Category Archives: Payment Systems

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.
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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.

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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.

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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).

What problems are the Mobile Payment Services trying to solve?

When I heard of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s announcement of mobile payment startup – Square, I loved the simplicity of the service. Few months Jack Dorsey tweeted that Square is processing transactions worth $1Mn per day – that is a cool revenue run rate of $10Mn per year for a two year startup (Square charges 2.75% charge per transaction when paid through credit card)

With very little knowledge of how offline transactions work in US, but it is definitely a card driven economy. Coming to Indian scenario – unsure if any Mobile Payment Services company in India will declare the value of transactions it processes per day. For a country like India, although the opportunity for mobile commerce looks huge – unable to relate if existing mobile payment services are trying to solve any consumer problem.

Back in 2006, when penetration of mobile phones in India was growing at an exponential pace – with falling talk times, it was predicted that India will be one of the largest telecom markets in the world. Well, that has surely come true. In internet world – there was another wave of prediction. Analysts & Enthusiasts found another buzz world – mCommerce which was supposed to be a multi-billion dollar industry by 2010.

With time, the definition of Mobile Commerce is itself a cliche’d.

  • Is it mobile commerce when a consumer books a airline ticket online, gets a confirmation and PNR number on to his mobile number . Displays the PNR ar airport counter and gets ticket?
  • Is it mobile banking when consumer receives confirmation of debit/credit transaction on his mobile
  • Or is it when the discovery, intent & transaction for a product/service starts and ends on mobile phone?

The definition is now debatable – but with mobile communication included, online transactions and services have scored a big mile.

The proposition of Mobile Payment Systems is (or was) very simple:

  • Offline Merchants – Allow consumers to walk-in to any shop with his mobile phone, buy stuff and make payments
  • Online Merchants – Tie-Up with multiple online eCommerce/Travel portals – allow them to purchase products through their payment service
  • Own Marketplaces – Create own marketplace on mobile that combine eCommerce, travel, utility services etc and enable payments for such transactions through their own system

Honestly, this would have sounded amazing to everyone back then. Undoubtedly very huge potential – Offline retail transactions are worth billions of dollars everyday, Online Merchants wanting to reach out to very high percentage of consumers who have not come online due to lack of internet connectivity and mobile device seemed very logical, & of course with own marketplace strategy they too wanted to own a sizable chunk of users/revenue and be a destination for commerce.

The mobile boom did happen. It is very difficult to find someone these days without a mobile phone. But then why is it so rare that we don’t get to find people using mobile payment services as it was predicted earlier.

Trying to analyze why did this zillion dollar plan on paper did not translate to even millions of dollars in reality. Here are few thoughts, there may be many other reasons as well that contributed to this –

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Limited size of Market –
With 95% mobile subscription in country on prepaid, and average ARPU of less than 200 INR (& steadily declining with time) – mobile payments or transactions is definitely the last thing on such user’s mind. Addressable market for this service is considerably very small and will be a subset of eCommerce market.

Active Credit Cards in India are declining –
According to recent numbers published in this TOI report – number of active credit users in India has tumbled down from 20.7 Million (in March 2008) to 10.8 Million (in November 2010).

eCommerce Services discovered Cash on Delivery –
India is a cash driven economy and most eCommerce services have realized this by today. COD accounts for anywhere between 30% to 60% of transaction for players who have enabled it. IVR payment mechanism also has widespread acceptance for ordering directly through call center.

Banks play their own Game –
In fact they already have started playing their own game. Banks are launching their own mobile banking applications and promoting it aggressively. That leaves mobile payment services out of their own play-field.

The 3G Magic may not happen –
The 3G magic shall happen to other services, but in my opinion nothing dramatic will happen for mobile payment services companies. There is simply no connection between acceptance of 3G by consumers and why ‘new consumers’ will subscribe to credit cards or link up their bank accounts to a mobile payment service company. They will fight for existing consumers between competition and the banks.

Radical shift to app-economy –
Smart Mobiles & Tablets devices are making a huge difference to the way consumers are accessing services on handheld or portable computing devices. With advent of app-stores and in-app payment systems – the mobile ecosystem has grown more radically than any of these players would have thought about.

Money was always Mobile –
If the pain point that mobile payment systems were (or are) trying to solve was allowing consumers to do transactions wherever & whenever they want – then this consumer pain never existed. Money in whatever format – cash or card was always mobile.

 
I see and hear of Mobile Payment systems usage in India only in the context on prepaid recharges & utility bill payments. But that was not what they aimed for, correct?

To sum up the article –

  • Money was always mobile; the consumer pain point mobile service providers were trying to solve never existed!
  • These businesses were way ahead of time; and in most scenarios got investments before validation.
  • mCommerce model evolved differently and in a way that kept such players outside the ecosystem.
  • mCommerce will evolve along with eCommerce; will go hand in hand – but definitely not before.

In my opinion this vertical is classic case of ‘ahead of time’, ‘investment without validation’, and ‘dynamic changing ecosystem’. Lesson for entrepreneurs and investment managers – make sure your companies are a part of “validated ecosystem” and solves a “valid consumer pain.”

 

How Reserve Bank of India (RBI) can facilitate eCommerce and Online Transactions in India

Online Payments & Transactions – one of my favorite topics. Are the volumes of Internet or Mobile Transactions important – YES!

Internet Businesses will be sustainable in India only when the volumes of online transactions in India go up, which in turn happens only when Internet Banking, Debit Card usage and proliferation of Credit Cards happen.

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Why it is must?

Not just direct eCommerce websites, but Internet Industry will grow along with that. Why I say this  because the cycle goes like:

  • Take two of the biggest spenders amongst Internet Industry – Online Travel & Matrimony Services
  • To be in business – they need Transactions (Online Bookings & Paid Accounts)
  • If consumers don’t transact online, they will not have any revenues
  • No revenues – No or lower advertising spends
  • They don’t spend – Online Advertising Networks suffer, hence publishers, and hence it affects the complete ecosystem.

In happy happy scenario – when volumes of Online Transactions are higher – you see more Online Travel Bookings, Movie Tickets, eCommerce websites sell products, Consumers opt for Paid accounts on Matrimony Services, Paid Classifieds… and everyone is smiling.

The volume of online transactions will determine how mature the Internet user base in country is. And the fate of Internet Industry lies in hands of Reserve Bank of India by ensuring facilitation of usage credit /debit cards & internet banking facilities by all scheduled banks in India.

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Some Unrelated Linkage:

Major banking websites in India (HDFC, ICICI, Citibank, SBI, Axis Bank) attract over 16.25 Million Unique visitors each month (Source: Vizisense) . That probably will be a small percentage of total bank’s user base, but going by that number means:

  • If India has 35 Million Internet users in country- a whopping 46% of internet users frequent bank websites
  • It would be still 27% if Internet user base is considered to be 60 Million and yet it is a significant number.
  • Every 4th user of Internet is a someway related to bank. This is just considering the top banks in India.

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The Scenario Today:

Unfortunately the credit card subscriber base in India is not so promising at less than 25 Million Cards issued in market and of which estimated 50% are active users.

Positives – Debit Cards growth seem to be promising for as many banks couple the same as Debit-cum-ATM card and have started distributing it to all new accounts. NetBanking user base quoted above could indicate user logins to netbanking (mostly to check balance) and not necessarily online transactions.

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RBI’s Plan of Action should be:

So what is required to be done to create an environment to boost Online Transactions in India:

Curb the loss of opportunity –

  • Many banks in India issue Maestro Debit Cards – unfortunately they are not accepted on many payment gateways
  • All debit cards are ATM Cards; but all ATM Cards are not Debit Cards.
  • There are many Scheduled and Cooperative Banks in India offering Internet Banking facilities, however most of them only for purpose of checking account balance. They need to be enabled for Online Transactions as well.

Mandates to improve Credit / Debit Card Penetration –

  • Many Scheduled and Co-operative banks operate in India., not all of them issue Credit Cards or Debit Cards or ATM Cards.
  • There are at least 300+ Scheduled Banks in India, the government should enforce up all the banks to issue Credit Cards & Debit Cards cum ATM Cards within an stipulated time frame.
  • All Non-Scheduled banks in India with 300,000+ savings accounts operating at any level – City, Taluka, District or State need to compulsorily tie-up with a National Bank of its choice to offer Credit / Debit Cards to its customer base. (Similarly to Bancassurance Models)

ATM Network Connectivity –

  • Ever wondered how you can use any Bank’s ATM card on any other? It is due to their inter-connectivity on the BANCS ATM Network. Unfortunately not all Banks/ ATMs are hooked up on this network – So no question here to guess on the recommendation.
  • How is it linked to Online Transactions? – These consumers are most likely to use ATM cum Debit Cards and are more likely to mature and move to Online Transactions

Internet Banking –

  • Scheduled Banks in India need to compulsorily offer Internet Banking facilities to its users and also ensure training terminals for same in its branches. If implemented and executed well, this might be a first hand experience for many Indians to Internet, for that matter even to Computers.
  • There are many Scheduled and Cooperative Banks in India offering Internet Banking facilities, however most of them only for purpose of checking account balance. They need to be enabled for Online Transactions as well.

Payment Gateway Infrastructure –

  • The payment gateway infrastructure in country needs to be improved – by which it means even the payment gateways need to have mandates on accepting all credit cards, debit cards and internet banking facility of all banks currently offering them
  • There has to be also a mandate to integrate such services of any new bank within 180 days of it going live.

Connectivity –

No comments on the state of Internet & Broadband connectivity in India. But that is not the point here.  Imagine you doing a transaction in a small town like Mahabaleshwar on a Dial-Up Internet Service provided by a local ISP.

Now enjoy the view:

  • From the merchant site you are directed to your Payment Gateway.
  • You enter your details on Payment Gateway and click Submit.
  • Through Visa or Mastercard switches that are located internationally of course – the same is routed to issuing bank for authorization and back to the Payment Gateway.
  • Phew., that’s not enough – Credit Cards are now 3D secured, you need also authenticate yourself again by the issuing bank and later again routed through Visa / Mastercard to record the authentication.
  • Post this you are routed back to the payment gateway and again back to the Merchant website.

Wow! And this is a world tour of some sort in 30 seconds, since by this time your transactions was routed through multiple ISPs, multiple Datacenters and multiple countries as well and all this multiple times.  So now imagine with state of (poor) internet connectivity in India, how many chances you have for connection dropouts.

One last point to be added here – even after going through all this, note that authorization of a transaction is completely left to the issuing bank and not Payment Gateway, Visa or Mastercard.

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Indian Electronic Payment Network (India Card) – Needs to be reality!

The last suggestion – RBI should possibly ensure facilitation and make roadmap for creation of an Indian Electronic Payment Network (owned and managed by Indian Government).

It is not confirmed if it will be named India Card, but RBI has plans to set up own payment processing system , as reported many times in news like this one last in Indian Express.  This is in line with China introducing its own payment network – Union Pay through its central bank – People’s Bank of China (PBC or PBOC).

There are benefits of having an Indian Electronic Payment and Processing Network only if one understands how costly it is for the banks to be a part of existing ones:

  • When a bank issues you a Credit Card or Debit Card that is endorsed by either VISA or Mastercard, the issuing bank pays some amount to either of them.
  • This issuing fees is irrespective of the fact if that card is ever used for any transaction or not. Issuing fees are higher for premium cards like Gold, Platinum, Titanium (or any undiscovered metal).
  • The issuing banks probably also pay an annual fee to VISA or Mastercard to use its payment processing network.
  • And of course, VISA and Mastercard do charge a small percentage (<1%) per transaction to the payment gateway.
  • Plus, remember some one also pays for the bandwidth consumed while completing and online transaction too

So what are the benefits India Card comes to reality:

  • The costs involved will definitely be on a lower side for issuing of cards, transactional percentage charged and annual fees for the issuing banks.
  • Government could possibly waive off all fixed costs to banks for issuing cards (that is being very positive) and earn more with transactional percentage and taxes.
  • The whole chain of connectivity issues while making an online transaction will be reduced since it can be safely assumed that all processing servers will be in India itself and would have adequate connectivity with banks and payment gateways.
  • Currently different payment gateways charge merchants between 1.5% to 4%; when this lowers it significantly, directly & positively impacts profitability of all online transaction based services.

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Sounds kewl isn’t it? But to bring that to reality is different game all together.

India Card will need complex systems for fraud detections, authorizations, authentications, refunds and many others developed by VISA and Mastercard over years. Most importantly acceptance of India Card in all countries and on all payment gateways globally.., for which India Card would also require affiliation with VISA and Mastercard.

That’s all for now. Till then – Happy Transacting! :-)