For those of you who grew up with post-Kotler text books the 4Ps are Product, Place, Promotion and Price. If the product is the same then online shopping makes it incredibly easy to find the lowest price and purchase it. Marketers are of course under pressure to offer the lowest possible price and many are indeed in that downward spiral of reducing profits. But let’s take a hard look at all the 4Ps and see what can be our response to an app only world.
If your product is unique then of course price comparison is not possible. This requires continuous innovation and the ability to churn out a large number of innovations across the entire product line. These innovations do not have to be earth-shattering ones but even a superficial difference can make a difference. If you find this hard to believe just look at the toothpaste industry – blue, shiny, red, sparkly…all variations of what is basically one active ingredient – fluoride.
You can also look at seasonal variations, time-based variants, fads…This also requires a good bit of branding and awareness to ensure that there is customer pull for this product. Look at the frenzy for certain toys for Christmas! India has no equivalents to that. Yet.
Some retailers are fiddling around with “online-only” merchandise. This may protect their distributor relationships in the short run but in the long run can only irritate customers who want to buy your stuff wherever they want. From an online lens one can look at “app-only” and “site-only” offers too. For example some offers may be available only on Groupon or a discounting site.
With the rise of micro-delivery firms like grofers you may soon be able to buy anything available locally – even apples and oranges – from shops that do not have an online presence. Effectively, your competition isn’t online but with everyone.
Today most “promos” are price-based. That is a dangerous path and not sustainable. Standard promo techniques can be applied to ecomm too – twofers, bogo, bundling, coupons – all have not really been used to their potential yet. Coupons are not as much a part of our culture as say, the US, but giving me an offer on a future purchase is a great way to keep me loyal. Makemytrip does this but haven’t seen many others offer this. Bundling is another way to make your product unique – today the ecommerce sites have a powerful recommendation engine that suggests related products. But they do not offer me any special benefits for purchasing this as a bundle. Nor is it sold as a set eg skateboard + helmet package. A few have begun this eg MakeMyTrip bundles airfare + hotels, BigBasket.com bundles atta+rice+sugar. Alliances can be a key differentiator that can enable this.
Just as the “old economy’ retailers are pinching digital experts from the ecomm sites, the ecomm retailers would be advised to pinch the old trade promo folks from the brick-and-mortar retailers.
Discounting is of course expected. While certainly comparison shopping with an app is harder than opening multiple tabs on a laptop, I expect the savvy Indian consumer to continue their searching, using – heaven forbid – a piece of paper to keep track of the prices! All the more reason to get clever with discounting – look for options like cashbacks, coupons, interest-free EMIs and other ways to drop prices with some benefit to yourself.
Growing up I knew the baker, tailor, ice-cream man, book-binder and a whole bunch of other ‘makers’. Buying was a social process and involved ambience, touching the product, haggling…And there were lots of subtle cues – if the shop was air-conditioned you could expect to pay more. If you went to a mall, you couldn’t haggle. If the shop spoke English the prices were definitely going to be higher. If it was a brand you had seen in the newspaper or TV you assumed it was of a higher quality. There was also the assumption that the older companies were more reliable. We are now going to have to translate all of these cues into a tiny icon on a phone. ‘Appy Shopping!