In 2000, I was lucky to do some of the pioneering research on e-commerce in India. We were studying the barriers of affluent Indians to buying online and the answer that came back loud and clear was - a fundamental lack of trust. Lack of trust in online security, in the quality of the product, in the credentials of the seller, in the ease of getting a refund or replacement. The barriers were obviously higher for more expensive products, for products that traditionally require trial like clothes and shoes, and for home decor products, which we always like to see before buying.
The category persisted, growing steadily and eBay made strong inroads on behalf of small sellers by providing a safe transaction platform and buyer protection. Ecommerce sites like FlipKart and Jabong came in and changed the landscape of online retail. And the recent growth trend of online classifieds like OLX and Quickr reveals that the old barriers may be dissolving forever.
Comfort with technology is often cited as a barrier for adoption of a new behaviour like buying online. However, in our experience, this is not as real or permanent a barrier as an attitude - in this example, the lack of trust. Once the attitude shifts, people are ready to learn a new behaviour or even spend to learn it - the fast pace of smartphone acquisition in India is a testimony to this.
OLX shared some of their ComScore figures and the stats are interesting. 62% of the OLX user base accesses the site on mobile, and 40% comes from Tier 2 and 3 markets. The site is used by all age groups, including older people. And our own experience bears testimony to this. I know several people who have sold cars and furniture at good rates on the classifieds site. And the other day, a senior citizen I know asked me for help to sell her microwave on OLX.
The attitudinal shift is huge. Earlier, we would not even trust an established company or portal enough to buy online. Now we are ready to buy from strangers without any buyer protection policy or guarantee. In fact the used goods marketplace online is a huge draw for consumers, allowing them to dispose used goods at 'market rates' rather than throwaway rates, and to buy from 'real people' rather than unscrupulous dealers.
More than just the growth of the C2C segment, I am happy at the new trend of using the internet to connect with strangers for our own benefit. This is likely to dissolve a lot of barriers to using the online medium. And puts the onus on marketers to reach out to consumers in many more ways online. A website and social media presence are par for the course. How can you use the shift in consumer attitude to connect in a more real way with them?