“It’s difficult to predict what rural customers want. Recently we delivered two point and shoot Canon cameras in Gulbarga (an underdeveloped district in Karnataka) and this indeed is motivating. This also points to the fact that we cannot be guessing a rural customer,” said Ramachandaran Ramanathan, founder & CEO, Inthree.
Inthree, an e-commerce organization, through their web portal and app Boonbox, have been serving rural India with the wonders of technology advancements for the past six years. The company’s journey however surfaces few aspects of a developing nation where success and failure are demarcated by a thing line called ‘challenges’.
“There are two ways of doing business, either you do what everyone is doing but more effectively or you do something that has not been done before. But in our case there was more to it than that. Having spent a long carrier in finance, I always wanted to explore the possibilities that lie in rural India,” Ramanathan said.
Although there are differences between an urban e-commerce customer and a rural one, but Ramanathan believes that it is “dangerous to stereotype” the latter just because of “urban arrogance”.
“We were giving them products we thought they needed instead of giving them what they wanted. A significant difference with urban customers probably will be in price points. Aspiration for latest fashionable apparels are there, but not so much for high end brands like, Levi’s. They want smart phones but not iPhones,” Ramanathan pointed out.
“Market intelligence and knowledge are extremely necessary. To address connectivity issues we operate through SMSs as well. Then comes last mile connectivity issues. For instance, it is easy to deliver goods till Gulbarga, but from Gulbarga to a village 70 kms inside is a challenge. In such cases we need to figure out if there are empty trucks available or even autos and buses,” added Ramanathan.
To address problems relating to cash on delivery, and goods being returned, Inthree is planning to switch to a “wallet” soon. But when one does business online, social media becomes paramount.
The opportunity to analyzing data generated from social media happens to be a big plus for urban e-commerce companies, as it helps understand customer behavior, but this does not stand true for a company like Inthree as where they operate, presence of social media is meager.