Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Indian e-commerce - Building engagement, one transaction at a time.

The relationship between a customer and a shop is inherently transactional to begin with.  Basically, a customer walks in, buys what he wants and leaves.

If your's is a small shops selling low-cost essentials, this kind of relationship is more than sufficient.  However, if you are a larger enterprise in a highly competitive environment, you will want to build a good relationship with your customers so that they keep coming back to you every time they have a need you can fulfill.

This is true whether you are a brick and mortar shop or an online store.

Building a deep and abiding relationship with customers is definitely a non-trivial task and the challenges seem to be manifold for e-commerce companies which are essentially operating in a "low-touch" environment where most of the interaction between the shopper and the shop is over the impersonal web.  As I have written before, I believe this relationship building process is even more difficult in India where the typical customer is notoriously immune to online overtures.

Thankfully, one thing going for us is that e-commerce is not a no-touch environment. So where in the life-cycle of an online transaction is there scope for touch?  Obviously, the one place is at the time of delivery.  How can we utilize this opportunity to build a closer relationship with the customer?  Here are five things you can do that can lead to a relationship:

1. Provide nicer packaging.  Why settle for the usual brown corrugated sheets and scotch tape when you can deliver goods in brightly colored boxes with satin ribbons?

2. Train the delivery person to be more courteous.  A smile, and a "Good Morning madam, how are you today?  I am here to deliver the dress you bought on company" is so much better than a desultory expression and a "Courier!! sign here". 

3. Like many of the pizza joints do, leave behind a cash or discount coupon that the customer can use during their next transaction. Now you are laying the ground for the second transaction and the start of what could be a long and fruitful relationship.

4.  If it is cash on delivery, have the exact change ready.  The medical shop that delivers around Rs. 1200/- worth of medicines for my mother-in-law every month has the exact change ready irrespective of whether I give him one thousand rupee note and one five hundred rupee note or 2 thousand rupee notes!

5. Let the delivery vehicle and the delivery person carry your brand prominently.  Here, I believe that a company with a captive delivery force (Flipkart) has a great advantage over one that outsources delivery to a third party courier company.

6. Extend the "People who bought this also bought that" concept to the physical world.  Have the delivery person suggest other products based on prior analysis of the user's buying/searching pattern.

I am sure my readers out there can come up with several other such low-cost / no-cost actions that can help e-commerce sites build a healthy relationship with their customers.  Leave your suggestions in the comments section and I promise to consolidate all of them and post them on this blog (with attribution).


Ramesh said...

Small purchases can be made with credit with small shop keepers if you are a regular. (Chillarai illai . Appurama tharaen !). Likewise credit can be provided to repeat online customers now and then !. After all you know everything about them (address, phone number, credit card details !) whereas the small shopkeeper extends small credit even though he may not know where you live. Would it not be nice for someone to hear at the doorstep "Pay next time sir ", when you do not have cash or do not have change yourself ?

Raj Bhatt said...

E-commerce companies should take feedback at the point of delivery about how satisfied the customer is about the entire transaction. If the customer is not overjoyed, the company should automatically email a detailed feedback survey.

Online grocery shops like Big Basket ( are doing that. But I don't see that happening with general merchandise e-tailers.