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The inflection point for ecommerce in India is not somewhere ahead; rather, we have left it behind

Harish Bahl is probably one of the most sought after names
in the business of ecommerce in India now. After launching
and as a part of the portfolio of ecommerce verticals under
Smile Group, Bahl has now ventured into footwear ecommerce by launching Following this, AlooTechie caught up with Harish Bahl to

Harish Bahl is probably one of the most sought after names
in the business of ecommerce in India now. After launching
and as a part of the portfolio of ecommerce verticals under
Smile Group, Bahl has now ventured into footwear ecommerce by launching Following this, AlooTechie caught up with Harish Bahl to
understand his views about the ecommerce business in India, Smile Group’s strategy
in the Indian ecommerce play and future plans for

Why another ecommerce venture from Smile Group?

I think it’s a logical extension as we fundamentally believe that there
are multiple formats of eretail and they all co-exist. Even in mature markets
there are the regular deep-inventory players, flash sales models and group
buying models and they all co-exist. And they are all to service a separate
need. Our other two ecommerce models FashionAndYou and DealsAndYou stand more
for impulse based purchase. This business stands for the consumer’s need based
purchases. The first generation of ecommerce in India was for the
electronically delivered products  and services
like travel etc. The second generation saw what is regarded as the synonym to
internet that is “Deals”. The strongest reason for people to experiment with
online buying, at that time, was a deep discount. Now when they have become
comfortable in online transactions, consumers are also looking for good
experience’s and fulfillment of need based shopping and that is what BeStylish
aims at delivering. Even in the physical retail world, there is a market for
the fair price shops and there is also a market for the deals section on an
outlet. So Smile Group’s retail portfolio is basically based on that model and
each business complements the other.

Smile Group’s ecommerce portfolio has deals, fashion and now shoes.
Speaking about ecommerce as a business in India, is verticalisation the way

I think the verdict is not yet out. One can always ask why not one
Amazon that gives you all versus vertically special brands. There are two parts
to my answer – even in mature markets, it is not only Amazon. There is Groupon,
LivingSocial, Zappos and all co-exist. Secondly, I think in developed markets,
the basic infrastructure and the ecosystem is a far higher level in the
maturity curve to do a more horizontal play. In US, the supply chain
infrastructure including the courier company, logistics, warehousing, payment
options everything is at a maturity level. The bulk of retail happens through
organised retailers and that means that their technology readiness to adopt
ecommerce is high. There are specialised companies who will give you a plug in
play solution for logistics, warehousing etc. And almost all internet users
have credit and debit cards and the failure rates are multiple times lower than
what we see here. The whole ecosystem is matured enough to have a horizontal
ecommerce play whereas in India, it is still difficult to have a horizontal
ecommerce play and every vertical need of commerce needs a deep focus and
investment. From a consumer’s perspective, a consumer is equally unforgiving
irrespective of whether he is Indian or American. He is not bothered about the
problems that are there in the backend of the business. So my fundamental belief
is that one needs to focus and become a category killer in one segment and then
diversify. And speaking about categories, as far as Smile Group goes, we are
not touching any niche and shallow categories. All categories that we operate
upon are multi-billion dollar verticals and our perspective is to build and
focus on those categories.

Do you feel that the inflection point for ecommerce has come in India?

I have been saying this for almost four five years now and I will still
stick to my statement. There are les sellers and more buyers. Three years back,
the inflection point was still there but if you as a consumer wanted to buy
anything apart from travel, you had no options on the internet. This brings us
to the debate that do you first create the mall or do you first get the
customers? So I still think that the inflection point is not somewhere ahead,
rather, we have left it behind. The moment we got options for the consumers to
buy, they adopted it. When we started FashionAndYou, it took us no time to
reach the first day to ship thousand products and soon we became a company
doing more than Rs 100 crore of turnover. We have launched DealsAndYou which is
also relatively doing well. So this shows that the consumers are ready. With, we have already sold more than 100 shoes in the first day of
launch and we are yet to launch a marketing campaign. I believe that if the
inflection point for retail is there in India, then the inflection point for
e-retail also exists.

What was the idea behind BeStylish and taking Shailen Amin as partner?

Shay (Shailen Amin, CEO and co-founder, and I became
friends four and a half years back. Two days later we were driving to Jaipur
and besides being a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) guy, he kept telling me
that he has had enough of buying and selling companies. After that, whenever we
met, he kept on discussing with me several ideas in the fashion retail space.
And when I decided that I want to get into it, it was the first call that I
made to Shay and in less than 24 hours he sent me a BlackBerry Messenger (BBM)
saying ‘I resigned’. I said that we still don’t have the funds and it is still
an idea and he replied that he will be doing this in any case now. So that was
my reason for taking him as a partner. For me it always has been the person and
the entrepreneurial attitude in him or her. My other two partners Abhishek Lal and
Prasad for this venture are also big shoe lovers and carry more than 40 years
of combined experience in shoe design and retail.

How do you see BeStylish evolving from here?

We had this option of becoming a fair price retailer for multiple
categories within fashion retail or pick one category and be the best in that.
We opted for the latter and chose shoes. If I am able to give great customer
experience to a consumer, I am sure that when I replicate the same in newer
categories, we won’t have to re-establish the loyalty. Reason to take up shoes
was that we are all very fond of shoes and shoe as a category is one of the
most emotionally attached thing in your wardrobe. It a very engaging category
and one builds a relationship. So it fitted our goal to build an engaging
relationship with our customers. If we can build customer confidence in such a
high-involvment category, then we can diversify in other categories as well
very fast. But right now, our focus and passion is to become the largest shoe
retailers in India and be the most loved destinations for buying shoes. Moreover,
the feet itself has a lot to cover and we will be bringing in socks, polishes
and so on so forth. Attaining scale is imperative to us in whatever we do.

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