Haute Couture on the Chamber Pot
Last week, in an announcement that hasn’t yet garnered as much attention as I would expect, online fashion retailer Myntra announced that it would shutter its website and move instead to a mobile app-only model from the beginning of May. There were also some suggestions that Flipkart, India’s very own online megastore, which had acquired Myntra not too long ago may follow suit in the future. Both Myntra and Flipkart have already shut down mobile versions of their websites and instead direct users to their respective apps.
This move was supposedly prompted by research stating that the majority of product views and purchases on the website occurred on the app (read the report here) and has already garnered mixed reactions from various sections. What it also indicates, is a clear shift in the Internet and luxury spending habits of the Indian population. Because for all the battles between New York, Paris & Milan to become fashion capitals of the world, the real propagators of fashion (especially when it comes to volume rather than all the bespoke Oscar dresses Meryl Streep gets designed) are the retail outlets that actually display and make accessible the hot new designs of the season to the masses. In that vein, online fashion stores like Myntra have carved out their own space in the market, with aggressive pricing, doorstep delivery and many other attractive enticements.
What Myntra also clearly understood was that fashion is an impulse purchase. And with the ubiquitous smartphone now in the hands of every aspirational Indian, the window to entice them is that 5-something inch touchscreen.
Let’s take a moment here to reflect upon how our society has changed when it comes to killing time. Consider waiting at the bus stop or train station. With a few minutes to spare between getting our butts from point A to point B, humans traditionally looked to engage in brief activities to utilize that time. In the old days it could be human contact where people would just randomly talk to the fellow commuter next to them taking shelter from the elements, or try to read a few pages of their book in the case of bibliophiles (or introverts). Or people would light up, with those precious few drags of nicotine their fortification against the crazy day (and smoking could be a communal activity too). With the advent of cell phones, the activities changed to calling or texting. And now people bury their heads in their smartphones. The exponential increase in cigarette prices and anti-tobacco sentiment, coupled with cheap data rates in the country (at least till the telecom lobby has its way) suggests the trend might continue.
Another instance where people have a few minutes to spare with their cranial capacity completely unburdened is when they are on the pot. In fact, the magazines and newspapers that people used to carry to the loo have now been replaced by their cellphones.
And what e-tailers understand well is targeting users through that device which has become as important an appendage as any of our limbs. We’ve all taken our phones out of our pockets to see a discount on bath towels and baby-walkers being trumpeted by Amazon, Flipkart or a bunch of other vendors. And for the 8 times we curse them for wasting our time, there are 2 times when we actually browse the ludicrously insane discounts on offer. And that’s when they have us.
Without looking at cumbersome statistics about turnover and market share, we know that there a few large players in the e-commerce/mobile-commerce segment and a number of smaller players that focus on a restricted number of categories or more niche segments. This is where the beauty of market forces favor the consumer, with the large players able to take hits on their profit margins to retain their customers because they are afraid of the newer, more nimble and niche up & comers snagging their client base. If you feel the designs on Myntra or Jabong are too conventional or pricey, you can turn to a number of smaller alternatives like Koovs, Miracas, Yepme or whatnot to hunt for something more off-beat or cheaper. Not just that, the segment has seen some really interesting metamorphoses in recent times, with real estate moguls selling their property on Snapdeal or with services like Paytm starting off as providing cellphone recharges before branching out into more conventional categories.
All that may soon be about to change though, if services like Airtel Zero are introduced. There has already been a lot of flak being directed at Airtel for introducing it and Flipkart for allegedly tying up with it (read how angry Redditors downvoted Airtel & Flipkart apps here). The argument certainly makes sense. If service A is free to use, users would certainly not want to pay to access service B which may give them a few more options but basically serves the same purpose. So if the established players pay telecom companies to provide access to their services for free, they will eventually build a monopoly (or a cartel) which will leave no space for the smaller entities to function, and once all competition is weeded out, these giants will be enjoy a huge say in deciding prices.
So we now find ourselves at a rather interesting and potentially worrisome juncture. We as customers have been spoilt silly with the plethora of choices at our disposal, but that may change. We’ve become used to the hottest new trends being available to us at a touch, but there may be a long Fall ahead, with the colors of Spring only a distant hope.
Nadeem just completed his MBA & is currently enjoying a lazy vacation before becoming tied up with corporate drudgery and spends most of his days with a book in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other and chocolate wrappers all around.
You can read more of his work at nadeemraj.insideiim.com
He's an amateur storyteller at 42shadesoctarine.wordpress.com