Should Flipkart have placed warnings in its communication about its Big Billion Day sale about only a limited number of products being available for deep discounts? After all, no one wants to feel cheated after logging on during a mega sale period and having to return from an e-retailer empty handed.
Here are three lessons Flipkart can learn from the outrage over its sale yesterday:
Don't take the customer for a fool
The first lesson for Flipkart and its other e-retail rivals is to not to assume that the consumer is a fool. Travel websites and airlines are also doing something similar - they advertise tickets for unbelievably low prices without sometimes clearly mentioning about taxes and other charges. Also, many people who book tickets during such mega airline ticket sales do not know that just a very limited number of seats - sometimes less than 2 percent of the inventory - are available at discounted fares. When they are unable to get the low fares which were advertised, they feel cheated. Both airlines and e-retailers need to be upfront about the inventory they are putting up for sale.
Arvind Singhal of retail consultancy Technopak, told Firstbiz a warning or information about there being limited number of products at a particular price should have been given. But, he said, Flipkart will bounce back after negative publicity even though traffic was diverted to rival websites because of some issues yesterday.
Get your tech in place before the fire sale
The second lesson Flipkart should learn from yesterday, when it got a fair amount of flak from disappointed customers, is to get its tech in place before the sale. Not only did the website display errors many times, promoter Sachin Bansal has been quoted in today's Business Standard as saying that prices of some products uploaded the previous night were inadvertently raised. Though he has promised to make amends and refund the extra money charged, why not iron out these glitches before hand? There are no reports of such gimmicks by rivals like Snapdeal or Amazon, who merrily made money from their own competing sales offers.
Do not bury the 'no refund, no exchange' bit Lastly, why bury the 'no refund, no exchange' bit in the fine print? One of the biggest advantages of online shopping is a sensible exchange/refund policy. If it was not available on the sale day, this fact should have been communicated upfront.
Singhal of Technopak points out that despite all the hype surrounding e-retailers, they are still a speck in the Indian retail pie - in the $500 billion total Indian retail market, e-retail accounts for just $3.5-4 billion.
More and more companies are putting retail online so that competition in this segment is expected to increase constantly. Some categories - like mobile handsets where 25% of the shopping is done online - are more impacted than others. But for the rest, e-tailers have enough time and funding as of now to devise ethical ways of doing business instead of looking for shortcuts to fool customers.