“During the nationwide lockdown in March and April last year, my revenue for the two months was zero. Because we were retailing non-essentials, online retailing had come to a standstill,” shares Bhupendra Patel, Founder, Home Sizzler, a Panipat-based home furnishing business that was retailing majorly online. The experience was no different for Prachi Patwardhan, Founder, GirlZFashion, whose business was into retailing artificial jewellery, and Vivek Sharma, Founder, Decor Hand, a handicraft business that retailed Saharanpur’s wood- works. Even when the markets reopened, there were other bigger challenges. Bhupendra shared, “We faced labour issues and supply-chain related challenges. It was extremely challenging to source the raw materials for our products.”
The relevance of digital commerce for India’s retailers
At a panel discussion on ‘Start. Build. Grow. Shaping the future of digital commerce’, the three sellers who represented the 3,50,000+ community of sellers on Flipkart along with Jagjeet Harode, Senior Director and Head – Marketplace, Flipkart shared their insights about the changing dynamics of the digital commerce landscape. The sellers shared the challenges they faced since the onset of the pandemic and what it took for them to bounce back and recover from the downturn in business in the initial months of 2020.
“The online sales on Flipkart were a major booster. In addition, it helped that consumers were now more inclined to buy online. Put together the sales we made covered up the losses that we incurred in the preceding months ” shares Bhupendra. In addition to festive sales that were instrumental in driving business for online sellers on the platform, Prachi and Vivek highlighted that the insights and forecasts from the Flipkart team were not only timely but also hit the bull’s eye. “They were able to identify the categories and products where consumer demand was likely to see a surge,” says Vivek.
The one key message that the three Flipkart sellers reiterated over the course of the discussion was that while online selling did have its fair share of pandemic-related market challenges, the fact that they were online and retailing on a large e-commerce platform like Flipkart had helped them continue their business and drive growth. They add that this, in turn, reinstated the value of online commerce for small and medium retailers across India. Jagjeet said that Flipkart had sellers from metros as well as from small towns and many of those had taken the digital route for the first time. Flipkart’s community of sellers included many handicraft makers and artisans who were now taking on the dual role of being a craftsman and an online seller. “The diverse set of sellers on the Flipkart platform is a testimony to the progress of online selling in India,” he said.
Addressing the many challenges of online sellers, the Flipkary way
The discussion also underlined the key initiatives that Flipkart undertakes to empower its seller communities. Flipkart’s flagship initiative Flipkart Samarth, for instance, is designed with the intention of democratising e-commerce and building an inclusive platform for under-served, domestic communities. The programme today empowers 7,50,000 beneficiaries with bigger opportunities and better livelihood.
Another initiative, Walmart Vriddhi, trains Indian suppliers to leverage modern commerce and tap into opportunities in Flipkart’s eCommerce marketplace, the supply chain of Flipkart Wholesale and Walmart’s global sourcing operations, as well as the open marketplace.
In addition to strategic initiatives like Samarth and Vriddhi, Flipkart has continually worked to address the challenges that online sellers face in their entrepreneurial journey. “For instance, the onboarding process is simple and straightforward for first-time sellers. We also provide free incubation for three months to get them accustomed to how online selling works. Then there are facilities to help them with insights, analytics, predictions, etc which help them in selling online efficiently. Given that many of them are taking the digital route for the first time, we handhold them wherever necessary – be it in account management or any other area,” explained Jagjeet. He also drew attention to programmes like Flipkart Growth Capital, which provides sellers with convenient access to capital at competitive rates, with zero collateral and quick turnaround time through Flipkart’s network of trusted partners.
And, given that the last 15 months have been extremely challenging for online sellers, especially those in the non-essential categories, the e-commerce platform has eased many of the policies and performance metrics for its sellers to ensure that their business growth is not impacted by state-led lockdowns. It initiated a slew of measures to help them cope with the economic and operational challenges. This included a waiver of various fees paid by sellers such as storage fees that any seller may have on their inventory that is fulfilled through Flipkart’s fulfilment centres. The company also waived the cancellation fee for orders that may have been cancelled due to lockdowns in various states. It extended the window for the Seller Protection Fund (SPF) within which sellers have to claim SPF on returned products from the regular 14 days to now 30 days.
Flipkart has offered its sellers a health insurance scheme to shield them against COVID-19, which covers hospitalisation and consultation between Rs 50,000 to Rs 3 lakhs. Giving an overview of the initiatives, Jageet, shared, “The goal was to empower anyone wanting to sell online to get all the help they needed in a simple and transparent manner. And, by doing so, as a homegrown company, we have not only enabled lakhs of businesses but also played a vital role in creating further employment opportunities and indirectly contributing to India’s economy.”
During the discussion, Jagjeet also highlighted that Flipkart was empowering both sellers and consumers while promoting India’s e-commerce growth story. On the consumer side, consumers from various income segments and from across India, even from the rural belt, got convenient access to a wide assortment of products.
On the seller’s side, it enables anyone to explore entrepreneurship opportunities. And, the pandemic in a way has leveled the playing field by accelerating digital commerce adoption. Jagjeet also noted that a disruption in retail through digital transformation is already a reality. “And, driving the momentum are hundreds and thousands of sellers,” he said.
And, to celebrate the stories of resilience and strength of these MSMEs, Flipkart has compiled a short collection of stories of sellers who braved the odds and leveraged the Flipkart platform to conquer new growth milestones. Download the e-book here.