Showrooms without the Bricks and Mortar: Online Retailing Evolves

Times of India reports that just like many apparel store customers, fashion stylist Pankhudi Singh used to visit local stores where she would find and try on outfits that she liked. Wondering if she could get a better deal online, she would then search on her phone for similar items on major fashion e-commerce sites; yet she is stuck trying to find the right fit online.  Not for much longer. Flipkart recently launched its image recognition feature to search for similar products based on a picture input, following in the footsteps of Myntra. This online product discovery function works particularly well for mobile marketplaces, prompting startups such as Wazzat Labs and Mad Street Den to create business models that ease the sales conversion from offline to online.

"I find the idea really international as fashion giants like Neiman Marcus have used this technology for their apps," said Singh on her experiments with the new Flipkart feature. A substantial portion of e-commerce sales are made only after customers browse through products at brick and mortar stores, a so-called 'showrooming' process that is particularly popular in fashion. For example, an Accenture study last year found that 72% of US shoppers had 'showroomed' over the past year.  "Many customers do enjoy the retail experience, spending time in a store looking at different product options and receiving product demos," said Anand Kumar Jaiswal, associate professor of marketing at IIM Ahmedabad. "Meanwhile, online retailers provide lower prices and items that are otherwise not easily available."

Online custom jewellery portal Voylla has developed an in-house visual search feature to match jewellery with outfits. Meanwhile, Chennai-based Ingage is about to launch an app that not only allows users to search for mobile phones, books and groceries using visual cues, but also compares prices across online and of line worlds.  Conversely, online discovery of offline products is for experience-intensive categories in which customers are keener to browse online but purchase offline, such as food, electronics and kitchen appliances, as well as low-value categories like books and toys.
Online retailing is evolving in India.


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