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Virus crisis offers new avenues for e-commerce firms to thrive

BENGALURU :
The covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown may have hit many businesses hard, but they have also pushed the startup ecosystem in India to pivot or explore new opportunities amid the crisis.

Customers are moving to remote and technology-driven diagnostics and hyperlocal deliveries are gaining prominence, while for apparel-based e-commerce, it is reducing the need to hoard inventory, said participants at the second webinar in Mint’s Pivot or Perish campaign on Thursday.

Startups discussed various pivots defining the future of the industry and how they are adapting to the new normal.

“For healthcare, there is a huge shift from facility-based care, which was once considered a high standard. Now consumers are having second thoughts about it and are willing to try community, technology, or remote-based healthcare… We also started carrying out chemo-related healthcare administration at homes,” said Meena Ganesh, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Portea Medical, a home healthcare service provider.

The expectation of entrepreneurs in the covid-19 era has changed to how they can keep their businesses relevant to the target audience, Ganesh said.

For online grocery delivery startup Bigbasket, which continued to operate for most of the lockdown, the crisis brought about a change in consumer expectations.

“Customers are ready to understand and willing to wait if there is delay. What they are asking for is to deliver quality goods to them. For us, it was prioritizing the safety of our employees and this consumer behaviour gave us the confidence to execute that,” said Hari Menon, co-founder and CEO, Bigbasket.

The past two months also saw supply chains being severely impacted, as a result of which essentials were stuck at warehouses and did not reach different distributors across the country. For logistics unicorn Delhivery, this posed an opportunity to partner with newer segments such as the pharmaceutical industry and the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies to ensure that essentials reached their destination.

“Over the last one-and-a-half months, we interacted with more than 200 FMCG and pharmaceutical companies to understand where their supplies were stuck. That was a big change. We had to set up cold boxes so that vaccines are delivered to their destinations. In April, we were possibly the only B2C logistics firm that was functioning pan-India,” said Mohit Tandon, co-founder, Delhivery.

However, now that the demand has shifted to kiranas, logistics companies need to also focus on hyperlocal strategies, rather than inter-city deliveries, Tandon said.

“Apart from the traditional inventory and marketplace models, a lot of demand is now coming locally and hyperlocal delivery is becoming a big focus for delivery firms. With this, firms have to retune the tech infrastructure to make sure that costs are making sense. The logistics industry is definitely now focussing on hyperlocal,” he said.

Fashion marketplace Myntra questioned the relevance of its inventory during this crisis and was even lured by the grocery-delivery proposition.

“We were looking to launch grocery on Myntra but since we saw BigBasket and others doing a great job, we chose to not get into the complexities,” said Amar Nagaram, CEO of Myntra. “During first phase of lockdown, 91% of our employees said they will wait for the order when we said they are free to cancel their orders, which made us think that the demand is here to stay,” he said.

Myntra is now looking at the new normal and aligning its inventory to consumer needs.

“We launched protective gear such as masks and with the changing work environment of consumers, we started focussing on athleisure to stay relevant,” said Nagaram. “An inflection point is that one has to produce according to demand now. None of the brands we worked with were sitting on extra inventory.”

“No one is looking for a problem statement anymore. Everyone knows now what it is as we continue to operate in a covid world,” Nagaram said.

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