Last week I addressed around 50 commerce teachers as part of their annual refresher course arranged by the University of Madras. The topic was Social Networks and how they are changing the world of e-commerce, around the world and in India.
I had divided the talk into two parts - one where I walked through my presentation highlighting the route the Social networking and e-commerce juggernauts have traveled thus far and the other, trying to elicit their thoughts on some harsh comments about the Indian e-commerce scene that I planned to make.
I started my talk with a simple question, "How many of you use facebook?". To my complete astonishment, less than half-a-dozen people put their hands up! That put paid to most of my prepared speech.
Obviously then, they had not heard of twitter, google+ or linkedin. They knew nothing about GroupOn, Crazeal, or MyDala. I didn't bother to check if they had heard of TheFancy, Pinterest, and Polyvore or Foursquare, Highlight and Instagram.
Luckily, most of them had at some point in time used the IRCTC site to buy train tickets and some of them knew about FlipKart, thanks to the TV ads, though nobody had bought anything yet. So I did a quick tour of each of the main players in the social commerce arena and then went on to the second part of my talk.
As laid out in my earlier blog entry, I told them that I believed that Indians were fixated on getting the cheapest deal, cared not for good service or reliability, had no brand loyalty and would cheat if they could.
I had expected them to protest, but again to my complete surprise, they all agreed whole-heartedly!
Here's the thing. I believe the people in that room represent the typical educated middle class of India. I guess we are still at the very beginning of this interesting story.
So all you e-commerce companies out there - you can choose to be either one of the two proverbial slipper salesmen who were sent to the island where no one wore slippers (For those of you who have not heard this one, one salesman called back saying "Nobody wears slippers here. I am coming back" and the other said "Nobody wears slippers here. Ship lots. I have found a fantastic market").
What's your take?