india-barter
E-Commerce Solutions

Indian Startups: Online Price Comparison from PriceBaba

Indian shoppers like to compare prices online, but buy offline. We catch up with PriceBaba co-Founder, Annkur P Agarwal to learn more.

“I started my career back in 2002,” says Annkur P Agarwal over the phone from Mumbai, in reference to his 15-year-old self. “I was a retailer. Mainly a retailer online, but some offline, then after seven years I switched careers and [moved into] more media business.”

“I started a couple of online publications and I did audio and video as well,” he continues. “[But] when I switched, people who used to buy stuff from me [mainly cell phones] kept coming back to me, wanting me to give them guidance on what to buy, where to buy and what would be a good price point.”

“That is where the idea for PriceBaba came, people want some kind of guidance before they go out shopping and I started researching.” In essence, people want to know the best price before they go out and purchase it, but this is especially complicated in India because people don’t use credit cards, the majority of retail takes place offline and there is still a strong culture of barter.

The company launched in early 2012 in Mumbai and gradually moved into six other cities. “If you’re in a particular locality, we’ll tell you which of the shops around you are selling a particular product and we’ll tell you what the price is at a particular store is,” explains Agarwal.

Previously, if you wanted to know if a particular product was available you had to physically go into the store to find out the price. This makes the whole process of researching a product much easier for people, so it is probably little wonder that the site is receiving increased investor attention and growing rapidly. Agarwal mentions 1.7 million visitors a month and partnerships with over 850 retail stores across Southern Indian cities.

The company is currently looking to expand into different categories (“first consumer durables”) as right now it only covers mobile phones. It would also like to move into more cities across India as Agarwal explains: “by this year end, we will be in 20 cities.” This will then be a stepping stone to move into other markets. “[We want to] start by cracking India. The idea is to catch a niche, dominate it, then expand around it. We’re still two years away from moving out of India.”

The buying behaviour in India is different from other countries, but has a lot in common with other emerging markets. “What I saw during my stay in the US is that people go to physical stores and then look at: how can I buy it cheaper online,” says Agarwal. “What I’ve seen in India is that people look at a product online and then they want to figure out how: can I get this near me. The number of internet users is 200 million but we don’t even have 20 million credit cards.”

“For our behaviour as a culture, we remain people who want to go to physical stores,” he continues. “Shopping is an experience in India. People go out with their friends, so it is not just a transaction, it is an experience and the bargaining can never be taken out of it.”

Yet the retail experience in India is changing and Agarwal believes that “the amount of research is going to go up. [Over time a] large[er] part of the planning will take place online, it is just the transaction that will take place offline.”

He is also conscious that ever increasing volumes of people are accessing the internet via mobile phone. “There are a lot of apps,” says Agarwal. “Most people are not looking at services on a large desktop screen. And if you’re serving people [information] on a small screen there are constant distractions. Their focus is low. You need to offer things very quickly in a very direct manner.”

“As things have moved to the internet what the user expects has changed. We think we are made for the internet generation. And once eCommerce grows we expect people [to start] demanding to see online as well as offline prices together. Most consumers will continue to buy offline. [But] there will be a small demand for online as well and as that becomes important we want to be there to show them: where to buy, what to buy and how much to buy it for.”

 

Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect

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