Simplifying e-commerce: Issues that should be addressed first to draw users

Deepika lives in a nondescript village in Chaibasa district of Jharkhand and runs a small grocery store. Educated till Class 8 in a school where the medium of instruction was the local language and in a district marked by low internet infrastructure and literacy, she is among the several million citizens that new-age companies are aiming to bring online. However, it’s easier said than done.


That’s because Deepika is among the next 200 million citizens who will be very different from those who’ve formed the e-commerce user base so far. While the first set of e-commerce inhabitants were mostly from the top metros with access to formal education and affinity to smart devices, the Bharat consumers come from smaller cities and are likely to be less affluent with poor access to formal credit. This user base also faces structural roadblocks in the form of evolving internet infrastructure coupled with anxiety to shop on e-commerce platforms.


However, this cohort (smaller cities) will contribute nearly 70 per cent of incremental users by 2022, according to various industry reports, with women and youth being a key segment that expects more personalisation, hand-holding throughout their e-commerce journey and most importantly, want services in their local language. They will also expect voice-based services to overcome the challenge of inputting the product information incorrectly and rightly so. Today, almost 30 per cent of all searches in India are already voice-based, and this is expected to increase rapidly. Voice commerce also helps build confidence within consumers as they won’t have to worry about making spelling mistakes and avoid awkward social situations. Hence, internet platforms will have to innovate to address the vernacular, voice and credit barriers.


This demystification of e-commerce through the above initiatives is essential to get Bharat consumers to try e-commerce through the three phases of consumers’ lifecycle — inspire, nudge and hand-holding. Inspiration is a key propeller towards attracting citizens towards trying out something new. Here, social commerce plays a pivotal role as it inspires and offers a social validation to one’s selection, thereby aiding the purchase process. This, coupled with video-based offerings for cataloguing, seller connect etc., will be essential to make Bharat consumers learn more about the products and get inspired. Such offerings will also enable them to experience products first and keep them engaged even if they are not ready to make a transaction.


Another crucial component of making e-commerce universally acceptable is having a local language interface, particularly for a country like India with 22 scheduled languages. This implies having a mix of translation and transliteration to offer a local language interface in a manner that is much more colloquial. For instance, a Bharat consumer would be more comfortable searching for “formal shoes” in its transliterated version in a Devnagri script instead of a pure translation of “aupchaarik joote”. Concerted efforts should be put on to make it available in other major languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati etc., to truly make e-commerce acceptable.


While local-language interface and social commerce are considered the pillars of bringing the Bharat consumers online, they will require a nudge and hand-holding in their purchase journey. Here, assisted buying bots will play a pivotal


role in helping them navigate through scores of products and help identify the one which best suits their needs and desires. This becomes essential to emulate the offline retail experience where a salesperson helps the consumer make a purchase. This, complemented by AI-backed voice interface brings in inspiration, convenience and offers a more immersive e-commerce experience.


Such AI-backed systems will also help in the discovery of new products, which otherwise will be difficult for this cohort to find. From advising on buying complementary products to predicting future purchases based on purchase history will assist the Bharat consumers in demystifying e-commerce. However, it’s important to offer such abilities across platforms with the same speed and agility and hence, the technology needs to be lite. The consumer should be able to use the platform on a low storage smartphone or even in a webpage that offers the same user experience as that of an app to make it truly inclusive. This is both an opportunity as well as a challenge for e-commerce in delivering seamless user experience.


With lite and immersive becoming the principles of user experience, an augmented reality (AR) based platform will be a key tenant of offering an immersive user experience in the near future. AR will offer e-commerce customers an in-store shopping experience virtually, helping address the fit-and-feel issue that can deter consumers from making online purchases. This holds true particularly for fashion where AR will allow consumers to virtually try on clothes and jewellery and will prove to be a game-changer as it will significantly lower the cost of returns. Categories such as furniture and those relating to aesthetics, AR-based e-commerce experience will allow consumers to view virtual products in their homes, easing decision making for them.

To ensure continuity in these offerings, businesses need to be immune to disruptions caused by both natural and manmade factors. While technocrats for long have emphasised on the need for predictive mechanisms, it’s e-commerce that offers them a fertile ground. Consumer behaviour insights allowthem to predict demand disruptions and also prepare for natural disruptions in advance. This gains significance in a country such as India which has variations in the development of infrastructure across the country. Hence, a predictive mechanism for demand forecasting, supply chain planning, trust and safety becomes important to offer a seamless consumer experience and reduce disruptions.


Chief product & technology officer


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