Showing Cash on Delivery for products on which it is not applicable
  3. ‘Free Shipping’ when not applicable or Showing ‘Free Shipping on products above Rs. 500’ when the product is already above that amount.
  4. Ships from Chennai – Shown to user who is from Delhi. (Unnecessary second thoughts for the user – what matters is that product is shipped in time, not from where it is)
  5. In Stock. Of-course, why else would you display ‘Add to Cart’ button.
  6. Offers. Most offers kill Ecommerce profits (and the service too) – but since it is a trend now to show them, display only offers applicable to the product. Avoid blanket offers for a category.
  7. Twin Carts
  8. Asking ‘Are these reviews helpful?’ when there are no reviews.
  9. Private Listing of products shown to all.
  10. Free Returns or Exchange displayed on products that are not applicable like Lingerie, Cosmetics, etc
Showing EMI when not applicable

Showing EMI when not applicable

Dual Carts – Not applicable to > 95% users

Private Listing? Why show it to users then.

Private Listing? Why show it to users then.

Feedback on Reviews not written yet.

Feedback on Reviews not written yet.

Showing Offers when none available

Showing Offers when none available

Product  In Stock. Offer that is super-stretch for the user.

Product In Stock. Offer that is super-stretch for the user.

Ships From? Why a User needs to know as long as it reaches him on time.

Ships From? Why a User needs to know as long as it reaches him on time.

Handling Exceptions are really important for every product that is being sold on a Ecommerce site. Simply because every product is different, so are its attributes and not all of them apply all the time.

 

e. Staying away from Fancy Features

Get rid of fancy features on the product pages, some of them really make no sense.

Some of the top fancy features that are seen frequently on ecommerce websites are listed below. Though its debatable that few of them are required, the point to suggest here is not letting them interfere in the transaction process and keeping them passively available.

  1. Compare products on your site. There are different sites available for comparison and decision making.
  2. Ship to my pincode. While this feature has value, actively showing it to everyone does not. Good execution by Amazon India as a passive feature.
  3. Ask seller a question in Marketplaces. Is it scalable if the response is delayed by hours or days. Even users do not ask questions on top selling products.
  4. Login to Save in Wishlist. Almost everyone has feature – why. How many people come to wishlist on ecommerce sites again.
  5. Add to Favorites. This feature is great for social commerce or 100% design-only focus websites like Fab or Etsy, provided it adds value to user.
  6. SEO Fanciness – Many ecommerce services use without understanding how difficult it is for users to read.
  7. Vendor Information. Yes, we know you are marketplace, but there is a beautiful way to telling who the real seller is. (like Etsy).
  8. The filter for filters. Cool, but over period of time they all die and the data operations kill the user experience then.
  9. Comments on products. Again – engagement v/s commerce. Most services that have comments enabled, see user complaints and customer service related comments that further discourage buyers.
  10. Zillion Reviews that make no sense.
Fits SEO, but how helpful is this for user?

Fits SEO, but how helpful is this Product Descripion for user?

Fancy Filters

Fancy Filters – Helped me discover unknown Brands, Irrelevant Form ~ Touch is Qwerty or no. CDMA. Other OS > All known ones.

Reviews that make little sense

Reviews that make little sense

Facebook Comments - Why?

Facebook Comments – Why?

Favorite & Add to Compare

Favorite & Add to Compare

Definitely users don't want to enter in a relationship with the seller.

Definitely users don’t want to enter in a relationship with the seller.

How does this information matter?

How does this information matter?

Thanks for making this complicated. Users only care for price they will buy it for.

Thanks for making this complicated. Users only care for price they will buy it for.

There is a huge buzz around content + commerce, I believe that both of them should not mix. Content products (like Twitter, Quora, or even Wishberg for example) should focus on engagement and time-sink for its users, while Commerce products (like Amazon, Flipkart and others) should focus on transactions that are completed as quickly as possible.

 

f. Photos: Picture Perfect Product Pages

How important are photos on your product pages. If the answer is yes very important, make it a standard practice for product photos to be over 500 x 350 pixels. Optional images are great, zoom-in to see larger photos absolutely great – but those are optional features, the main product image makes a lot of difference.

Large Product Photos on Etsy. Also look at NastyGal's page shared above.

Large Product Photos on Etsy. Also look at NastyGal’s page shared above.

g. Recommendation that kill the Product Experience

Ecommerce sites should put a limit to the number of recommendations that are shown to the users. One of the best known Ecommerce site displays a stunning 9 set of recommendations on its product pages, that includes 35 products being recommended under pretext of ‘for you’.

Recommendations shown for a Mobile Phone

  1. More Mobile Phones from Samsung.
  2. Feature Phones from Samsung
  3. Recently Sold in Electronics & Gadgets
  4. Products Frequently purchased together
  5. More Android Mobile Phones
  6. People who viewed this item also viewed
  7. Top Selling Mobile Phones
  8. Products You Recently Viewed
  9. Recommendations based on your browsing history

Showing 35 recommendations does probably less for making up a buying decision and more for increasing dropouts or bounce rates of product pages. The ideal number of recommendations to be shown to user are 3-4 sets not more than that.

The ones that are most likely to help in conversion are:

  • Products Frequently Brought Together (provided the combined price is not greater than 3X of product price). This recommendation can be also displayed at Cart Level.
  • Customers who viewed this Product also Viewed. (Actual Recommendations)
  • Recently Viewed Products
  • Recommendations Based on Browsing History.

Flipkart & Amazon India does a great job with product recommendations.

—————————————————————————————————————–
Since I do not want this post to sound like a rant, I have attempted to re-create the first scroll product page (of the one mentioned in the first point here) by applying these best practices that I have mentioned here. This is how it looks. (Note: I am not a designer, this is recreated out of plain copy-paste tools.)

Product Page based on the best practices mentioned here.

Product Page created by me based on the best practices mentioned here. Redesigned the first image.

Concluding Notes:

Indian Ecommerce is coming out of age now, its off to a great start. While challenges like operations, logistics and customer experience are being tackled with great enthusiasm to delight users, it is time to also look at getting product management principles right and ensure users have a right user-experience.

Something I missed completely is that not a single ecommerce site reminded me of their mobile apps, isn’t mobile supposed to be the next big thing? A simple feature like ‘Send this to Mobile’ will do wonders – there is a chance that I will further share the product on WhatsApp and ask friends & family.

Remember, users that come to ecommerce websites are not here to build relationship, they are merely here to transact. Some features like Add to Wishlist, Write a Review, Rate this Product, Comment on this Product, Showing Auto-Pop to ask Email (and later spamming with newsletter), etc are not the ones really care about when they are here to transact. They are passive features, completely optional. Don’t irritate your users!

“I’m not here to enter into a relationship. I just want to buy something.” from the famous post – The $300 Million Button by Usability Expert Jared Spoon.

Ending this post with one of my favorite quotes on this topic – “Every feature has some maintenance cost, and having fewer features lets us focus on the ones we care about and make sure they work very well.” – David Karp, Tumblr.

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The next post in this series will be Best Practices for Shopping Cart & Checkout Process.

Rethinking Facebook Connect

As startups we need to continuously experiment and question the status quo; and for now we experimented with the Facebook Connect implementation. We started by removing it as default option to sign-in on Wishberg. As expected we got multiple forgot password requests (we built this feature in anticipation of same).  

Many folks questioned about this on Twitter, and I also had conversations with other startups founders who suggested this could be a bad move. So far we are happy with the results. We may / may not revert back (its still not clear) – but since many people asked me why we even thought of experimenting – here are the reasons.

a. Facebook is no longer a powerful distribution platform 

Let me sum up Facebook as a distribution platform for you:
Early days -> 1 + 1 = 11
Later ->  1 + 1 = 2
Now -> 1 + 1 = 1.1
Next -> 1 + 1 = 1.01

Face this, it is true. Facebook is no longer a powerful distribution platform or user acquisition channel for application developers. If the expectation is one user registration through Facebook connect will lead to at least one more., its not happening. 

Zynga achieved its distribution on Facebook through News Feeds; Branchout through notifications and others like Pinterest / Spotify through Open Graph. When more and more applications tried to ‘abuse’ each of these mechanisms Facebook put more restrictions & controls in place (which is correct since Facebook wants to maintain a clean experience for its users). Open Graph is currently the only way to get some effective distribution, Facebook has replaced few custom actions and asked developers to use built-in actions for Like & Follow, they are also merged in Open Graph. It also placed restrictions for applications that abused few actions like ‘read a article’ & ‘viewed a video’ with more controls / validations in place.

Personally I am against spam and to build a clean product we do not aim to spam our users through Facebook (even in name of user acquisition). Also because of the fact that few applications have abused Facebook to acquire users, users are smart and know how to differentiate between a possible spam and genuine link. Good for consumers and bad for developers, Facebook has made it ‘ridiculously easy’ for users to get rid of applications; so if your are spamming – do that at your own risk! 


b. Facebook engagement principles – P2P v/s A2P

You must have read this in news over and again – Facebook is trying hard to appeal to the current youth generation (as the earlier one has grown up!). While Facebook is trying to appeal to younger generation, it is also trying to improve engagement of its current user base. Current reports suggests that a Facebook update reaches approximately (just) 12% of your friends. 

If people stops engaging with other people on Facebook, it will be dead. While Facebook connect is a good way to keep social interactions that happen outside of Facebook discoverable through feeds on Facebook – its natural that Facebook will always be more inclined to have P2P (People to People) interactions featured over A2P (Application to People). 

On a personal note – I don’t think Facebook will have anything great to announce for some time ahead that will excite the developers. For now, FB will focus on improving user-to-user engagement, appeal to youth and its monetization products. So I don’t see the situation improving for developers. 


c. Inconsistent Discovery Experience for feeds

Facebook is not Twitter. Unlike the experience where every tweet is visible to your followers, every feed / status update is not visible to your friends. Its complex and depends on multiple factors – whom you interact with most, which group of friends are you a part of, has the feed gone viral to be showcased to more people outside that network and so on. If P2P feeds are discovered by only 12% of friends, chances for discovery of application feeds will be even lower.

And then there are innumerable pages that a user has liked, there are updates from them which also ask for a mind-share of user in his activity stream. One of Facebook’s monetization product that allows pages (and users) to pay and increase reach of their posts will also work against discovery of application feeds.

Facebook recently announced a new newsfeed which is rolled out to few users but not to all. It has also did a nice little revamp on Timeline view of profile putting all updates on the right side block – and also bringing up user’s likes and interests upfront and pushing open graph updates further down to an blind spot.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am supporting Facebook here as most of these changes are done to improve user experience and engagement for its own users. But in that attempt – the discovery of feeds for applications has got bit inconsistent. There is no science here – and most of the times for application developers it will mean shooting in the dark. 


d. Every user has his/her own identity on every platform

Each user has a different identity on every platform – Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Foursquare, LinkedIn and so on. Its incorrect to assume that the way a user behaves on Facebook will be essentially the way he will on your product or that he wants his friends to know he is using a particular product or service.

There is also a trend that users do not want to register on a product because it only allows only Facebook Sign-up. We did that with Wishberg earlier, but now have opened up email registrations; key here is – ‘Be valuable first, social later.’

The ideal way is to allow users to register and let them connect their Facebook account as a option – which they will if your product is valuable to them. You can prompt users to connect their Facebook account, but not force them to do so!


e. Psychology of Forced Distribution

As a developer once you implement Facebook Connect, unconsciously you get thinking and start relying completely on Facebook for distribution. You want every action that has happened on your product to be ‘forced shared’ on Facebook – even though a user would want it or not. Its time to stop that as the sharing economy has changed.

Since Facebook distribution is not controlled by you, it gets increasingly frustrating when your product does not go as viral as you thought it would. Instead build some sort of distribution / discovery mechanism on your own product which you control completely – we built couple of them on Wishberg and they have worked remarkably better. Remember – a small number of highly engaged users are much better than a large user base with zero or near zero engagement. 


f. Sharing economy has changed

The sharing economy on Facebook as changed over years. It is no more driven by features or applications, its completely user driven. Users have got smart enough to know what has to be shared and with whom.

Don’t build applications / features that will trick users to forcefully share something on their wall without their consent or knowledge. Focus on your product – users will figure out what they have to share and what they don’t have to. Users are now smarter than most developers think! 


g. Breaking changes that break your plans

While doing a startup / building your product – the one thing you don’t want to lose is time. Startups operate with small teams and any deviations from the product roadmap costs them dear.

And while they are on to it – Facebook wants you to constantly be updated with its latest ‘breaking changes‘ and there is no option but to comply. It sucks out time / bandwidth big time and knowing the diminishing returns from Facebook – it gets frustrating here!

 

Concluding Notes:

Most product managers integrate with Facebook Platform for three reasons – 1. One-click sign-in 2. Social Graph. 3. Distribution (Viral acquisition of users).

It is possible to achieve that without Facebook too.

  1. One Click Sign-in: Create a perpetual logged-in experience for users till he explicitly logs out!
  2. Social Graph: Most successful products like Quora, Twitter, Instagram, etc have build their own network / graph. Remember that same user will have a different identity on every different network.
  3. Distribution: 1 + 1 = 2 is no longer true. Think of discovery and distribution on your own product, you have complete control there.

The aim of this post is not to put negative remarks against Facebook, but to make fellow entrepreneurs know of this when they are building on top of Facebook platform and so that they set right expectations for growth. Happy building!

Update:  We got Facebook Connect back on Wishberg after 30 days of experiment. The main reason was not distribution, but authentication – users do not have to remember one more password! As far as distribution is concerned, Facebook adds little value.

 

Building that 1-Click magic in your Product

Many startups struggle when it comes to building features for their product. Their product road-maps are a list of features they plan to include over next 6-9 months; once they are built out – its a feature mess ~ too many things to do that leaves the user confused.

This does not stop here., entrepreneurs always have this gut feeling – the next feature will be ‘the one’ that will make it up for us. End result is the product becomes feature-heavy or too complex to use.

On my last post – 15 Steps towards building a Great Product, I posted about a simplified approach towards building products; this post is about adding a little magic with just 1-Click.

Here are some examples of 1-Click features:

  • Amazon: 1-Click Checkout (Transaction)
  • AngelList: 1-Click Apply to Accelerators (Application)
  • AngelList: 1-Click Introduction for hiring talent (Hiring)
  • Facebook: 1-Click Sign-in for 3rd Party Apps (Registration)
  • Foursquare: 1-Click Check-in (Location)
  • LinkedIn: 1-Click Endorsement (Interaction)
  • LinkedIn: 1-Click Apply (Hiring)
  • Quora: 1-Click Upvote (Endorsement)
  • Twitter: 1-Click on # for Topics & Trends (Buzz)
  • Uber: 1-Click to Book-a-Cab (Location)

The equation is simple here – what is the core data the product has about the end user and figure out the 1-click feature that best suits your product use-case.

Example.,

  • Amazon stores user data & credit card information which enables it to do single click checkout. 
  • AngelList has a startup profile that it connects with investors / accelerators / talent. 
  • Facebook has user information & social graph through which it allows users to signup for 3rd party apps. 
  • LinkedIn has professional profile of the user through which it allows users to apply for jobs. 
  • Foursquare has user’s location that is used to check-in at a venue.
  • Quora has user’s credentials that are used to upvote (or endorse) a particular answer.
  • Uber has user’s location that is used to book a cab.

Similarly there are opportunities for 1-click on-site distribution. Share on Facebook, Retweet on Twitter, Re-pin on Pinterest or Re-blog on Tumblr are some superb examples of on-site distribution achieved by a single click! 

Concluding Notes:
Many startups choose to ignore simple means to add a magical experience to their products. Focus on building too many features makes the product a bit complicated and difficult to use. 

Remember – most startup products / features are just connecting two dots. Do that with a single click and make it feel like magic!

 

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) trap!

Before your read this post, I suggest you go over to Hacker Street India and glance through this thread – How much time it took for the first version (MVP) of your product!

If you don’t know much about MVP, glimpse quickly through the Wikipedia post on – Minimum Viable Product. The definition: “The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

There is much ambiguity in this definition. Lot of judgement is required by the startup founders to define what exactly is MVP version for their product since there are no bullet points to clearly define that. That exactly is a MVP trap!

If you were to build a Social Networking site today, the benchmark for minimum viable product is Facebook. A user will expect all existing features of Facebook to be in your product! For a email service the benchmark is Gmail. For a mobile phone messaging app it is WhatsApp. For a social QnA product it is Quora. For a crowd-funding platform it is Kickstarter. For a phone operating system it is Android / iOS. For search it is Google. For a tablet device it is the Apple iPad.

Early adopters loved the first version of Gmail because it was so much better (and fast) than existing products – Yahoo / Hotmail. They loved the first version of iPhone because it was much better (and usable) than Nokia or Blackberry or Palm then available. On other hand, Bing did not see a great adoption because it was another search engine with no compelling reason for users to switch from Google. Similarly, early adopters saw Microsoft Windows Phone as a different OS for mobile which did all that a Android / iOS phone did differently (different but not better).

If the idea of MVP is showing the product to early adopters and collecting quick feedback, most of that consumer feedback will be based on their comparisons with other products they use on an ongoing basis. To create a wow factor and a compelling reason for users to switch to your product, the minimum viable product you roll out should basically not just exceed current market standards but should also be much better than current offerings.

Otherwise MVP is a trap. Getting a so called minimum viable product (defined by yourself) out in 30 days makes no sense. Every product is different. No product was successful cause its minimum viable product was out in 30 days. You can boast about how quickly you rolled it out, collect feedback from users / customers (most of this feedback is predictable and chances are you would already know about it) and keep building features. Define MVP as not something you can roll out fast, but something that is more valuable than existing product. MVP should not mean Minimum Viable Product. MVP = More Valuable product! (suggested by Nischal)

This is also true for service companies. If you are building a ecommerce company today in India, customers would expect not just similar online transaction experience but also the same level of reliability in logistics or customer support as provided by Flipkart or HomeShop18..

Is there a way out of this? Yes – build really innovating products that don’t have existing benchmarks so you can define one yourself and for others to follow. Or build products in a domain were market leaders are yet to be established.

To succeed, you have to build a better product than one available in the market or innovate and build something that does not exists already! Post that stage you can – Build. Ship. Market. Learn. Build. Let the cycle go on.

Remember, the bar for Minimum Viable Product / Service is very high!

img credit: waltimo on flickr

Predictions 2012: Technology Trends; Investments & Biggest Exits in Indian Internet / Tech Space

This post is a update to one of my earlier post written about a year ago on similar lines.

Multiple new products, investments and its always a good thing for the ecosystem which matures with time. Indian tech industry is changing at a rapid pace, its only fair to go back and recheck those predictions and ensure to keep it up with the times.

Meanwhile, predictions that came true:

  • Had indicated the possibility of this particular VCs (without naming specifically, though evident who) investing actively in Indian Ecommerce merging its portfolio companies to form an large entity. Just few days over a year after this prediction, Accel and Tiger Global backed Flipkart acquired Letsbuy.
  • Mentioned that a large player will enter Group Buying deal space. The coupon/deal space was too tempting for many to resist at that time and as I expected, Times Group (Indiatimes) entered this space in May 2011.
  •  Specifically mentioned of Pubmatic being acquired; There were rumors about a possible acquisition offer by Amazon for $300 Mn which was declined as the company chose an IPO over acquisition. Meanwhile Google acquired AdMeld for $400 Mn.
  • Hinted towards AdMax Network in South East Asia which leverages local inventory and is a leader in these countries. While I expected something like this to happen in India, interestingly Komli acquired AdMax. (Though I did not predict this to happen).

 

Predictions for 2012 onwards:

Product based Ecommerce companies:

Flipkart, HomeShop18, Infibeam will continue to grow; and (no brainer now) that Flipkart will emerge as the market leader amongst the Indian players. I expect Flipkart and these leaders to attempt the following –

  • To ensure profitability of logistic operations, either introduce upfront minimum charge for Cash on Delivery below a certain price value or markup its prices by a small amount.
  • Introduce a co-branded credit card with rewards. Not as a branding or marketing exercise, but to encourage existing users to move towards pre-paid payment mechanisms.
  • Spin-off its logistics, customer care, operations departments in to a different company to ensure profitability of Flipkart before it hits an IPO.

Though many criticize the Samwer brothers (Rocket Internet) for creating copies of successful business models – I see nothing wrong in that. How different are any of the other ecommerce sites with their Amazon.com ambitions? Rocket Internet fellas are aggressive risk-takers, investors and amongst their bets on Indian market, Jabong.com has potential to enter in the top 3 / top 5 spots. At some point of time – they may consolidate Fabfurnish.com and HeavenandHome.com into Jabong and set a stage for IPO or an exit through acquisition (Amazon.com?). Rocket Internet is as smart as any other investor when it comes to getting acquired. Watch them!

Marketplace models like Ebay, Indiatimes, etc may face tough competition owing to their helplessness to control key factors like logistics, operations and product quality; precisely what funded startups are keen to build on.

There are now niche plays coming up – Ecommerce services for Tier II/III towns. Most likely candidates to struggle, conceptually sounds great – but the on-ground reality is much different. Will they not accept user orders if customer is from Mumbai or Delhi? I know you talk about ambitions of Tier III youth, age bracket 20-35, etc – but do they require iPad? if yes – why will not Flipkart serve it.

About Amazon’s India plans – I mentioned of the same in this post about about Junglee.
.

Vertical Ecommerce and More –

Many ventures who have raised between $2Mn to $5Mn – are yet to move beyond the 500 transactions per day mark even after a year. Few yet to cross 200; scalability is must for any Ecommerce venture to succeed. Verticalization of ecommerce has happened before time.

Predict more consolidation in Ecommerce industry in vertical investments. Simply for the following reasons –

  • There will be a Series B crunch. Most investors have already made multiple investments in ecommerce services. Companies will face tough time raising further investments and will require to raise Series B investments from existing investors. Investors hedge risk by investments in multiple ventures, they will require deep pockets to put more money in one venture, diluting founders more and eventually controlling the company. This shall lead to multiple consolidations between portfolio companies (Flipkart + Letsbuy scenarios).
  • There are multiple vertical funded ecommerce companies in market today. This has happened before time, for verticals to succeed, the horizontal ecommerce play itself should be very large. This is exactly why ventures like Flipkart (books), Letsbuy (gadgets), Snapdeal (coupons) who started as niche expanded into horizontal play.

Few players who have launched multiple sites for focused ecommerce approach, other than doubling costs of user acquisition, the only notional benefit it brings to table is SEO. This might not be even proved in Indian context – though a different vertical, we see that Shaadi.com with single brand focus is as popular as Bharat Matrimony with its multiple brands.

Another trend in Ecommerce is online grocery shops – at this stage most of the ventures are focused in single cities, the challenge for every startup in this domain is to replicate this operations in every city, every locality they expand into in a same or much more efficient manner. Unaware of any investments made in this vertical yet; I’m guessing investors are also looking at same – scaling beyond 2 to 3 locations.

Ecommerce for kids – someone shared a joke with me ‘Probably the rate at which online baby stores are coming up is greater than growth rate of India’s population.’ Very little differentiation between existing players, some of them already moving towards a franchise model (which probably beats the economics of online stores).

Amongst vertical investments – many have happened till date in Fashion. This is an interesting space, however already crowded with no differentiation left. Increased cost of user acquisitions, operations and logistics along with Series B or follow-on investment crunch will take a toll on few players. Funded players will try many things – new brands, labels, etc. The question always will be – what differentiation to bring to table? what exit for investor?

There is also a serious talent crunch with many funded ecommerce players, not just at junior but at middle and senior management levels. Another trend that will come up soon is acquihire deals.

Trend you will notice soon – the last slide of pitches will now read acquisition by Flipkart, instead of Amazon. But in an early ecommerce market acquisitions of competition really makes no sense – will write about this some day.

.

Group Buying / Daily Deal / Coupon Companies:

Post the Groupon IPO, the obvious was out – this is not a profitable business to be in. Even the leaders moved away from the Group Buying space – tells us the story of Group Buying or Daily Deals. Has suggested last year that funded players will grow, they did but by pivoting to product driven horizontal ecommerce.

The Groupon IPO spoiled the party for many others who were waiting to be acquired by Google Offers or Living Social. Amazon is know to build large profitable businesses, though Living Social has raised a massive $800 Mn+ in investments till date – its fate might be uncertain. Either hit the dead pool or an acquisition by Groupon itself at a very cheap price!

Back to India, there is nothing much left to say now for this vertical, its just a matter of time when large me too companies who joined the party will start calling it quits. Ebay who experimented with it silently abandoned its play, others like Times, Rediff, Mouthshut will too have to review their presence in this vertical in some time.

Some significant players who made presence felt in the couponing space are – online recharge players like FreeCharge & PayTM. It is too early to comment on their exit, however its a interesting vertical (specific only to India) to watch for following reasons – operators doing something fundamentally wrong as own customers pay bills outside, multiple players have entered the segment, players need to retain consumer interest without causing deal fatigue.

.

Online Travel Companies:

Not much changing in travel landscape. As mentioned last year – Yatra & Cleartrip are clear IPO exits. Last year MakeMyTrip and SAIF acquired Ixigo, Yatra & Cleartrip might as well look at smaller acquisitions in this space, particularly players in holidays/vacations – the likes of mygola.

It has been a while that Naspers/MIH has invested in ibibo; with ibibo.com focusing only on games from now, it might look at some kind of exit with Goibibo.com. Meanwhile, Naspers / MIH / Ibibo might look at acquiring one or two startups either in gaming/travel domain to solidify these two verticals, or to expand in to new verticals since they clearly indicate focused growth now with Gaming (Ibibo), Travel (GoIbibo), Ecommerce (Tradus) & Automobiles (Gaadi).

RedBus.in is the clear leader in online bus ticketing space, it will continue to be IPO candidate or hot acquisition target. Owing to high valuation of RedBus, its now noteworthy competitor TravelYaari will be in better position to be acquired – in all probability by Yatra / Cleartrip or GoIbibo.

Repeat – Dear Railway Ministry, please list IRCTC on stock markets. Massive opportunity.
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Online Car Rentals:

Just two years back we saw host of daily deal sites, in last month we have seen about 4 investments made in Online Car Rentals space – Ola Cabs, Savaari, YourCabs and TaxiGuide. Predict Ola Cabs to take a lead in this space – and be a possible acquisition candidate for Uber.

This prediction is not based on the fact that they have raised highest of the lot – because its strategy is right. To be successful in this space, they need to concentrate only on the top 8-12 metros, 90% of their target customer base is in these cities. A smart online car rental service will start only in cities where fleet cabs like – Meru Cabs, Easy Cabs or others have significant presence and created the market. For now, more cities just looks good on paper.

Time will prove this right or wrong – as for now, this vertical has just started showing signs of growth (and already getting crowded). It kind of makes sense for Ola Cabs to make a small acquisition in this space and expand quickly.

Advertising Networks – Web / Mobile:

Last year I suggested that this particular vertical is hinting saturation of market. Out of the existing lot (Tyroo, Komli, Ozone Media, AdMagnet, and other players) – clearly Komli has grown out of India and with its series of acquisitions (Aktiv, ZestAds, AdMax) is trying to position itself as large digital advertising company in Asia, indicating its preparation for an IPO or could be acquired by large agencies like WPP, Dentsu, Publicis or similar.

Unfortunately for India, there is not much technology play in advertising networks, most end up working in model similar to agencies (except the creative part). But few niche technology players in this domain are Sokrati (Paid Search) and Vizury (Display Re-targeting). Both have raised smaller investment rounds earlier and could be good acquisition targets; unlikely for Komli for its partnership with Efficient Frontiers (for search) and display re-targeting has been mastered by many now. Of all players, Ohana Media* could be a acquisition target – its behavioral marketing techniques that combine audience data across channels is amongst the best differential technology available in India today.

Tyroo recently acquired DGM India for $0.6 Mn. DGM was India’s largest affiliate marketing company – a small acquisition size may play spoil sport for couple of startups wanting to monetize through shopping / affiliate related models and currently looking to raise funds.

InMobi continues to be the hot IPO candidate in this space. Google acquired AdMob when advertising on mobile web was at its peak time; current mobile advertising focus is shifting towards in-app advertising, which might even make it a acquisition target for Google (Android) or Apple (iOS devices). New players like Vserv or others would have to build a product sweet sport – number of publishers, impressions available per day and so on, very early days for them.

Guruji seems to now have completely focused its efforts on AdIquity – its mobile advt yield optimization and mobile RTB platform (similar to Pubmatic, but for mobile). Good strategy, may provide exit for its investors by a quick acquisition by InMobi or even by Pubmatic or other web based RTB players like Rubicon Project). As Google continues to mess up its core product – search, it is high time Guruji re-look its search business, not for India but for the world (like duckduckgo).

Pubmatic – is IPO bound. Last year I mentioned them as a potential acquisition target. Its obvious Google spoke to them before acquiring Admeld, they reportedly reject Amazon’s $300 Mn acquisition offer.

*full disclosure – I was earlier associated with Ohana as head of product & marketing. the name was skipped last year due to my association.

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Education:

Many people in investment circle say repeatedly that Education along with Healthcare are hot segments ripe for disruption. Well it is, and a majority of them don’t have a clue what that disruption will be (this includes me). There are already multiple investments made in this Education domain till date, most of them unfortunately will be write-offs and struggle for their next institutional round.

Startups / Investments in Education sector can be classified following segments –
a. Entrance Tests (Online test preparations services)
b. Online Applications (Choose college, careers for India & Abroad)
c. Virtual Classrooms, Online Tutors (self explanatory)
d. Hardware Plays (Education Devices & Tablets)

Startups in A & B –

  • Over crowded space (many funded players, pivoted players, existing players with deep pockets)
  • Though India has lacs of students every year; the choice of colleges are limited – Top 25 colleges are key in every stream (MBA, Engg, Medical, etc). The long tail of 10,000+ institutes does not matter. For the skewed supply-demand ration, these top 25 colleges will attract students anyway. If startups are paid commissions for referrals from Tier-2/3 institutes – to monetize these startups might be recommending colleges that they should not otherwise.
  • Consumer value does not extend beyond 1-time use of service.
  • Students & Parents rely more on taking (free) advice from their friends and family; or people in social circle who can share recommendations.

Startups in C –

  • Fancy names – cloud campus will not do much for its business. Internet is and always was cloud.
  • The best content driven organization – Khan Academy. Its free.
  • Changing syllabus, all online courses need to be revamped. Content heavy services, high cost of content creation; no control on content piracy.

Startups in D –

  • Foolish attempts. Anyone who thinks they can proliferate new tablets for education only are bad students of internet.
  • Education is a content play; not hardware play. Students today have access to computers, laptops and soon Android tablets (steep decline in prices). Instead of building new devices – try delivering content to devices students already have access to.

Education by nature is largely offline category and service oriented. Most of these startups are attempting to package them as products, but will be largely service driven plays behind curtains. Investors care about multiple returns on their investments – will they get 10X returns, I doubt.
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SaaS Products:

The fascination for SaaS products continues with investors and will go on for some more time. Since these investments are in very early stage, it will not be appropriate talking about exits. No one has tried to classified SaaS products yet (not to my knowledge) – but let me attempt it as following:

There are Consumer SaaS products that follow a freemium model – Dropbox, Evernote, Hootsuite, Skype and so on, and there are Enterprise SaaS products.

  1. Business SaaS products priced by usage – Typically products that cater to large business spends. Example., Clickable (catering to online advertising), Interview Street (Hiring) or Amazon AWS (Hosting & Computing), Box, 37 signals, etc.
    Companies will continue to spend more on advertising, hire more with time – hence more revenue potential for these startups.
  2. Business SaaS products priced by featuresBill.com (Online Billing), RingCentral (Virtual 800 number), Xero (Accounting), etc. Best way to identify them is the pricing, the revenue potential of such products will not grow significantly as its users grow.

Restricting only to Business SaaS products – Type 1 SaaS startup will maximize its revenue per user as its customers continues to grow, spends more on advertising, hire more, use more hosting, etc. Type 2 SaaS startup will require more clients to maximize its revenue.

Amongst Indian SaaS products, currently Interview Street is probably in the best position to be acquired (may be by LinkedIn). Freshdesk is also a great product, that has a long way to go building a differentiated model from its competitors (which are in plenty). Another Indian SaaS startup I am a big fan is Practo, but it might take them a while to be considered for acquisition since technology is yet to transform health industry, most big giants in health-care yet to embrace tech.

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Online Gaming:

We will continue to hear of online gaming for few more years, examples of Zynga or Rivio (Angry Birds) for some more time to come. Will there be a exit for any player – No. Take clues from Zynga’s $200 Mn acquisition of OMGPOP – it takes a hit game like Draw Something (massive traction with over 10Mn installs in first 30 days of launch, and cross 50Mn+ early this month) to be noticed and get acquired.

Same happened with Rivio for Angry Birds. The key is simple – keep building till you get that winning game on hand.

Online Matrimony:

Nothing changes here. Bharat Matrimony is profitable play to my knowledge and is looking for its IPO towards the end of this year or early 2013. With Shaadi.com – unsure of its IPO happening any time soon, just as Ias mentioned last year, very unlikely before Consim Group.
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Online Classifieds:

JustDial as known by everyone is heading for IPO. The online-offline model and discovery through phone & web seems to have really worked for them. Really wanted to write something about other players in this segment, but they seem to be busy monetizing more through Google Adsense – so leaving them to rust in peace.

The whole hype about Craigslist was probably the reason why everyone got on to this play. Having said that, not just in India – but globally the online classified vertical is now open to disruption – there are interesting startups like Taskrabbit, Zaarly and more.
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Applications:

Waiting for an Kodak (Oops, I meant Instagram) moment? You may see it soon with Saavn. Amongst all the apps I have seen till date, Saavn is the hottest in terms of distribution, reach and usage.

Tweeted this once – Flipkart should acquire Saavn. There are multiple synergies – Saavn has a vast catalog (subset of Flipkart’s digital service Flyte) and Flipkart has no mobile presence for its digital service. Rather than building a mobile app, waiting for its distribution, Flipkart can start monetization with Saavn’s near 10 Million users from day 1.

Expect in next year or two, this section will have more (and interesting) names!
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Other Exits related to India –

  • Slideshare – expect it to be a great exit story. LinkedIn should probably evaluate the opportunity, once business contacts are made – its time to prove move ahead on keeping them engaged with business content, Slideshare is an excellent fit for then; the other player is of course Quora as written earlier.
  • BookMyShow is another super product in making. Scalable web business models are all about aggregating demand/supply – BookMyShow is well positioned and has all potential to be the largest entertainment company in India.
  • One97 is also set for IPO.
  • Another company I admire is Zomato – but for whatever reasons the company is focused on content and is not building a great product. There is so much more they can do in this space, not sure why they are happy with old & simple play of content + advts.

 

No Clear Exits:

My list of no clear exits has some new names. Like last year – SMS Gupshup, PayMate, mChek continue (read: what problems are mobile payment services trying to solve); will add SeventyMM, SatNav & MapMyIndia to that list (Google Maps and GPS on smart phones has played flattener for their offerings).  For reasons mentioned earlier – majority of players in Online Classifieds & Education vertical have no clear exit plans. Also Onward Mobility (if continue with offline distribution of their apps) is on the list.

Have taken off Guruji from the list – for reasons explained above. They will exit for AdIquity, not for its search business.

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Concluding Notes:

All views are personal opinions indicative of on-going trends, don’t take them too seriously. I was outright rejected by one VC when applied for role as technology (internet + mobile + new media) investment analyst for lack of relevant experience. A top consultancy firm thought it was in our mutual interest not to join them 😉

The only unfortunate part of this post is taking names of startups/companies, many of them founded / managed / invested in by people I know personally and have great respect for; few as friends, entrepreneurs & acquaintances. Having said that, I analyze trends and will be really happy to be proven wrong by passionate entrepreneurs. When it comes to investors, admire those who have placed their bets on companies or products where exits are/were not obvious. That is what risk-taking is all about!

Cheers till them. Will revisit these predictions next year.

Have a different opinion, would be great to hear. Write to me on pj@beingpractical.com / follow on twitter.com/beingpractical.com

What has Product Management got to do with Ecommerce?

Everything! No, that will be a over statement. But it is definitely an integral part of value chain, which is completely ignored by many Ecommerce services in India. Few completely clueless about it, on what product/platform to develop and often mistake UX as product management (which is also an important function in itself).

Ecommerce is (still) hot. In a domain that has many funded companies today in this space; everyone is struggling for differentiation. With an exception of few; to say that we do more products in one category; we have strong vertical focus; our cost of acquisition is low; our seo is better; etc, etc – does not make any sense. These differentiating factors can be replicated overnight. If everyone is on-board same plane, its absurd to claim that someone will reach destination before others.

Rather than subjective opinions about Ecommerce which are in plenty already, this post is specifically targeted towards one aspect – Product. Internet businesses are all about building awesome products backed by a super technology team presented in an intuitive user-experience, nothing else. Its kinda unfortunate to see dollars spent on advertising by companies that have raised investments that continue to run on ready to use Ecommerce platforms installed over-night.

I’d be happy to see fellow entrepreneurs implementing / following basics of ecommerce product management and investors emphasizing focus on product before writing their next cheque for yet another ecommerce investment. On twitter (@beingpractical), I have tweeted number of times about lack of product focus by Ecommerce companies in India – here is why I keep saying that.

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1. On-Site Search:

The way Google is gateway for searching the web, same applies for on-site search for users to discover the 100,000+ products in catalog. On-site search as a discovery tool should contribute minimum 15% of all sales generated. A kick-ass search algorithm should contribute to 30%-35% of total sales.

On-site search is broken if –

  • Total search queries per day < Total unique visitors per day
  • 20% of all search queries generated show zero results
  • Even a single search query of Top 100 searched keywords shows incorrect result in position 1. For next 400 keywords, in first 5 results.
  • Contribution of transactions generated through on-site search is < 15%
  • Order Conversion Rate of onsite search is < 2X of site average.
  • Option to search on homepage is not prominently highlighted; Take clue from Amazon.com – as you always do 😉

What users search for on your website is the true-indicator of what consumer demand is. Rather than bidding for expensive keywords on paid search, analyze how effectively on-site search queries can be converted to actual sales.

To simply put, if X effort is put behind search engine optimization & Y effort is put behind paid search marketing, then effort spent on on-site search should be X + Y.

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2. Search Engine Optimization:

Why SEO is mentioned here? Because content experience should be delivered as a part of product. Many Ecommerce sites continue to believe that search-bots transact online and their product pages forcefully include content snippets. Design web pages and build user experience keeping real users in mind and not for search-bots.

SEO should be integral part of product, not random content/text written and inserted across product or category pages merely to increase keyword density of the page. Understand dynamics of content wrt to product in catalogue. There will always be two types distinct type of products – standardized (eg. Canon PowerShot 550D camera) and non-standardized products (eg. Diamond Ring for your Valentine). Focus on each type of products should be separate. (Have explained a bit of how it works in this post – Junglee and how it impacts Indian Ecommerce).

Search Engine Optimization is about playing with Google search index. Don’t overplay with multiple pages, unwanted content – in short don’t spam Google index with similar content. Maintain a healthy product to page index ratio of 3X-5X (indicates if there are 100,000 products in catalog – the search index should not exceed 500,000 in any case).

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3. Persistent Shopping Carts:

By now persistent shopping carts have should have became a standard, but there are few who are yet to enable this. For starters, there are tons of resources available on the web on benefits of it; for advanced product managers – there is simply much more to do –

  • Link shopping cart data persisted with a user session whenever is in a logged-in session.
  • Send email notification to users to remind of items still in shopping carts (please don’t spam – just a gentle reminder).
  • Over a period of time product prices decrease, once the same happens for a product that is lying in user’s shopping cart inform him via email.
  • Abandoned shopping cart is still an incomplete intent, convert that into a sale at a right opportunity.

Enable smart product marketing through a product versioning system. New Apple iPad is a successor to Apple iPad 1 & Apple iPad 2, inform users when next version of product is available. Similarly for Books or Music, when next book by an author is available or even a new sound track by Madonna. Remarket abandon carts when such event occurs.

 

4. Multiple Sites, User Communication and more.

In recent days, couple of ecommerce services have gone ahead and created specific domain for every vertical they are expanding in. Abc.com for electronics and xyz.com for fashion. These are most pathetic executions of product management since they tend to leverage existing platform for efficiency and end up being perfect playground for chaos.

Here are the most common mistakes that happen (all real experiences) –

  • Register at one website, receive welcome message from another.
  • Same Order ID sequencing is followed for multiple sites.
  • Same database used to store user information – imagine the chaos with operations, customer support, logistics, packing, and do so on – order from abc.com shipped with xyz.com packing. Its a product management mistake, and employees in operations are suffering.
  • Using same platform to collect any behavior information (if collected) for all sites. All algorithms will work incorrectly, expect Apple iPad recommendations to include a T-Shirt or even a Diamond Pendant. To patch up with a fix will lead to further complications, cause basic data collected itself is incorrect.
  • All email sender names, communication, notifications, marketing messages, are mixed up.

 

5. Deals to Product sales; expanding to new category. 

Many deals sites have pivoted to pure play ecommerce or with every passing month ecommerce services move to a new product category. To use same catalog or database structure is the simplest thing to do, but in order to really conquer every new category or verticals, some focused effort is required.

There is a huge difference between selling a travel coupon and selling a complete travel package. To win in every category some focused effort is required, which typically takes a backseat once launch target dates are set and to meet them the team ends up utilizing the same platform used to sell iPad, Spa coupon or travel package.

 

6. Controllable v/s Non-Controllable Factors.

Their is a weird assumption with few ecommerce companies that product management is limited only to consumer facing aspects – like website or mobile app. Its not, let me explain with an example.

Recently ordered an product from an site, its order id was 20579512UE82852111. First reaction – even morse codes are easy to decipher! Of all the calls received on customer care, 95% are order related queries. Just imagine the situation of consumers trying to communicate an 18 digit order id in variety of Indian accents. Complete chaos! There are bounds to be mistakes in communicating leaving room for multiple mistakes. A simple product management mistake leads to an exponentially higher average handling time per customer at its call center and increased hold time for customers wanting to connect.

Controllable factors like number of transactions, quality of search, payment gateway approvals, cart improvements, etc should be measured in improved efficiency of funnel & micro-funnels (explained further) conversion rates; while uncontrollable factors which are mostly about logistics, customer support, operations, COD operations, repayments/refunds, etc should be measured in amount of time saved.

 

7. Micro-Funnels: 

For every Ecommerce service, the only one determining factor to look at how efficient its transaction process is the conversion funnel ratio. Only few players have actually gone ahead and have started measuring performance of micro funnels in an matrix format per product vertical or category.

A conversion funnel cycle is typically Visitors > Product Pages > Added to Cart > Payment Page > Order Confirmation page.

Micro funnels typically mean building such funnels under each of the following 3-4 criteria –

  • By Traffic source: Natural Traffic, Natural Search, Emailers, Affiliate Marketing, Paid Search, Social Media, etc
  • By On-site properties: Search, Categories, On-site promotion banners, Product Recommendations, etc
  • By Product Categories: Fashion, Electronics, Health, Books, etc

Deep dive in data, 1% improvement at any stage of any funnel – will significantly improve volumes of transactions. Keep constructing micro funnels, they are fun and they are plenty more – by transaction size, payment types, and so on. In addition to dull excel sheet reports that have number of transactions / avg ticket size / gross merchandize value – look at such micro funnels data. If you have $100 to spend, it will tell you where exactly to get $200 returns.

Label your weekly friday reviews as Funnel Fridays!

 

8. Payment Gateways:

Payment Gateways or Logistic services are usually most blamed in this country as hindrances to growth of Ecommerce services. About two years back just before the ecom boom started, I wrote a note about – “How Reserve Bank of India can facilitate ecommerce and online transactions in India“. Not much has changed, and Cash on Delivery became the default payment mechanism.

Order rejection rates on transactions processed through payment gateways successfully are < 5%, in most of the cases only if incorrect product is shipped or there is a physical damage. If 100 orders are shipped, 50 are pre-paid transactions and other 50 are COD, on an average between 20-25 will be returned. The operational cost involved in managing COD orders will be close to 2X of pre-paid transactions, dissatisfied customers not accounted for.

Product Managers, make payment gateways work. There may be no science to this – but work with multiple payment gateways. Alternate the transaction flow between them and figure out the best time, best payment gateway from time to time. When payment gateway transaction fails, then offer Cash on Delivery or payments by Cheque.

Take clues – Number of transactions for online recharge services for prepaid mobile services are on increase; they allow users to only pay electronically through either credit cards or net-banking. Then why not for Ecommerce services? This is the same mobile subscriber base living in missed-call economy and maintaining average balance of less than INR 100.

 

9. Cash on Delivery and Logistics:

Since the last point discussed on Cash on Delivery, this comes next.

A strange equation about COD is, if an additional convenience charge between 25 to 30 INR if levied on all transactions below the avg ticket size of Ecom service, their entire cost of COD operations tends to break-even (Try this with historic order data, the number will be close). Maybe Cash on Delivery should be the last attempt to acquire a customer instead of first motivation to transact. But this does may not happen in real world, so COD is the biggest USP of this business now.

For any post-paid order (read COD) that is delivered within 48 hours of order, rejection rate is less than 10%. COD order delivered after 7 days of transaction, rejection rates might be as high as 70%. Product Managers need to find out smart ways to make this complete process efficient to ensure 90% of deliveries within 72 hours, this includes –

  • Maintaining dual address (work / residence) of users to ensure prompt delivery.
  • Call / SMS / Email notification before delivery to ensure user keeps the said amount ready.
  • Maintain performance of COD acceptance or rejection rates by users / pin codes / and logistic partner; shuffle logistic partners by performance for every delivery location. Some logistic partner will always deliver better than other for every pin-code. Find them and route more deliveries to them.
  • Extend this to pre-paid orders as well.
  • Work closely on technology with logistic partners that ensures quick reverse logistics, which is the biggest challenge in operations and also nightmare for customers.

 

10. Track Performance of every Property owned:

Heard of an website called – milliondollarhomepage.com? Have similar approach about every pixel on homepage.

Go insane about about deriving value of every homepage property (search, banners, browse, featured products, etc) similarly as retail outlets do about shelves – sale per shelf. Once every homepage property is labelled similarly, figure out its value based on transactions/revenue generated per day, get the average value of sale generated per property on homepage. More microfunnels to manage for homepage.

Shuffle between product categories, price range, images, product offer text, etc for every property. Understand distribution of transactions by every property, gather such information in logs, mine data and productize this marketing strategy – strive for efficiency.

 

11. Affiliate Marketing. Show Respect and build this Channel.

There are only few categories that have a lower acquisition costs, but with the amount of competition coming up in every horizontal / vertical segment – this is bound to increase with time. The average customer acquisition costs for any Ecommerce website in India today varies between 400 INR to 1200 INR, one company acquires customers at 2000 INR to sell them – pen drives worth 399 INR.

In between all this, there are few really effective business channels like affiliates, price comparison portals and so on who really work hard and acquire customers by sending qualified shoppers. Most of them have extremely poor affiliate commission structures which are typically between 100 to 250 INR, much lower than cost of acquisitions on paid search or display advertising. Show respect, they are acquiring customers at a cost that is usually less than half of the site average.

Nurture this channel and make them available with a series of affiliate tools similar to the Amazon Affiliate program. This channel is currently under-developed / un-explored, any ecommerce service providing better affiliates product and awesome commission structure can actually take a big leap ahead!

 

12. Email Marketing

I had once tweeted this – ‘Buying from you is not my consent to SMS/Email spam’ mentioning few brands I admire. Later Hursh (Cleartrip) wrote an interesting piece about it later on their blog – ‘Why we don’t spam our customers.

Email Marketing has a diminishing value proportionate to the rate of emails per user per month. Though an important channel for traffic/transactions; if abused, at a certain period of time the cost involved in sending a mail to million subscribers will be much larger than the revenue earned from the email campaign itself.

Product Managers need to put in rules in place to ensure that the marketing activity remains contextual to users interaction on the site and also user is sent the emailer at a certain time where buying intent by user still holds true. Ensure adequate gaps (of about 30 to 45 days) between two marketing emails if sent to same user. Consumers behave much like us, will they really buy watches or sunglasses on a daily basis? Find a context!

 

13. Product Recommendations

Unlike what many think, the amazing product recommendations of amazon cannot be build overnight with correct context. It requires tons of data which can be only generated post millions of transactions, product views, buying patterns and an platform that really enables up-selling of products.

There are different aspects of an Amazon Product page – which can be observed on any one of its product page. The experience is so delivered that it brings multiple benefits to Amazon – highly content rich pages that affects search engine traffic positively (as mentioned in point earlier, productize the SEO content), Promotions available at that time, Up-selling related products,  customer actions, product details, description, related purchases, customer reviews and related products.

Enough to satisfy consumer of all his questions, alternatives and options. All packaged beautifully with appropriate content on a page with multiple opportunities to up-sell or cross-sell. Ain’t that good? See how far it seems to go. Love data, insights and bring it to users, don’t be satisfied with plain jane product pages.

 

14. Behavioral Data Trends and creating Marketable Insights.

This completely comes from the stuff we build at my previous stint with Ohana Media – capabilities to track every user interaction, generate tons of data and segment that into trends and actionable data. (They call it bigdata these days).

A brief explanation of the same is on this presentation – Audience Clusters & Intent Analytics and also another deck that Shameek presented at Adtech 2012 on Online Marketing Success Strategies for Ecommerce companies.

While at Ohana, we had pitched this platform to one Founder & CEO of an funded Ecommerce company. Answer – “Not sure if this stuff works.” Result, we went ahead and signed an exclusive non-compete deal with their competitor and today their cost of acquisition has reduced by more than 50% in less than 12 months. Another Ecommerce founding team we proposed replied, “Cannot use this product. Data collected by this platform resides on the same server as our competitor.” That stumbled us, don’t 1000s of Ecommerce sites run on Amazon instances (every customer had his data stored in private cloud). Having a product person driven by data & analytics is essential in every founding team or should be one of the first people to hire in senior management.

Discover cross-channel marketing efficiency like –

  • Natural search keywords converting are automatically bid for on paid search.
  • Automatically decrease bids when competition stops bidding or lowers their bids.
  • Email intent data is used to remarket category banners on-site
  • Search to Display remarketing
  • Onsite customization based on users previous intents.
  • This list could be endless…

Respect data and figure out capabilities to increase its efficiency across medium. Same users reaches you through multiple doors – Search, Paid Search, Social Media, Display, Emails etc. Unless you are able to gather his intent-cycle over a period, it will be impossible to have efficiency in marketing. Every 1% increment on top of funnel conversion may lead to 2X at its bottom.

Full Disclosure: I led product & marketing for Ohana Media in my earlier role. Its founder Shameek Chakravarty is on Board of Advisor of my startup. Both presentations linked are in public domain.

 

15. Team Structure

Since last point touched based on the people aspect, want to extend it bit beyond the purview of direct product management. While one big mistake could be not having a product focused person in founding team or in the senior management team – other simply is how teams are structured within an organization.

Have noticed that in multiple organizations, the User Experience, Product Team, Technology and Online Marketing teams working in silos heading in different directions. It will be subjective to mention what is a right structure and there is no thumb rule to decide that – one common criteria should be love for data, numbers, & micro funnels. Stitch it all together and build an rocking platform.

This pointer is a filler, 15 is a round number. Nevertheless, message is important.

 

Concluding Notes – 

There are couple of posts I wrote earlier which might be also in line for Ecommerce services –

Signing off. Oh yes – a $75+ Mn valued company is still running a Facebook advt since its day of launch (about 2 years back) promising a Blackberry for INR 1999. Its CPC must be 8-12 INR and I have clicked on it innumerable times trying to find out that phone. Online marketing inefficiencies? – maybe will reserve that for another post. This one is already too long.

Going back, product / platform is the core differentiation for every Ecommerce service. Love data and believe in numbers. Every aspect of ecommerce business can be divided into two aspects – controllable (managed internally) and uncontrollable (managed externally like logistics, operations, etc); measure efficiency of everything that is online with improvements in micro funnel conversions and everything that is offline with improvements in time.

Want more inspirations – for online look west (at Amazon); for offline look east (at Taobao).

Junglee and how it impacts Indian Ecommerce

Junglee has once again got us to debate on our current favorite topic – Ecommerce. Many of us doubting that if current Ecommerce models did it right because Amazon chose an completely diagonal approach to enter Indian market with Junglee.com.

Facts first – Junglee.com has not invented product discovery and price comparison. Pricegrabber.com is one of the best products in this space for US. Shopping.com is owned by Ebay, and many other players in India as well.

There are already lot of posts talking about how Junglee has got it right and it will be the door or gateway to drive traffic and enable transactions on Indian Ecommerce sites. Well that may be true, but honestly I find this really weird, just because Junglee is backed by Amazon – does not mean it will be success or that it is the correct approach. Herd mentality thinking! I guess it is too early, driven by speculation without valid reasoning.

Google Buzz went wrong; Google+ is a disaster; Google Search plus your world is a messed up product. Facebook withdrew from daily deals, Twitter launched activity tab (silently withdrew that in new roll-out) or Netflix tried Qwikster. Point is – big companies make big mistakes.

On the other hand – Amazon has a thing of entering market at very early stage by introducing new products/verticals like AWS, eBooks, Kindle or making an very thoughtful late entry like Kindle Fire (Tablet) or by acquiring category creator or owners like Audible, Diapers or Zappos.

 

Here are some points I would want to specifically highlight about Junglee –

Competition –

  • Junglee is not competing against Flipkart or Letsbuy or any other Ecommerce player in this market at this stage. Product discovery & product transactions are distinctly different verticals., but what Junglee is attempt affects these players.
  • Junglee is not competing even against Google. With 1.2 crore products, it means Junglee will contribute more pages to Google’s search index than any other Ecommerce site in India. Most consumers will discover Junglee through Google.
  • Amazon.com has unmatched resources/experience in Search Engine (paid & natural) expertise; it clearly highlights it as one of the reasons for partners to list on Junglee. (Read point 3 here: http://services.amazon.in/services/product-ads/how-it-works/#/services/product-ads/faq/)

 

How Junglee might change the rules through discovery –

Ecommerce services have limited options of online marketing – Direct Traffic, SEO, SEM, Display Advts, Affiliate Marketing, Email & Social Media. (The funded ones get to do – TV, Radio & Outdoors). Compared to the cost associated with other formats of marketing – SEO guarantees long term and sustainable traffic acquisition mode. Overall high cost of acquisition in other formats of marketing is leveled down only through Direct traffic or SEO. Yes, Social is free but cost of acquisition is still a big proportion as users are acquired through discounting coupons.

Taking previous point ahead, SEO is pure content play and Amazon is master at that. With 1.2 crore products – Junglee will add approximately 3Mn+ pages to Google index, index size is typically 3X-4X for factors like review pages/ recommendations pages / category pages and so on. Due to this sheer size of index and high quality content placement, Junglee will quickly start rising in its natural search rankings. This will affect both – partners who has listed on Junglee and others like Flipkart who have chosen not to.

Here is why –

All products listed on Junglee (or any Ecommerce site) can be classified as two

  • Standardized catalog products (Books, Digital Cameras, Laptops, DVDs, etc)
  • Non standard products (Jewellery, Toys, Clothing, etc)
  • For standardized product like say this Canon Digital Camera – the content includes product description which is standard on every site; but will be enhanced on Junglee with recommendations, reviews and more.
  • For non-standard products like this Mayur Pendant Sapphire offered by CaratLane, despite content being exactly the same, even without reviews or recommendations – Junglee will quickly be listed above CaratLane for multiple factors, key being vastness of catalog for Pendants & Jewellery.

And this is one of the key reasons why natural search traffic on both websites listed or not listed with Junglee will be affected big time. Over time, a high proportion of natural search traffic will be taken by Junglee and will be distributed by it.

This also provides a very large opportunity for small players (including unfunded) or offline retailers (who are lost at times on online marketing) to acquire qualified users.

For those who have not listed, it makes some perfect sense to get their products listed on Junglee as they will witness a gradual decline in natural search traffic. And to get traffic & acquire those customers from Junglee – they will require to be competitive on pricing.

 

Product listings are Free.

Really? and you believed that.

Amazon is selling Kindle Fire below its cost, because it is confident that it will recover revenues of the device through content consumption. If you are thinking that Amazon will not make anything out of Junglee.com – you are wrong. When it comes to churning out online user behavior data and consumption patterns, no other Ecommerce service can do it better than Amazon.

Junglee has the entire product catalog required for Ecommerce. Soon Amazon will have all the insights it wants to know about Indian consumers – Products consumer are searching for, Product-Price ratios or even Demand / Supply for all products categories.

 

Challenges for Junglee –

A product discovery catalog with 1.2 Crore products is not easy thing and Amazon is doing this more efficiently than anyone else with its own core product – amazon.com. Challenges for updating inventory, prices, reviews or recommendations exist, but are not big for Amazon. Junglee can really force upon real-time price and inventory updates to its partners and get them to standardize it.

What would be more interesting is Amazon could localize the product – showcasing partners who can ship in least amount of time to say – Panaji or Kolhapur; deep integrate with offline retailers and help making purchase decisions – like a Apple iPad 2 is available now in Croma (2 Kms away from your location) at Rs.500 discount than buying at an online store.

From what I know – Croma maintains a list of products available for sale in every store on its central inventory management (I was once asked to visit another Croma store to pick up an mobile phone, the staff kept the last piece off shelf). Currently Junglee.com is a minimum viable product, but can Amazon get to this?

 

Where does this all lead to for Amazon – 

Two options ahead for Amazon –

  • Amazon Market Place
    If Amazon is keen – this can happen tomorrow. Junglee has the product catalog, simply enable an payment gateway and instead of redirecting traffic to partner sites, start sending customer transaction orders which its partners can fulfill.
  • Amazon Store
    Keep it slow, learn more about users / markets. And when the time is right launch a full fledge Ecommerce service.

And its very likely that Amazon will take the route two. Feel like investing in Amazon now? Ouch.