The tables have turned
I’ve been seeing something a little different recently…
The last 5 years of ecommerce has been characterised by platforms (Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, PayTM) fighting for consumer attention. This war placed customers on a pedestal and showered them with discounts, cash on delivery, guaranteed returns, and fast shipping.
Offline retailers & SMEs were pretty indifferent to the threat as their business continued fairly unharmed. In fact when tech companies tried to bring retailers online, they couldn’t do so without massive feet-on-the-street operations.
But then the lockdown happened. And revenues of SME retail went to zero.
So now I’m suddenly seeing startups see massive adoption in building products that enable offline SME retailers.
With offline sales still slow to pick up, these SMEs are looking for distribution online, digital marketing, customer retention solutions, etc.
Here’s a flavour of some interesting startups I’ve interacted with recently:
- Marketing: Portfolio company simsim launched “Rubaru“, a platform where celebrities can create video messages (e.g. birthday greetings) for your friends. Savvy SME retailers have used videos of such celebrities to market themselves to prospective customers.
- Product catalogues: An app that helps SME retailers build rich and digitally shareable catalogues of their products. Also offering real-time inventory, mobile web ordering and engagement analytics, SME retailers are quickly able to see the effectiveness of online distribution.
- Virtual inventory extension: As supply chains take their time to revert to normal, SME retail is facing inventory shortages. Startups are working with wholesalers & manufacturers to augment SME retailers with virtual catalogues that extend the product range & options offered to customers.
I don’t believe these are short-term bandaids. These kinds of solutions offer real & immediate value to offline retailers.
In ecommerce, conventionally tech startups aggregate the demand-side, eventually forcing a laggard supply-side to come around to technology. But now we’re seeing a kind of leapfrogging in tech adoption amongst SMEs.
I can’t think of another global market where the supply-side in retail has been forced online so early.
There isn’t a better time for startups to enable thirsty SMEs at scale. I’m excited to see more here.
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