Iqbal Ather Shamsi
Technology didn’t fail your business. Your business decision did.
When traditional retail met technology, eCommerce was born. That’s one way to look at what’s eCommerce. It almost suggests that eCommerce, a hybrid, could have its own mind. Of course, traditional retail and technology as parents then would have passed on some tendencies genetically. And that, the kid would have a mind of its own, a life of its own, in a whole new way, as a new generation, growing up in a different environment.
I would argue that the business of retail is very much the same, as it was and would continue to be - very human in its tendencies and temperament. Technology and automation are merely tools, not qualified to be referred to as 'a parent' per se.
The core of the retail business stays the same when it is delivered over technology and automation. Business decisions remain very human but assisted by technology & automation tools. So when retailers jumped on to the technology enabled global platforms in order to grow their businesses and profits, reaching a broader pool of sellers and buyers, accelerating sale transactions in volume/value it was no different from traders jumping on to ships, horses and camels to cross seas, mountains and deserts in the past. Any success or failure attributed to technology in that process is nonsense. It was and will be the business decision - which to cheer or to learn from, always.
Lessons were learnt by Indian SME’s who had jumped on the bandwagon of eCommerce in their of fear of missing out on the big profits dripping off digitally enabled marketplaces. That was a business decision. And a poor business decision at that, losing on a chunk over platform commissions, disregard of category dynamics of inventory or logistics - an experience of those who didn’t invest the time to go deeper into what that business decision could deliver - investing time to learn about ‘how it works’ and how much of ‘how it works’ really is in their own interest. Emergence of hyperlocal and national B2B ecommerce platforms are one such pivot growing as a fallout of that experience within the SME ecosystem in India. In this article I will share my experience of building and deploying few such platform, how it works and why it works better for the SMEs.
First, let’s discuss the typical pain points in key retail business decisions faced by most SMEs:
1. Investing limited human resources, time, and money to grow access and aggregate a larger pool of sellers & buyers - within and beyond a local footprint
2. Administrative automation, ease, and efficiency in carrying out and managing transactions by the bulk over a diverse pool of buyers, sellers, product lines and logistical timelines
3. Sharing, distributing, managing risks & costs related to product quality, payment methods, product delivery, logistics of rejection & return, retention
4. Availability and fairness of credit and/or credit terms throughout the transaction cycle, between parties, which is custom to their sector and size of business
5. Appropriate cataloguing templates suitable to the nature of their product and to the behavior of product selection applied within their sector and local culture (language/preferences) to successfully manage and meet expectations
These are just some of the pain-points which matter a great deal in driving the success of an SME in retail. Custom B2B eCommerce platforms have come handy in bypassing these pain-points.
Take for example how tier pricing enables you to offer dynamic pricing to your potential buyers with varied quantity requirements. Imagine being able to customize your meat cuts and labels into the catalogue to mimic how buyers typically judge its quality, within a particular geographical area or for business of specific end product. The same flexibility enhances prospects of growth and satisfaction when applied to the super-perishables like flowers. And this uniqueness is at a level of detail which is mostly known to a business owner operating within that category/sector for years. Imagine the complexity in apparel or shoes when viewed through geographical differences in preference or practicality over sizes, colors - across a broad range products. Standard global platforms do not offer any such flexibility, feeding to the frustration and failures, due to standards and lack of depth in the platform regarding that particular sector/category/geography. Here, customization helps bridge expectations making your brand/product/business grow and at the same time bypass bulky platform commissions.
(Screenshot: BiteSmart™ seller screen)
But should you consider building a platform being a SME trader? Is it your job or is it the job of some technology solutions company or retail platform provider from somewhere?
In our experience, it is usually an SME who has stepped forward to take the trouble. And those who did, were happy with their outcome because only a business owner with years of experience in the category is capable of tuning the typical customizations and personalization required - unthinkable in a standard global platform available locally. Three out of four cases among our clients are those where a buyer/seller decided to pivot into being a platform owner, besides their existing role as a buyer/seller. One out of four is someone indirectly connected with the sector for over a decade. In our experience B2B platforms not born out of industry/sector experience are the ones which have struggled. Once again, technology doesn’t fail them, but their business decision does.
BiteSmart, - the technology platform built for B2B business owners, emerged from a deep mapping of behaviors and practices relevant within an industry/sector - where advanced technology tools were applied to work as a catalyst - solving specific and sometimes complex problems. Compared to it, available ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Lazada, Alibaba or Shopee etc. works counterintuitively to the typical business practices causing business owners to burn their fingers. Those using it claim that it is quite a different experience now, maybe because people from the business have built it. All stakeholders in the ecosystem flourish - thanks to their commitment to applying technology around their knowledge of the business - adding unprecedented ease to their business as usual, growing trust, transparency and speed in transactions. Net result - growth in sales and profit margins for all involved. Banks and logistics players have joined in to further grow the seamlessness.
We also seeing more and more young SME family business owners taking the leap to ladder up their core family businesses by becoming platform owners, which are better suited to serve their industry/sector.
SME owners in India are fast realizing this opportunity to ride the digital transformation (PayTM, RuPay, GST/Invoicing over technology platforms) triggered and accelerated over the COVID-19 period by private and public sector players, enabling them to ladder up their business expertise with a layer of smart technology application.
We foresee B2B platforms powered by Blockchain technology coming up within sectors where intellectual property, transparency is key to build brand trust and business success.
Iqbal has over two decades of experience in building and scaling high technology enterprise grade products & services across the B2B and B2C spectrum. During his stints at Resultrix, Webchutney, JuxtConsult and Aptech he has desiged and executed custom-made software solutions for mobile and web platforms. Strides of his engineering mind could be found at Makemytrip.com, ShoeKonnect, Easycabs, CarzOnRent, Infosys, ITC, HP, Microsoft Visio, Microsoft Project, Amar Ujala Group, Patrika Group, Satya Hindi, PetSutra, The Pebble - to name a few. You can reach him at