Centre for Internet & Society

While the web caters to customers who purchase basic lifestyle products, the app is ideal to make impulsive shopping decisions.

The article by Parshathy J. Nath was published in the Hindu on September 1, 2015. Sunil Abraham was quoted.

Netizens were caught by surprise when online retail giant Flipkart announced that they were going the app-only way. Some grumbled and a few rejoiced. There were debates on its pros and cons. However, a few days ago, Flipkart revoked the decision because it wanted to assess the impact of this move on sales in big-ticket categories. But the debate continues.

Bangalore-based techie Diljeet Kaur feels the app makes shopping a lot easier. “I shop on the app for everything — from mobile chargers, laptop, mobile covers and kitchen appliances to books and even water bottles. In case I am not happy, I click on the return option. They call up immediately, pick up the item within 48 hours and refund the amount to my account. What more can one ask for?”

Rachna Binani, who owns a toy store in Madurai, also says shopping has become faster with the app. “A mobile phone is with you for 18 hours a day. But, you can’t lug a laptop around everywhere you go.” Prasannan B., an HR General Manager in Madurai, agrees. “A year ago, I would not have chosen a mobile app over a website, because it was not as advanced. But, now things have changed.”

But, some prefer the website to the app. Like Paulami Guha Biswas, an avid online book shopper from Hyderabad, who says, “Browsing becomes difficult when you are shopping through an app. On a website, you can open multiple tabs and compare prices and discount rates in peace. The screen is also bigger.”

While the web caters to customers who purchase basic lifestyle products, the app is ideal to make impulsive shopping decisions. Says Jaishree S. Santhosh, CEO of a Coimbatore-based educational institution, “I prefer to do random window shopping through a website and stick to apps when it comes to my regular Flipkart and Amazon shopping. Because when I use apps, I need to log in and share my personal information. I would prefer to do that only with two or three sites and not every virtual shopping platform.”

However, apps are redefining our shopping culture and experience. With efficient data-tracking systems, these apps record the customer’s buys. “The app keeps throwing images of products that interest you, based on your purchase history. This can be a little creepy at times,” says Jaishree. “It seems like it can read your mind. I do not like it getting too personal with me. Moreover, it tempts me to buy things that I otherwise would not have thought of buying.”

The personalised shopping experience can be both a boon and bane. According to Sunil Abraham, Executive Director of the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bangalore-based research organisation, “It is a terrible development from the perspective of the online user’s rights. Apps violate user privacy. Moreover, they waste your phone’s memory, storage and battery.”

Even though mobiles and apps are popular among the youth, young entrepreneurs from the online world are still hesitant to venture into the app domain. Nilisha Bhimani, a 28-year-old online entrepreneur who runs www.stayfabulous.com, says she cannot even imagine making her portal app-only. “Mine is a fashion portal. And with fashion shopping, one would want to open multiple windows and compare products. It is difficult to do this on our phones.”

However, Nilisha thinks that it is a good move from Flipkart to have sparked off this debate. “It sounds like a well-thought-out strategy. More so, since surveys point out that there are increasingly more people doing mobile transactions.”

According to an article published in Business Insider on August 24, a study conducted by Internet & Mobile Association of India and KPMG found out that India is projected to have 236 million mobile Internet users by 2016. Flipkart’s move could be a response to the large influx of smart phones into the Indian mobile market, feels Ashish Jhalani, founder of eTailing India, an e-commerce knowledge platform and advisory. “We will be the second-largest smartphone market in the world soon, but that does not mean we are ready for an app-only strategy. Our consumer base is still getting used to shopping online and to ask them to use only one interface to shop is a little premature. I believe, in the long term, this strategy will work, but there is still some time for that.”

And, how will elders in the society, who also constitute a large section of online customers, cope with change? Suchi Dalmia, a business woman from Coimbatore, says that even though her mother shops online, she is still not comfortable with it. “And on top of it, if we open up an app-only shopping system, it is going to hit her hard. A retail giant like Flipkart stands the risk of losing a big chunk of their clientele with this move.”

(With inputs from Soma Basu, Shilpa Sebastian R. and Nikhil Varma)

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