Wisdom of the crowd

Jun 09, 2013, 10:22 IST | Kareena N Gianani

They know you spend most of your leisure time on social media and want to give and ask for opinions frequently. Over the past few months, social commerce, a branch of e-commerce that enables users to involve their social network while making buying decisions, is fast taking off in India. Kareena N Gianani meets the entrepreneurs who make this space vibrant, ambitious and safe

Big idea: SellMojo is India’s first Facebook store, which allows a merchant to create their store on the social networking website. This is different from creating a fan page for your business - apart from hosting your FB store, SellMojo also enables payment gateways and other logistics for the merchant.

(L-R) Web developers and co-founders of the Facebook store, SellMojo, Anuj Garg, Nameet Potnis and Anant Garg. Pic/Madeeha Attari

How it works: At their Chembur office, web developers Anant and Anuj Garg, and Nameet Potnis, joke about the strange graffiti on their walls. They say they let their team loose with their spray cans, which explains the whimsical half-Joker from Batman, lush trees and what looks like a misshapen banana.
But the writing on the wall is clear - Potnis, Anant and Anuj are the people behind a great idea and even better execution. SellMojo, is the newest entrant to the recent and growing social commerce (s-commerce) space in the country.

Prashant Malik, Co-founder and CTO of LimeRoad.

Before launching SellMojo in March, when Potnis was brainstorming s-commerce ideas with his partners, he was very clear about building something that would act as an “enabler” for other entrepreneurs and merchants and make business easier for them. “Through SellMojo, a merchant can start his store on Facebook in 60 seconds,” says Anant. Similar stores have been founded in Europe and the US, but SellMojo’s uniqueness lies in the fact that they are the only ones who have tie-ups with payment gateways in India. “A merchant can immediately begin accepting orders after logging in, but only through cash on delivery for about a week. After that, the credit/debit card payments and bank transfers could be started too,” says Potnis.

Co-founder Suchi Mukherjee

It is all very simple. When you visit the fan page of the store or brand you have ‘Liked’ on Facebook, one of the icons besides the ‘Photos’ and ‘Likes’ is ‘Shop’ which then takes a user to the SellMojo-powered store. Once you’re there, you can see all the products put up by the merchant, with details and pricing. Apart from giving potential customers the option to Like and Share the product on their walls on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, SellMojo also allows them to ‘Ask for An Opinion’, which could then bring more attention on the product and, hence more buyers.

“People have been using Facebook to sell products, but it has all been very rudimentary till date,” feels Anuj. “You put all your product photographs up there, but then have to ask your customers to email you for more details, payment options, and so on. You stand to lose many customers because of these additional steps,” adds Potnis. 

(From L-R) Kaushal Shubhank, Chief Technology Officer at the social commerce website, Giveter, Mayank Bhangadia, Co-founder, team member Ankita Singh and Co-founder Avinash Saxena

Merchants can use SellMojo for two weeks for free and then avail of any of the three subscription plans (Basic (R 999 per month), Starter (R 1,999 per month) and Pro (R 2,999 per month)). “Social commerce is at a very nascent stage in India yet, but is bound to grow because, come no, everyone’s on Facebook. In fact, s-commerce is bound to grow most in tier-II and tier-III cities because people there have little access to the middle-end and high-end stores they want to buy from,” says Anant. “Few people in India have a computer or a laptop, but everyone has a mobile phone, and you can shop there with ease,” says Anant. 

It cannot get more ‘social’ than this, adds Anuj. “Shopping has always been an activity which is best done when friends tag along and you have a second or third opinion. This is just that, only done virtually. Could it get any better?” Apart from complete customisation of their store, SellMojo also gives the merchants access to data which could provide deep insight into people’s buying habits. A merchant can, for instance, track what users do most through SellMojo - ask for their friends’ opinions, share the product, or Like it. It also helps a merchant understand which product gets most clicks, and whether they translate into sales. Soon, SellMojo plans to work on its Marketplace, which will feature all their merchants’ products under one roof. “In the future, all shopping will go online, and will become even more social, if that were possible,” smiles Potnis.

LimeRoadBig idea: LimeRoad, which was founded in October 2012, is a social commerce shopping website targeted at women. It helps potential customers get opinions and feedback on their purchase through their friends on social networks and also allows them upload their own ‘Scrapbooks’ by experimenting with various apparel and looks. It allows users to tag their friends on products, too. How it works: LimeRoad, says Prashant Malik, Chief Technology Officer of the company, was born out of two very simple ideas just waiting to be realised. “The first: shopping is the most social activity on Earth. The second: people spend a lot of their leisure time on Facebook these days. We thought, what are we doing if we are not putting these two ideas together!”

S-commerce, feels Malik, is on the verge of taking off in India. “All of South-East Asia, actually, has a lot of potential, because we are the manufacturing hub of the world. We need to create managed markets, and the only thing stopping online buying is lack of platforms in the region.” That, he adds, is exactly what LimeRoad plans to change. At LimeRoad, a user can sign up through Facebook and observe a live feed of what people are checking out at the website that instant. It also aids social discovery by featuring trending styles and options to buy anything ranging from clothes to footwear, accessories, handbags and so on. The most interesting tool LimeRoad offers is the Scrapbook, wherein a user can design a look - which includes clothes, handbags, accessories, footwear - by choosing products on the website. This scrapbook can then be shared with friends on Facebook and see their comments. The best scrapbooks win prizes and LimeRoad also makes them public. “One of the future plans is to enable people to buy a Scrapbook they really like and earn discounts if their friends buy it too,”  says Malik. LimeRoad uses the sign up data to make shopping more personalised, and does it transparently, says Malik.

“There is no area,” he adds, “ which cannot gain from s-commerce.” Until five years ago, Malik worked at Facebook in the US and wanted to do something in the area of health, education or e-commerce and see where social commerce fit in. “Well, as it turned out, everywhere.”  S-commerce, he adds, can benefit from the realisation that a buying experience can be very personal and at no point must an entrepreneur assume that everyone wants to share everything they do or buy. “Customer delight is what you should work towards. There must always be an option which enables a customer to share something only and only if s/he wishes to.”

Big idea: Giving people’s gifts needn’t be one long knuckle-biting exercise anymore. Giveter, a new s-commerce website launched in August 2012, finds out the recipient’s interests on Facebook and suggests how that fits best with the mood, occasion and budget. How it works: Giveter’s co-founders, Mayank Bangadia and Avinash Saxena are one of the millions out there in some ways - just before a party or a special occasion, they’d always struggle to come up with a good gift. But then, they stand out in the way that matters. The duo found the solution to thoughtful gifting in s-commerce and founded Giveter, an s-commerce website, to help people gift better. 

On Giveter, you’re first required to fill in the age group of the recipient, your relationship with him/her, the occasion, the mood of the gift (funky, romantic, personalised, precious), the personality of the recipient (book lover, creative, fun-loving, health freak, takes it easy, sporty, traveller, music lover, homely, religious and so on) and the budget of the gift. Based on these inputs, the website throws up multiple, precise options. For an even more insightful gift, Giveter has the N’lighter option, which asks you to sign up through your Facebook account and then determines the recipient’s likes and dislikes through their Facebook activity (the recipient must be your friend on Facebook). It then comes up with relevant gift suggestions.

“Everything, including gifting, has gone online, but, unlike eating and shopping, there was no way you could get advice on your choice, involve friends, or know just what the recipient would love. Offline, we rarely shop for gifts alone - so why do it all by yourself online?” says Bangadia, over the telephone from Gurgaon.  Till recently, say the founders, social commerce in India just meant companies putting up their products on social media to get Likes, Shares and Comments. There was no real interaction that the customers could have among themselves about what they were buying. “S-commerce makes it easy for you to determine what the recipient wants. For instance, one of our customer used N’lighter to find a gift for her brother. It turned out that he loved cycling (a fact she didn’t know), because it showed up in his Facebook activity and she gifted him a cycling helmet. She wouldn’t have imagined buying him a helmet otherwise,” smiles Saxena.  N’lighter also keeps a track of how long ago the recipient Liked a certain activity or product because interests could get dated, too. 

It makes one wonder whether it is safe to allow an s-commerce website such close access into a social media account. Bangadia, however, says that Giveter makes terms of access clear right from the time a user signs up, and does not  back-up data.  “We want to be very careful about not going viral in the name of s-commerce. We do not announce who has bought what from Giveter, and strive to value user privacy. Every new company instinctively wants to go viral and announce their sales, but we don’t plan on doing that,” says Bangadia. 

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