It is boom time for e-commerce sites in India. Today, you can buy almost anything utilitarian and consumable online and have it shipped to the address you want. We have companies and websites offer everything from Books, Phones, Cameras, Computers, Cakes, Flowers, Music, TVs, ACs, Washing Machines, Stationery, Clothes, Shoes, Lingerie, Jewelry, Condoms and what not. This explosion happened in the last two-three years. Almost everyday, I see a new ad for a new e-commerce site or other, as more sites get added to the heap and confusion. I tried to make a list and stopped when the compilation crossed 100. Instead you can find a ready made list of top Indian e-commerce sites here. New e-retailers are springing up like mushrooms after the first rain and the clutter has risen to unmanageable levels.
Credited with being the company to have kicked off India’s e-com boom, Flipkart surely kick-started the wave of online shopping in India. Some people even go to the extent of calling other e-commerce sites “Flipkart Clones”. Anyway, online shopping is here to stay. We have dedicated sites for and almost everything in the World can be bought and sold through the big daddy, ebay.in. This is apart from all the movie and travel booking sites, among which IRCTC is India’s biggest e-commerce site by miles. And then we have all the self-proclaimed tech-gurus ranting and yelling about the “boom” and all that on tech forums, the noise of which is getting to be unbearable.
The e-com craze is understandable. All you need is a Credit Card or even some cash and an internet connection. You don’t have to plan ahead, you do not have to battle crazy traffic and burn fuel, no parking problems, no making way through crowds, no noise and din, no “I-don’t-give-a-shit” or overly friendly salesmen, no “Will I get a better deal elsewhere?” confusions, no long lines at the check-out counters or the frustration of non-availability and disappointment. Hell, you don’t even have to get out of your house! You can shop sitting in your bedroom in your underwear. And let us not forget the biggest pull: Discounts. E-Commerce sites do not have to spend on setting up retail stores, pay employees, franchisees, inventory, stock keeping and so on. So they can afford to give huge discounts on MRP. And this is the one biggest draw in this country where the only aim of people in life is to save as much money as possible, so they can spend all that money, insanely mind-blogging amounts to marry off their kids and then go die.
Still, I do Not Shop Online.
I do not use any of those e-commerce sites save for of course, IRCTC and some other ticket-booking sites. The organizations do have their obvious shortcomings that most e-commerce sites have, like delayed and non-delivery of items, payment problems and so on. But none of these are the reasons for my refusal to use e-com sites on the scale most other people do. One thing is that the process is damn addictive. I was an e-bay addict once and that among others, made me bankrupt. I learned my lesson and keep my desires in check. Another main reason is trust. These are entities are invisible and existing only virtually. They might be good, but lots of slip ups do happen and I have heard some of complaints about orders getting delayed, canceled and so on. Personally, I do not trust what I can’t see, feel hear and touch.
The main reason is the experience. The experience of buying “physical” beats buying “virtual” by a kilometer, even if the cost might more. I still prefer the old-fashioned way to the modern instant-noodles. I still prefer driving down to brick-and-mortar stores, browse through the inventory, sometimes get lost in the store just looking at stuff, and get an actual “look and feel” of the product, tell the salesman “I will take this” and/or see the person billing it, and then receive the actual purchased product in my hands. Don’t call me a drama queen (king) but receiving bought stuff in a cover from the store is something so very satisfying, something you have earned not just by paying its worth. The chase is savored as much as the catch. And it ends not in one go, but a series, filled up with munchies and beer at regular intervals :-)
I am not a big gadget freak (anymore), and do not buy more than one or two electronic gadgets a year, and I have never bought a gadget online. I still can recollect where I had bought all the household appliances in my house from, even though the process is the same as shopping online (they get delivered only a couple of days later). But still, seeing the product in flesh (or plastic) before the purchase gives an enormous kind of satisfaction in itself. But this really comes to head when it comes to buying books, because the fact I most associate with books is that musty pine-forest like smell of old and fresh printed paper that greets you when you enter the bookstore. And I am not talking about the fluorescent lighted squeaky-clean corporate mega-store. Remember the old, cramped place in your hometown, lit by odd tubelights, lined with dusty windows, stacked with books on floor-to-ceiling shelves and in heaps on the floor, where silence is golden and time seems to stand still? Yeah, that one. I can lose myself for hours in there as I sit on the woven cane stool trying to decide between Frederick Forsyth, Micheal Crichton and MT Vasudevan Nair. There is an attachment that I have to every one of those books I have bought from these places, as I ‘know’ them personally from the moment I held them in my hand, put them back and forth a couple of times in indecision before heading off to the billing counter. As I lay on that Sleeper Coach berth I would put the book to my nose to savor that smell of the “fresh book” before I would head off to the first chapter, skipping the preface…
The fact is that I never shop much. But when I do, I want that to be an “experience to remember” types. Some sort of outing for a day for the family, even if the family is not so enthusiastic about it. But rarely so, as you know how women feel about shopping :-). Very “middle-classy” I agree, but I don’t care what pundits call this, as sitting at home and shopping via internet e-commerce portals is the new “in” thing which is what the “upper” Middle class people do, and going to stores and shop is what the “lesser” Middle Class do, as they try to match up with the upper echelons by buying cars and shopping online. I don’t care about all this. I do what makes me happy, one of which is buying stuff “manually”. And this does not have to mean shopping malls. Bangaloreans will know what I mean when I say Jayanagar 4th Block, Sampige Road, Gandhi Bazaar, Avenue Road and even Commercial Street :-)
This maybe stems from my childhood, where shopping outings would happen only once in a rare while. The days, after which were announced, would be waited eagerly to arrive, much time would be spent getting ready, each moment would be savored and sadness would creep in as time came for the occasion to end. Those days would be treasured for long times to come, and as I flew away from my nest, those “shopping sprees” continued, many of them happening on impulse, with the companions being dear friends. Sorry, but no online shopping experience can match all that. Living in the “real” World gives much more happiness and fulfillment than living the virtual one, no matter what it is that the “cool” people do. But sadly, shopping today seems to mean only “Online Shopping”. Good for those who do, but I prefer to opt out. There has to be some fun in what you do, no? Everything cannot be mechanical!
[UPDATE: I did some rare online shopping, but the product was unavailable. I used the “Notify Me” button to notify me when the product is available, which they did, and believing them, I blindly placed the order. After a delay of 10 days, they canceled the order saying the product is unavailable. So why did they say it was available in the first place? And money will be returned to me only after 10 days! So my money would be stuck with them for nearly a month! It was a small amount, so it is manageable, but what if it was a heavy duty purchase of a few tens of thousand bucks? Who will cough up the credit card interest?
As @yedei said, like the Transporter, I broke my own rule and now am suffering for it. Anyway this does it, I am not going to shop online again.]