What Is E-Commerce?

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I was speaking at a chapter of The Institute of Company Secretaries of India earlier this week. As my topic was related to E-commerce, I thought I should make it a point to discuss some myths about this mushy theme.

I was not surprised when people were unanimous that e-commerce is about selling online. It’s broad; I knew, but nobody will go against his audience. Well, is it only online selling? Perhaps I was asking a wrong question.

I tried to make it better, “Is it just website?”

“No,” was an overwhelming response. But everybody was concurrent to declare that we need to have a website for e-commerce.

“But then is it true? Can we not have a mobile app? Just an app without any website?”

I could see the glint in their eyes. We accepted the disagreement; and it rather went as a hallmark of our one-hour interaction on the topic.

Well, e-commerce is much more. We may or may not need website. If we have, it’s good; but perhaps we can have many ways to support it – have you not seen crazy advertisements on TV – sometime channels dedicated to it? You may even find a page on a newspaper dedicated with the list of items along with their price; but then those lead to a website or a telephone number for the purchase.

We even cannot claim that e-commerce process demands an online payment from the buyer. You can also have ‘cash on delivery’. Should I give examples? I can give a list, but do not like to promote brands selectively.

So, the myth of ‘online’ of ‘online selling’ has gone for a toss. What about the second one? You cannot cage this market monster with concept of a buyer on one side and a seller on the other. It will be difficult to shake the mindset. You need big – a big example.

“Which is the biggest e-commerce company in India?” I asked with a chuckle.

See the divide, like politics. India is aggregation of different views; it manifests everywhere. People were divided with many brands, cannot afford refraining from naming these – Flipkart, Amazon.in, HomeShop18 – somebody named Naaptol.

“What about Mjunction?” I asked.

Everybody looked at me mischievously. “What do they sell?”

I could not hear these words, but the expression was conspicuous on their faces.

Well, Mjunction, the largest steel auction portal of the world, is still the largest e-commerce portal of India. Applying the shock therapy relieved me; but my point was to emphasise that it was not just simplistic process of selling – more than a few books or garments. In fact, it’s a lot more with different processes of auction and with information channels enabling buying decisions for rightful buyers.

In fact, e-commerce encompasses almost all supply-chains of business ecosystem in the world. It makes both buyers and sellers free from geographical and social barrier. The sheer scale of business interests and viability among people in general has made it possible that even Taobao.com of China can attract higher traffic than any other global e-commerce website.

I still remember my childhood when I used to visit my neighbouring shop to get a notebook or a chocolate. The Dukan Chacha (shop uncle) knew my preferences of notebooks or chocolates, and used to give these without delay. I had multiple ways to pay – either with a few coins that I had collected from my parents and grandparents earlier, or a statement that my grandfather would pay on his way to market (credit). Well, the concept of Dukan Chacha still stays today too, but in a different way. It has now taken the shape of a program that knows my preferences and enables me to pay in multiple ways even though my grandfather is not alive today and I have become an adult.

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