In November 2015, Amazon surprised everyone by opening its first bookstore in Seattle. Imagine wading into the very arena that you had helped diminish, albeit 20 years later. Why was the e-commerce giant doing that? As analysts fished for answers, Amazon launched Project Udaan in India. The plan was to go offline by tying up with small traders and retail points such as mobile shops and medical outlets. “Over the past three years in India, we witnessed growing interest from people. But for many, who wanted to participate as active customers, lack of digital access, digital illiteracy, trust, language and payment processes acted as barriers. With the aim of addressing this,
we introduced Project Udaan,” says Kishore Thota, head, consumer marketing, Amazon India. The touch points would be the pickup location and the pay point, collecting a commission for every sale and also helping people without an internet connection to shop online. If omni-channel was gaining credence globally, the Jeff Bezos-led company had realised that it was even more important in India.
Into the fold
But Amazon is not alone. A clutch of companies, especially online start-ups are setting up physical stores to reach out to more users and bridge the inherent trust gap. Shabori Das, senior research analyst, Euromonitor International, points out another reason. “Consumers now have extremely low loyalty for brands and retail channels due to an increased supply of both. In a bid to improve loyalty and tap into the growing consumer base, retailers have to be present in more than one channel. 2015, thus, witnessed a large number of internet retailers going offline,” says Das.
Baby care platform, FirstCry, however, saw merit in going offline in 2011 itself, launching its first store in Gujarat. Supam Maheshwari, co-founder, FirstCry says, “Going offline helps in getting an additional set of customers, tapping that set of the population who’ll never go online.” Little wonder that FirstCry has since expanded its offline presence to 180 stores across 100 cities. To fu