Saturday, May 18, 2024

Going shopping? Go online!

Musings by Shekhar Nambiar

The economy, experts say, has bounced back since the bleak days of Covid.

The stock markets in particular have been bullish and buoyant. Big bulls, speculators and investors have all benefited from the bullish market.

For the aam aadmi, though, life continues to be a struggle. Difficult would be an understatement. Inflation and high costs are eating into savings. Small business is still some way off from recovery, and are not sure if they can at all.  Instamart, Big Basket, Blinkit are brands of the period. They have made it big at a time when aggregators were making their presence felt.

Getting into it

Covid brought in its wake the big move to online business, mostly ventures with deep pockets, the likes of Godrej and Tata. 

Having long been a sceptic of e-commerce, it was with some trepidation that I ventured to even go near it. If I hesitantly engaged with the new and emerging b2c model, it was out of sheer compulsion, to beat the pandemic.

I have to admit that it was easy, to say the least. Not rocket science, as I thought the move and the technology associated with it would be. Yet, the baby steps were difficult.

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First steps

A look at the prospective seller’s site gives you the overall picture, of products and brand availability. The selection of your preferences is easy, sometimes confusing as it offers a range of things and consumers don’t get to see ortry them before the purchase. After all, the retail segment is not a one-size-fits-all scene.

The payment processes are seamless, with the option of ‘secured’ online choices or ‘cash on delivery’. And they play fair. Despite the initial hiccups, returning or replacing orders are easy, ushering in a new culture to the Indian retail market.

As I look back, the whole thing was convenient and safe, given the state of things then, with not a soul seen on the streets, and no shops doing business. 

Lest we forget

The one or two times that I plucked the courage to venture out were painful, not fearful. The sight of homeless, destitute people pained me no end. I’d heard about the exodus of migrant labour from the cities and towns and of their travails during their trudge back home. 

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A few state governments were more accommodating and supportive than others. Some provided food and shelter to the departing workers and handed over food packets for their long journeys back home. 

Beware of cheats

There is reason to believe that online businesses cater for all strata of society. So, there is an egalitarian purpose. All that a poor and weak individual need do is to use the numerous digital payment options. Of course, she or he needs to be lettered. 

The only issue, perhaps even a big risk, is the burgeoning tribe engaged in online rackets and cheating. And they are on the prowl all the time looking for the gullible. Much as you hear of cases of online fraud, possibly by organised gangs or individuals with criminal intent, for the most part, the processes are seamless and not fraught with much risk.

Easier this way

After having been averse to most things, if not all, I admit it’s not bad after all. It served us well during the pandemic and does so even today.

I must clarify that my preference is for a mix of both – a hybrid of physical and online.

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As an aside, the process for registering the name on a new portal is most amusing. Not in all, but the more advanced the site and bigger the brand the more complex the process becomes. An interesting thing is where they ask you the date birth. The calendar begins with the current date, and as you scroll through backward, it takes you through the years upto what you want to record your date of birth as. What’s most interesting is as you navigate the calendar, it’s like going back in time. Each month and every year will take you through the timeline, the year you graduated from school and college, the month you got your first job, and so on.

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Shopping sites galore

Ecommerce online sites are a dime a dozen. Shopping has never been easier. People are at it from the comfort of their houses without realizing that they are missing out on the outdoor experience. Sitting in front of the computer surfing sites and bargain hunting also robs them of their physical exercise leading to potential health issues. Online trade has eroded the business of small traders and the corner stores leading to a crisis of sorts in our cities and towns. 

Conventional economics teaches us that every business has a cycle. Nothing remains in perpetuity. And so, the need for constant innovation, bringing in new ideas, and diversification. 

Here again the rise and rise of big business and monopoly houses defy all logic. They are here to stay for the long haul, or so it seems.

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Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar is a communications professional who has spent a good deal of time in international organizations and in the development sector. As he puts it, it's been an "exciting journey" for him, beginning his working life as a journalist, with some of the best editors and professionals, before venturing into public affairs and then forays in the private sector. He believes "every day brings new challenges, achievements and success, and the key is to play a small part in whatever it is that you're doing". He tries to keep pace with new tech, and learn a new word a day, of course, "Gen Z lingo!"


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