Shopping in a few clicks

7:45 AM

Online shopping! A notion that was still in an infant stage when I first arrived in India, and is still by far a disregarded one in Switzerland, but is now booming in the subcontinent.

Switzerland has never been high on the whole dot com thing, I remember having friends look at me odd when I said I ordered my region 1 DVDs from and that they cost me less than buying then in region 2 in Geneva. Or that you could shorten your order delivery by a few days from one of the many catalogues issued in the country by placing the order on their online portal, their reply was “you are insane to trust a stranger you never seen with your credit card details”. A fear that is understandable, but when I once told my mom that it was equally insane to just slip your card into a restaurant’s bill folder at the end of the meal for the waiter to take behind in the billing section was equally insane and yet no one gave it a second thought, my mom even said “These are real persons, the risk is minimal”, the irony had it that a few months later she paid for our meal in a restaurant by card, and for some reason managed to leave the place without it, and noticed 2 days later that someone had made some big phone calls from a phone booth with it, probably the waiter, since she forgot the card in the bill folder…so much for real people being honest huh? I don’t think she questioned my quirky behaviour after that, but still found it ridiculous for me to not send the order slip of mail in catalogues even though it was free of postage, and preferred placing my order online or on the phone, or place orders for CD and DVDs across the Atlantic and wait 2 weeks simply because the Dollar/Swiss Franc conversion rate was working in my favour.
And yet Switzerland wasn’t and still isn’t a country totally foreign to the concept of sales by correspondence, as long as I remember, big 600 pages seasonal catalogues of several correspondence retail giants are still coming bi-annually to homes that request them: Spring-Summer and Autumn-Winter, full of glossy pictures, sizes charts, and the fashion of the season page after page, to dress you from head to toe, down to the underwear, and dress your home in bed linen and curtains, to home appliances and electronics, with one inevitable page just for vibrators which were displayed being used as facial massagers though even all high of my 10 years of age I wondered why a lady was rubbing a rubber penis on her shape and the summary said it was a relaxing a pleasurable massager.

I saw my parents order our bed sheets and quite a few clothes every 6 months, and when I moved out on my own I carried on with the institution, sticking to more modern and trendy fashion catalogue, the concept of shopping from the comfort of my bed after a long day at work was bliss, but I saw quickly the advantage of just placing the order online over filling the slip by hand and dropping it in the mailbox. First the online portal offered additional discounts on some items, then the order was reaching them much faster than by regular post, and contrary to what people thought it was safe as no credit card number was asked, they kept following the good old Swiss way of sending you a “pay by post” bill with your purchase, a bill you had 30 days to pay, or by going to your post office with the slip, or mail to your bank, or pay via online banking at your convenience (which I did, which again elicited quite a few snort from family and friend as Internet was seen as the purest evil in people’s lives then).
Till date my family and friends back home haven’t really told me about major changes in retail patterns back home, my generation shops online, but the choice is limited, and my mom’s and grand mother’s generation finds it or stupid, or simply don’t know how or why it would even be remotely convenient because they never really been in front of a computer and have been let to know that computers where a young person’s thing, not something that the old ones can dab into.  

Now in India, mass retail in its whole is still a very new concept, and yes it benefits only a small percentage of the population, as only big cities have things such as a big shopping mall, big supermarket and possibly hypermarket. But that percentage in a billion souls country still mean you get a significantly big number of people shopping in these places for them to be profitable. but non metro cities while still big, might not necessarily have a huge book store, or access to much of the now prized designer goodies. And that issue has been solved with online shopping, as many more middle class people living outside big metros, have now access to a computer or even have an internet connection in the convenience of their home, which wasn’t such an easy thing in 2003 when I first arrived, I lived only in metros, and I just remember the headache it was in each city, including Mumbai to get an internet connection that wasn’t stripping your bank account and had unlimited usage, or at the most a decent package per month, and let’s not talk about speed!
In the past 4-5 years Internet become more accessible, and with it a new possibility in the retail world, but first they had to gain the trust of people, because what was already there in matter of online shopping wasn’t really encouraging people to just try it more, back in the days the main players were Rediff Shopping, Fab Mall and Home Shopping 18…all of them plagued by delivery issue, lack of quality in goods, lack of consistency and absolutely pathetic customer service. I remember DH ordering a book from FabMall and having to wait over a month to finally get it delivered, he did it once, not twice. Then ebay came, but didn't gain the trust of people, and frankly in the beginning Indian sellers weren’t selling stuff that people would really see an advantage in buying online over going to your local store. This all changed in 2009 when ebay had a serie of TV commercials explaining how safe it was, and somehow the whole thing took off, and yes I used them and we had good experiences with them, reputable sellers get good reviews, and are a good indicator of trust, though can always fall on a rotten apple, just like you can fall on a despicable dishonest store owner in your own neighbourhood.
Just in the past 2 years the online shopping trend has really kicked in, I mentionned my good experience with First Cry, and with Landmark on the net, but Flikart is another one I should have mentioned more than in passing as this one is the closest to what Amazon is in other countries selling books, CDs, DVDs, electronics and home appliances, with a fast delivery and a very easily track able order as they internalized even the delivery having their own courier service.  I know people who had excellent experience with Baby Oye, and Hushbabies which are two other company selling baby gear, then there is Shopper’s stop which I never tried but has an apparently very reliable online shopping portal, and because I spend a lot of time browsing online shopping stores, my Facebook ads let me know about more of such in India, you have websites to order gourmet food, cosmetics, and even one I just recently personally used where you just sign up to request free samples of whatever good the website company has to offer : Sample and try, I already got a lip balm from them to try, totally free of cost, and i am waiting for the delivery of a perfume sample from them, the only thing the site ask its subscriber to do is write a brief review of the product after receiving it and using it, it is a great way to discover new products, or start using one you would not have bought otherwise, and that has me all set in the lip balm department for the season and maybe even the next winter. First Cry also just launched a sister site selling cosmetics I’m thinking of using to save money on my shampoo needs with the extra convenience of not being harassed by sales representative in supermarkets which I admit have discouraged me from stopping more than 5 seconds in the aisle to even consider trying another brand that the very easily identifiable Dove as I have zero patience for their aggressiveness when I’m grocery shopping (a chore I hate doing and has me neurotic in no time).
I’ve also registered with 99labels and Fashion and You which are two websites offering flash sales and big discounts on designer wear and household items, I haven’t ordered from them yet because I never found anything worthy enough to buy there, but they have a very interesting selection, the only issue these two sites have is that most sales have a 3 weeks delivery period, so you shouldn’t be too much in a hurry to get your goods delivered, unless it is an “express” sale on fashion and you which promise a shipping within 24 hours of the order, but again I am yet to try these.

Another good thing is that most online shopping site in India offer several payment options as they recognize that not everybody has a credit card, or even know how to use online banking, so you have a cheque on delivery option and even a CASH on delivery option, the later being particularly good for expats who just settled in the country and don’t have a bank account in the country, the only thing you need to remember when placing a cash on delivery order is that some site will charge you an extra processing fee, and that in all case you must give a phone number at which you are reachable as they will not ship your item before calling you to get a confirmation that you indeed ordered this item.

And on a last note, online shopping made my Christmas shopping much easier when it came to Ishita’s presents as I could simply leave it unwrapped until she napped for me to gift wrap them, and not have her beg for them. Easy Peasy!


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