I see a pattern in the evolution of Consumer Web (B2C) in India.
When an experience ceases to be a novelty offline, it begins to thrive online.
Often, this offline experience has become mundane, unreliable, or just expensive for the consumer.
The early wave of popular B2C (2004-2006) was sparked by job (Naukri) and ticket (IRCTC, MakeMyTrip) companies adding transparency and reliability to agent-dominated businesses of the previous era.
Malls and multiplexes were launched in the same time period. For the first time, masses experienced a new way of shopping, with 100+ brands in one giant space, filled with fast food and entertainment options. The thrill of owning a credit card, or getting instant cash from an ATM, or spending your weekend in a mall had plenty of new takers. The few brave entrepreneurs who launched e-commerce portals during this period were early to market. They were trying to simplify something that was still a novelty offline. No matter how expensive or time-consuming, people still wanted to shop in a mall. Replacing the mall with a brown box and a delivery boy was not palatable.
Come 2008, these novelties had worn off. Consumers were tired of braving traffic, parking, and long lines only to find out that their brand of pajamas was out of stock in the big mall. Some were tired of the branded food chains, and websites offering reviews and local information on niche restaurants now had a wider audience. This resulted in the e-commerce (Flipkart, Jabong, BigBasket) and online banking era we see today.
What will the next wave bring? The Aadhar, mobile payments and BoP revolution is yet to happen. Moreover, the recent flurry of cloud services may signal a new trend. However, there is reason to believe that the underlying pattern will repeat itself – the Web will continue to give new meaning to old things, often providing much-needed relief from the politically motivated inefficiencies in the offline world.
A note to startups: Launching in the sweet spot of ‘novelty becomes routine’ needs some foresight. Luck has a role to play, but beyond luck, we need to stay in sync with the product’s relative position in the adoption cycle. If you represent a startup that’s ushering the new wave, do write to me so I can feature you in a follow-up post on game-changers.