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Promoting the Feel factor - The Future of Online Retailing in India

On behalf of : Soumyendra Kumar Mohanty

India's new generation is making purchases online. Although it is convenient, when they do not like the product, they return it. But would they have returned it if they had 'tried' it out beforehand? Maybe not. So what was missing? I would like to call it the 'feel factor'.

The human ability to try and feel the product is at the core of human psyche and it cannot be completely written off in the online retailing world. Let's glance through the options that can provide this feel factor:

1. Virtual Studio or Virtual Trial Room
2. Try Samples and then Buy Product
3. Order, Try and then Buy

The first option, Virtual Studio or Virtual Trial Room is applicable to products like eyeglasses or sunglasses where you can take a picture of yourself from the webpage and try on the frame. The Indian retailer Lenskart provides three options of virtual try on. The user can upload his photograph, take a picture on the web cam or select a similar looking model on the webpage and do a virtual-try on with the frames. Also, since it is a 2D feel and not a real-life 3D feel, few people purchase using this medium.

The second option, Try Samples and then Buy Product - can be used for products like premium brands of shampoos where the retailer offers you a sample based on which you may choose to try the product. This model has additional complications- is the manufacturer willing to bear the cost of this 'sampling exercise'? Is there a way to send samples to a sharper target audience? These are some of the questions that the online retailing industry has to address. Indian retailer has adopted an interesting approach. Their paid members can order a monthly 'Trybox' - a box of samples with no shipping charges. If members like a sample they can buy the product on the site. encourages members (both free and paid) to provide feedback or answer market research questions, earn points and avail applicable benefits.

The third option is Order, Try and then Buy - The Indian online retailer Lenskart has a 'Home Try On' program. You can book an appointment by paying a fee of INR 100. Their representatives will come to your home or office and conduct an eye-checkup. They also carry a selection of 200 - 250 of their best selling frames for you to choose from - you can select the frame and place the order. The challenge however is that the cost of maintaining the van and the employees has to break-even with the revenue from the number of orders. As of now it is being offered in 13 cities only. As people get acquainted with this kind of service and as the demand grows, more cities are likely to be added to the list.

Now, say you want to purchase shoes. But you cannot try it out in the virtual world like the eyeglasses and decide on which one to purchase. Few innovative online retailers like allow you to order for the two models but pay for only one. The delivery guy can wait for you until you try out the two pairs of shoes in the comfort of your home or office and take a call on which one feels better. How you pay the differential or get a refund is still an evolving process. This approach has additional costs. The retailer has to pay the delivery guys additional sum of money for this 'waiting time'. This approach may still hold true for shoes. What about, say for example, two sets of formal suits? Can the courier guy wait outside long enough for you to try out two sets of suits, and match your tie and shirt? May be not. But if they drop the suits at your place and come back the next day to pick it up, will you be ready to pay an additional amount for this service? Probably yes, when the try-n-buy culture evolves over time.

In India, the malls are getting over-crowded and the commute to shopping centers painful because of the absence of good public transport and soaring vehicular pollution. Also as the Indians become more and more busy managing their work and life, this service is likely to be welcomed with open arms.


Nice and insightful article.
Wondering how this is applicable for CPG/ FMCG products. With many variants of a product luring customers, trials are not a second option. So how can an online retailing address this. A near impossible case? only time will say

The recently concluded GOSF is evidence for the explosion of online retailing in India. Innovative ways as suggested in the blog have to be devised to engage with the Indian consumer.

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