In the last five years e-commerce in India has grown exponentially – from approximately $1.75 billion in 2007, to over $14 billion by 2012.
Growth has been fuelled by a number of factors. Internet penetration has continued to increase, reaching approximately 124 million users in mid-2012. The last few years have seen the emergence of dozens of e-commerce firms, some of which are now household names with high levels of brand recognition.
Consumer interest in e-commerce is also rapidly growing, showing a 128% increase between 2011-2012. With an overwhelming youthful internet population (75% of Indian web-surfers are aged 15-34), 2013 is being touted by some as the year of a tipping point in Indian e-commerce, with huge increases in adoption levels and revenue predicted.
The reality is likely to be somewhat more nuanced than a simple story of e-commerce expansion, with numerous trends shaping the year ahead. We believe one of these trends will be a significant growth to prominence in the B2B e-commerce sector, led by companies selling office stationery and supplies online.
The OP market
The Indian market for stationery and supplies is valued at approximately $10 billion. Most businesses, schools and homes source stationery and supplies from a number of disorganised local vendors – typically with limited product options and low customer service levels.
A number of online portals have emerged in the last 12 months to address this market, but none have yet grown to the scale of the large B2C players, which are focused on books, electronics, fashion and so on.
However, taking a look at the US context, there is clearly a fantastic opportunity for B2B e-commerce to serve the stationery and supplies needs of Indian companies, schools and households, at huge scale.
Initially focused on consumers, US e-commerce quickly began to serve the needs of businesses to a point where Department of Commerce figures show that $3.7 trillion changes hands via business-focused e-commerce. Approximately $400 billion is generated by consumer-focused e-commerce: that’s a 10x multiple! Staples derives 40% of its revenue online, meaning that along with being the world’s biggest OP reseller it is also one of the largest e-tailers.
B2B e-commerce in India is still a relatively unexamined market, and receives very little attention. However, as can be seen from the US example, the economic potential of e-commerce for business in India is immense. Stationery and supplies, an essential need of all Indian businesses (not to mention schools and homes), is a perfect fit with e-commerce. Products are non-spoiling, can be stocked for some time, and are not subject to the return issues faced by B2C companies due to a product not fitting/not looking nice in the opinion of the buyer. As long as companies focus on offering quality, branded products and not low-cost options, return rates will remain low.
Our experience in this market has shown that businesses buy larger basket sizes, and buy much more often than consumers. We’ve focused on acquiring profitable business customers who are ready to buy online, rather than a scatter-gun approach to acquiring any kind of customer, at any cost.
While we’ve achieved great success so far, we’re very much of the opinion that 2013 will be a big year for B2B e-commerce in India. Consumers are now broadly comfortable buying books and T-shirts online, such that there is now a degree of comfort in making large inventory purchases online, which perhaps would not have been the case a number of years ago.
The irony is that B2B e-commerce will owe a debt of gratitude to the B2C sector for educating its future customers when the big shift comes and B2B e-commerce outstrips B2C.