Online Shoe Shopping – An Industry Analysis Attempt

Alootechie’s write up prompted me into penning down a few thoughts on this model, something which i had been planning to do for a while.Lets take a look at the industry first before getting into the hurdles, advantages and taking up bigshoebazaar.com to review as well.

Figures for India are not easy to find but one can choose to draw safe inferences from what is happening in other parts of the world , and what appears to be happening is a usage rise.

In 2002 , online footwear sales were pegged at 958 million USD, while the total apparel sales stood at 4.4 Billion USD. Last year it was at 2 .5 billion and the apparel overall was at 9 billion. The increase for 2007 , for footwear, is predicted to be in the region of 20%. which would then translate into a very cool 3 Billion USD or so. If we were to use percentages derived from the US market then we would get :-

spends2.jpg

 

In case its not clear, all i have done is deduced the % of apparel and further to footwear in the US markets from the total eCOM business and applied them in the Indian scenario. IAMAI pegs the total eCOM for India at 2300 crores.

This would put the Online footwear market at 50 crores, which is not bad, especially when one considers that

there happens to be only one primary contender from India, yep, you guessed it – bigshoebazaar.com, in reality ofcourse this will be divided across websites. Definitely an opportunity , but how easy is it?

Hurdles

1. Footwear is a subset of Apparel. In order for this niche to increase the overall acceptance and spends on online apparel needs to go up. Catherine, Sr. VP at Piperlime states – “Apparel was the big behemoth” – ” Shoes are probably one of the last bastions because the feeling has been that you have to try on shoes to feel comfortable”

2. It has always been a very “customer experience” driven industry. In order to compensate for things such as personal interaction , proper fit, online retailers will need to allow exchanges, returns, free shipping, guarantee etc which can increase , and do, the operating cost of the business resulting in lower margins.

3. Other than operating costs, what these retailers are fighting are perceptions as well. Shopping, more so with women, has always been about an “experience” , “a day out”. Online totally deletes this and there is no compensation. What will be required is a fine balance and play between the “convenience factor” and ” peace of mind” equations.

Its a much easier purchase decision to buy something which one knows for sure and has had experience with in the past. But what if a consumer wants to shift to a new brand? How re-assuring or informative is the online model in regard to this swing. It would be easier offline.

4. What are the chances and risks associated with online retailers pushing factory seconds onto consumers as well?

5.Bigger brands have websites and can opt to sell directly online as well. They can offer better pricing , new designs and offer more inventory , faster. They are the manufacturers and thus have customization and flexibility options which 3rd party sellers wont have.

But there’s good news as well..

1. IAMAI states , rather aggressively, that “the high ranking of apparel at no. 5 (top spend areas in India) makes a dismissal of the notion that buyers will not buy apparel online unless they can see , feel and try in on….”

2. Online allows for a lot of additional advantages as well. For example supply. Many a times offline retailers might not have the correct size, desired colour etc. A buyer through can the Internet get in touch with “sales points” outside his geographical restrictions. Online retailers on the other hand can counter this by stocking inventory in bulk, which can actually be debated on being an essential part of the “experience”

4. The highest spending , age, demographic is the 26 – 35 followed by the 18-25 in India. These same ratios also stand true for the ages which use the Internet the most. What this applies is that even when consumers move on to a higher age group, the interactivity with the Internet will be retained which in a few years would translate to all age demographics using the net extensively. This ofcourse would be beneficial to everyone.

5. Online allows for fast yet more extensive comparisons, research and the overall “buying time” can be very very low.

5. Margins in apparel have always been higher than other items such as electronics which offers 2 options. One can play the volume game or not depending on what works best.

..what about bigshoebazaar.com

I wont get into whether i liked or hated the site but let me just highlight what i noticed on a quick run through

1. Prominent brand like Adidas missing. Why? Suggestive of something.

2. Zoom feature not working. Single angle photos only, i would think that multi angle would be essential.

3. Accessories page empty. Not done.

4. Testimonial empty (not that they might matter much), infact the longest one is actually a complaint šŸ™‚

5. Over all usability experience not satisfying. Large , and almost looming, opportunities present to better this.

…Anything good puchoo..?

1. Wide selection evenly balance out between the Men’s , Ladies and Kid’s genres.

2. Call centre and live chat support.

3. Exchange policy and 100 day guarantee along with free shipping.

4. 32 brands, 3000 designs and 1.5 lacs inventory (site claims)

I think the right mix of ingredients are present in the market to make it a challenging but a potentially well rewarding segment. Cards need to be played right, customer service and innovations in this direction are key in my opinion.

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