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Two Minutes with a Founder: Hussein Mohieldin of Robusta & E-Commerce Summit

Two Minutes with a Founder is a series of quick interviews with founders from the Middle East & North Africa.

Hussein Mohieldin is the founder and CEO of Robusta, one of the leading technology and product agencies in Egypt (with an office in Germany as well) that has worked with local, regional and international businesses to help them implement different digital transformation programs. Robusta’s head office in Cairo is home to over 100 engineering and design consultants and its office in Germany engages with their clients in Europe with a special focus on Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Hussein had founded Robusta in 2013 after working with Quick Wins, a Dubai-based management consulting firm, for three years. He holds an M.Sc of Computer Engineering from École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL) in Switzerland and a B.Sc of Computer Science and Engineering from German University in Cairo.

Last year, after working with tens of retail and ecommerce businesses, Hussein and his team at Robusta launched E-Commerce Summit, an annual event that wants serve as a platform for building future of ecommerce in Egypt. E-Commerce Summit’s 2019 edition is taking place on Tuesday, September 17. We have covered some details about what E-Commece Summit offers as an event in a piece that you can read here.

But in this interview piece, we talk to Hussein to learn how’d a tech agency (aka software house) ended up in the business of events around ecommerce and that is precisely the first question we start with. Here’s our chat.

How’d a software house ended up in the business of events around ecommerce?

When we first started thinking about this few years ago we started off by thinking about it as a developers conference focused on technology, platforms and solutions and over time as we worked with more clients and partners we realized technology was not the bottleneck for ecommerce and that all market players big or small encounter similar challenges across different fronts from content to technology, to logistics and customer experience to developing internal capacity and setting a strategy to manage all this together.

Accordingly, we work extensively with our content partners to design a holistic experience that is as much as possible inclusive to the different players coming from 15+ different industries and different levels of expertise when it comes to management of ecommerce. And this evolved into an annual event that brings together 80+ speakers and 3,000+ attendees in trendsetting content and insightful exchange of experiences.

What do you think makes Ecommerce Summit special? Why someone should pay money to attend it?

E-Commece Summit is an event that is designed by people from the business for people in the business. It stands on two key pillars: content & commercials. We’re very much focused on bringing the world to Egypt by attracting key speakers of high relevance and fresh content that’s well-matched with our audience profiles of C-Levels, Directors and decision-makers alongside parallel modules that facilitates the exchange of business and increases potential of collaboration across the different market players like the E-Commerce Summit Marketplace and the master classes. Both of which are two new additions to this year’s edition that we’re very much excited about.

What will be different about this edition? What are going to be some of the biggest highlights of E-Commerce Summit 2019?

The masterclasses provide an in-depth workshop delivered by industry experts who have been in the ecommerce business day in and day out to a smaller group of attendees with the objective of education and triggering action. In parallel, the E-Commerce Summit Marketplace is an exhibition that brings together the providers of services and products to the ecommerce merchants in one stop shop for the merchants to compare the best and most compatible offerings and get their ecommerce quickly off the ground.

What do you think are the three biggest challenges faced by ecommerce businesses in Egypt?

In my opinion, the biggest three challenges that ecommerce businesses are facing in Egypt are logistics, customer experience and readiness of the merchants to expand their own capacity to serve the online market, which is quite different in expectations and demands to the traditional brick & mortar business.

What role do you think government needs to play to help grow ecommerce in Egypt? Are they doing enough?

Lots of progress has been taking place on the policy and taxation sides in Egypt. We’ve been invited to different round tables and hearing sessions by our policy partners on data privacy, e-transactions and taxation laws and the government more than ever has been trying to be as inclusive as possible to the different stakeholders and we see actual amendments being made to the laws in light of the feedback delivered by the stakeholders. We look forward to similar efforts and advancements on the connectivity and education aspects that could really help grow the market bigger and drive it forwards.

Which particular niche/sector in ecommerce do you think will grow the fastest in the next few years in Egypt?

Household and consumer electronics is obviously topping the market like most of the other markets. We see still quite a big room for fashion and grocery businesses before they reach their full potential and in a country like Egypt. We see the biggest potential, however, in the B2B sector.

If you could invest in one regional ecommerce startup in the Middle East & North Africa today, who would that be?

My favorites are ones serving the mobility & logistics like Halan, Bosta, Swyft and FwRun and in payments I’d say Accept. Brimore comes across as quite an interesting startup as well reaching out to a yet untapped market. On B2B side MaxAB is winning grounds quickly.

What do you think ecommerce in Egypt (and MENA) would look like in the next ten years?

In Egypt and MENA we have the luxury of predicting the future by looking at more advanced markets and see the trends and patterns cascading into the region. This gap closes rapidly though as adoption of digital and connectivity becomes higher and as millenials and Gen Z take over who’d almost always buy into convenience made possible through ecommerce.


Lower discounts, economic slump take toll: Click-wait for ecommerce as consumers put off buys

BENGALURU | MUMBAI: Consumer spending on online shopping sites is estimated to be down by about a fifth in the first half of the year to June as etailers have cut discounts and the growth slump has hit buying sentiment across sectors, according to a report by market research firm Kantar. To be sure, the company expects a “bounce back” in the second half, which is marked by the festive season when ecommerce players typically register a significant spike in sales.

While the average ticket size has fallen 27% in the first six months compared with the same period last year, average spending is down 21%, according to the report that’s exclusive to ET.

“The overall economic slowdown is reflecting in consumer sentiment with respect to online shopping,” said Hemant Mehta, MD (insights division), Kantar. “Consumers seem to be cautious and taking their time before making purchases.”

Mobile Phones, Fashion See Steep Fall
The number of buyers dropped across several key categories with mobile phones clocking a 17% decline, while fashion saw a 16% drop, Kantar said.

As per estimates by IT industry body Nasscom, the Indian ecommerce market was worth $38.5 billion in 2018-19, compared with $33 billion in 2017-18. Amazon and Flipkart comprise the bulk of India’s online retail market.

ET reported last month that online marketplaces are expected to register 25-27% sales growth during the crucial festive season, slower than last year’s 35%, owing to sluggish consumer sentiment and a slowing economy.

“Once considered recession-proof, online shopping has experienced a dip in H1 2019, in terms of buyers and spends,” according to the report. These changes were influenced in part by a reduction in discounts — which nearly halved between 2018 and 2019, the report added. Kantar analysed the online purchase behaviour of 50,000 urban consumers to derive its findings.

Some of this was bound to happen, said Paula Mariwala, founder of Stanford Angels, which invests in startups.

“Banks and NBFCs (nonbanking finance companies) have been reluctant to give credit and you’re seeing that here as well,” she said. “A major portion of customers in India had found access to premium phones and fashion through EMIs (equated monthly installments), and now that layer has been peeled away.” NBFCs have been gripped by a liquidity squeeze for about a year now, following the IL&FS default.
Absence of discounts
Another reason is the absence of discounts.

“Earlier, there was a lot of competition in fashion, for instance. We have seen a consolidation there and ecommerce companies don’t need to discount anymore to get customers,” Mariwala said. She said these companies are focussing on unit economics, which is why deep discounts have been withdrawn.

“However, we are heading into the peak season as far as shopping is concerned, and are optimistic that the sector will bounce back in the second half,” said Kantar’s Mehta.

As ET had reported earlier, Flipkart and Amazon India are maintaining aggressive targets, and hope to clock combined gross merchandise value (GMV) — or sales — of about $5 billion in October.

Walmart-owned Flipkart said it hadn’t seen a downturn.

“At Flipkart, we’ve been seeing good growth. As a value player in ecommerce marketplace, we continue to bring lakhs of sellers across the country to over 150 million consumers pan India,” a company spokesperson said. “We continue to remain very excited with the growth that we are seeing, especially in the upcoming festive season.”

An Amazon spokesperson said the contribution of phones above Rs 15,000 had increased significa ..

An Amazon spokesperson said the contribution of phones above Rs 15,000 had increased significantly in the past two quarters. “Our customers continue to show a strong response to the great offers from our brand and seller partners, including those for premium smartphones,” the company said.

India introduced clarifications to its foreign direct investment (FDI) norms for online retail through Press Note 2 in December last year. The rules, which affected the working of large ecommerce marketplaces such as Amazon and Flipkart, barred online marketplaces and their group companies from owning vendors and prohibited them from controlling the inventory sold on their platforms.

FMCG, Groceries: Resilient but under pressure
Fastmoving consumer goods, the third-largest category in terms of buyers, weathered the impact better than most, the report indicated. The number of online shoppers in the segment saw a 17% increase over 2018 with spending increasing 91% during this period. Discounting in the space also more than halved over the past year in line with other categories.

“However, the fact remains that consumers consider FMCG purchases to be more essential to daily living than non-essentials like new electronics, fashion items or mobile phones,” the report said.

Customers may buy smaller sizes of products, but will buy essentials, said K Ganesh, cofounder, Growth Story, which has had invested in companies like grocery company BigBasket.

“Also, one must remember that online shopping constitutes a very small part of the overall market, so you will see growth because people will continue to shop and buy more,” he said. “The new economy is usually decoupled from the macro trends, especially in the FMCG and grocery sector.”

Ecommerce companies have generally been able to buck slowdown trends primarily due to their ability to guarantee better prices than offline retailers. According to a Forrester report, despite a steady slowing of Brazil’s GDP, which can be compared with India in size and user behaviour, ecommerce grew by about 18% in 2017-18, while the economy grew 2.4%.


Amara launches online store in Belgium

Interiors online retailer Amara will launch its online store in Belgium. This would be the tenth country where Amara runs a localized website. The announced launch in Belgium follows after a period of strong European growth.

After a few years of growth within France and Germany, Amara told Ecommerce News last month that it had plans to use the infrastructure that was put in place to expand across other markets in Europe. The first on that list is Belgium, where later this month it will launch its localized ecommerce website.

Targeting French-speaking users
The Belgian website will target French-speaking users, as they are known to already use the existing French website. According to Amara, about six in ten native Belgian users now use the French website. “By having a completely localized site, we are offering our users a better and more personalized experience with a journey tailored to them and their needs”, the UK lifestyle retailer comments.

Europe is Amara’s fastest-growing market
In October 2014, Amara went abroad for the first time, when its opened an online store in France. Since then, sales to European markets have grown significantly, averaging almost 100 percent growth each year. Currently, European sales account for 21 percent of the company’s revenue so far this year.


Ontex launches online diaper subscription service in Benelux

Ontex has launched Little Big Change in Benelux this week. This is an online diaper subscription service, which was first launched in France in June last year. Now, the subscription offer is also available in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The launch in Benelux is supported by an online store, which significantly increases the company’s presence in direct-to-consumer ecommerce.

Important step in digital transformation

According to CEO Charles Bouaziz, the launch of Little Big Change in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg is an important step in the company’s digital transformation. “It’s the first Ontex baby diaper available exclusively through an online subscription model”, he comments.

Ontex believes in subscription business model

Bouaziz says the online diaper subscription service is a response to changing consumer behaviors and needs, and adds that the subscription business model is an important pillar for Ontex’ future growth. The service allows one-click subscriptions and cancellations with free-of-charge deliveries. Customers can easily change their subscription, by modifying the frequency, location of delivery, diaper size and product mix.


E-commerce may face a repackaging challenge

E- commerce companies such as Flipkart, Amazon and Bigbasket will have to find alternatives to single-use plastic, as the government is likely to restrict its use for packaging from October 2.

The government is also thinking of ways to make ecommerce companies recycle the waste that they generate. This will, in turn, push these companies to come up with alternative packaging materials quickly.

“They (ecommerce companies) are the ones creating all this waste, so the onus of recycling it has to be put on them as well,” said environment secretary CK Mishra, without confirming whether the government was indeed proposing to ban single-use plastics. “It’s all about reduction of waste, and then, they gradually need to move towards alternative packaging.”

Last Thursday, Walmart-owned Flipkart said it had already reduced use of single-use plastic by 25% and has set a target of using 100% recycled plastic by March 2021.

The homegrown etailer has also filed for an extended producer responsibility (EPR), aiming to collect back 30% of the waste it generates in the first year.

EPR is a policy approach where producers are responsible for treating or disposing waste after the sale of products.

Several other ecommerce companies, including Amazon and Bigbasket, are also trying to reduce the use of single-use plastic. Bigbasket has stopped using them to package products in Bengaluru, which has banned the use of such plastics altogether.

“Creating alternatives for single-use plastic packaging is one of the significant steps we have taken towards fulfilling our commitment to create a sustainable ecosystem. Our long-term vision is to eliminate the use of plastic and maximise the use of recycled and renewable materials,” Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Group CEO of Flipkart, said in a statement last week.

Mishra said the ecommerce firms will need to create awareness among consumers, set up mechanisms for waste collection and ensure proper recycling, to hit their ambitious targets.

Cashback Strategy

Citizen engagement platform LocalCircles found in a recent survey that cashbacks — which ecommerce firms have used successfully to grow business — could nudge consumers to be more responsible with plastics use.

LocalCircles found that 92% of consumers in a survey of over 10,000 respondents were willing to return ecommerce packaging plastic for a small cashback, and 89% were willing to do so for cardboard packaging boxes.

Ecommerce & Video: 5 Ways to Use Video for Business Growth in 2019

In the last few years, a lot of traditional content marketing has transitioned to video. Since the introduction of YouTube, businesses have started to create their own channels to increase brand awareness, share product information, generate traffic, and boost consumer engagement through video marketing.

As a result, businesses have seen a dramatic increase in business growth, sales, and revenue. But if you are new to video, you may not know where to start.

How do you effectively grow your ecommerce business with video? Here are five ways to help you get started.

Video is Here to Stay

Did you know that video web-based content is viewed more often and at a higher rate than TV-based content? Users love it, and ecommerce businesses everywhere are using it to boost traffic and sales. Clearly, video isn’t going out of style any time soon. Video content has proven itself over the past 10-20 years as the most viable communication and entertainment medium out there.

However, companies now need to produce videos quickly which takes time, money, and resources. That’s why it’s important to have a strategy from the beginning to ensure your videos will be effective and can be repurposed and used across multiple platforms.

There’s no waiting around when it comes to video. The future is now.

5 Ways to Use Video to Grow Your Ecommerce Store

Finding new ways to appeal to your audience while giving them useful information so they convert into customers can be tricky.

Video can be the most impactful piece of content; a short video can give a user the same amount of information as a 2,000-word blog article. And with video becoming ever more popular, Cisco has predicted that video will account for 82% of all internet traffic in 2021.

To make your ecommerce business’s video strategy simpler, here are 5 ways to get started:

1. Creating Meaningful Product Tutorials and Educational Videos

Product tutorials are helpful ways for consumers to understand the full potential of the product they’re interested in buying. Educational videos can be a great way to answer questions your consumers may have asked about a specific product.

The camping equipment shop, Outwell, started their YouTube channel in 2010 with simple videos explaining what a product is and how it can be used. Their videos have developed over the years and are now very informative and stylish tutorials that use modern graphics to demonstrate to their 14,000+ subscribers why they should buy the product.

Creating your own video tutorial can be difficult to do, especially when you don’t know where to start.

Fortunately, there are some great tools that assist in the production of informative videos including:

  • Animoto – An easy video maker that allows you to combine photos and video clips with music to create professional videos.
  • Promo – Easily create beautiful videos in minutes with video marketing templates for footage, copy, and music.
  • Biteable – Catch your audience’s attention with studio-quality animation, footage, and effects to make a stunning video in just a few minutes.

2. Let Customer Testimonials Speak for Themselves

What’s the best way to tell consumers that you’re the solution to their problems? Get other people to tell them, of course!

Video customer testimonials are a great way to convince buyers you are the best solution to their problem. Most of the time, customer testimonials will explain the customer’s problem, why your solution was better than anything else in the market, and how the problem has been resolved since adopting the solution.

For example, Wiley Publishing’s customer testimonial of Hootsuite is very impactful. The video interviews employees from Wiley Publishing explaining what their problem was, and how Hootsuite’s tailored solution helped them to improve their position. Additionally, employees from Hootsuite detailed how they were specifically able to help Wiley Publishing.

Customer testimonials usually have a certain look to them. They are professional, have high audio and video quality, and make their customers look good. These tools can help you achieve the most from your customer testimonial videos:

  • Magisto – Make high-quality online videos in minutes with the smart video editor to help grow brand awareness and build relationships.
  • Envato – Easily create a great customer testimonial video by picking a template that suits your brand and choosing from a variety of additional features to make your video stand out.
  • Vidyard – Transform your communications with videos that help you connect with viewers through personalized videos.

3. Use Video Conferencing for Face-to-Face Customer Support

Video for business purposes can be a great way for people to communicate internally as well as externally. 93% of what we communicate is non-verbal; 55% is body language and 38% is the tone of voice. So, video conferencing a client or team member can dramatically improve the quality of communication and collaboration.

FINRA, an investor protection company, uses a video conferencing tool to have face-to-face meetings and deliver presentations to people inside and out of their business. They use this tool to communicate with offices around the world while maintaining high levels of security to ensure company information remains confidential.

Finding the right video conferencing tool for your business needs isn’t easy. There are a host of tools available, all with different features, from instant chat to fully-encrypted calls for increased security.

We have found this tool has a variety of features that will suit all your business needs:

Lifesize allows you to easily connect with colleagues, friends, and clients wherever they are in the world. This free cloud-based meeting tool connects participants via web or mobile browser (so there’s no need to download software) and lets you easily share your screen with HD quality. In addition to the free calling service, the company also manufactures 4K conference room systems to enable larger meetings with 4K video and 4K content sharing. And because their video solution is securely encrypted, you won’t have to worry about jeopardizing your or your customers’ security.

4. Convert More Omnichannel Shoppers with Product Videos

Nike’s new product unveil video for social media marketing.

Research from Invodo states that “40% of shoppers are more likely to make a mobile purchase if they have access to product videos.” By reaching out to audiences with content that is relevant, interesting, and engaging on more than one platform, marketers have a higher chance of attracting consumers who have a genuine interest in their brand and are more likely to convert.

Many have heard of for their stand out product video that went viral a few years ago. Their unique approach enabled them to present a new shave solution in a fun way. They combined useful information—like what the product is and how it can help a consumer—with a bear, a tennis racquet, and a toddler. Who wouldn’t like it?

Some of the best product videos are animated, as it can tell an audience about your offering in an interesting and eye-catching way.

Here are some great tools to create your own product video:

  • Wideo – With this tool, you can easily create compelling animated videos that will engage your audience.
  • Avi – Create the perfect animation to promote your products and services with a range of features including voice-overs, music, and relatable characters.
  • Moovly – Easily create stunning and engaging online videos to explain your products with customizable templates and interesting features.

5. Leverage Pre-Existing Content to Create Compelling Videos

Ecommerce businesses, like Mattress Insider, often repurpose old blog posts as informational videos to get more traffic and sell products through YouTube.

Content marketing is becoming a bit chaotic. From the content types marketers need to constantly put out to the number of channels a brand needs to actively be on, it’s a lot to keep up with.

However, repurposing your old content into something new and fresh like video can have a huge impact on the way you work and how a consumer engages with your brand.

This article by Mahlab details how businesses have repurposed their old content and received fantastic results because of it. In particular, one example is Jay Baer, founder of Convince and Convert and creator of Jay Today TV. Jay Baer created the new platform to repurpose his already existing three-minute videos into new formats, including blog content, social media promotions, audio podcasts, and even new video podcasts. Jay Today TV achieved great success and was even shortlisted for awards.

Once you’ve identified what content to repurpose—e.g. a blog post—it can be difficult to know how to recreate it in a video format. These are the best tools for turning existing content into videos:

  • Headliner – To create a video with this tool, all you need to do is upload the content you want to repurpose, add animations, audio, effects, etc. and then export it so it can be shared online.
  • Lumen5 – This tool is all about automatic video creation with artificial intelligence. It can help you summarize content while matching each scene with relevant videos or images automatically.


Video is by far the most engaging type of content. When done correctly, a video can be a great way to educate your audience, encourage them to buy your products, understand why existing customers like it, and serve as a useful way of transforming traditional types of content.

With a wide variety of tools out there to help you get started creating your own unique video collection, your only real challenge is making sure you can get them out quickly enough!

Heart of ecommerce is now set on the pulse of millions in Bharat

Building for ‘Bharat,’ or the next 500 million internet users, promises to be the biggest, yet the most challenging opportunity over the next decade for India’s consumer tech giants.

This was the key takeaway from a panel discussion ‘The next frontier: Building digital businesses for Bharat’ at The Economic Times Startup Awards 2019 on Friday in which top technopreneurs, including Nandan Nilekani, cofounder & non-executive chairman of Infosys, Kalyan Krishnamurthy, group CEO of Flipkart, Amit Agarwal, global senior vice-president & country head of Amazon India, Aditya Ghosh, chief executive officer of Oyo India & South Asia, and, Peyush Bansal, the founder & CEO of Lenskart, participated. Edited excerpts:

Nilekani: I think, all the infrastructure that has been put in place in the last decade, the idea is to reach a billion people. Aadhaar is a very important instrument of inclusion, but there is also the e-KYC, which allows you to open bank accounts, get a mobile connection, I think, in two minutes. DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) has also been a big part. These instruments are bringing everybody into the system. However, I think there are many different markets.

For example, when we tried to visualise how to make payments reach a billion people, we divided it into three markets – those with smartphones, which may be 300-350 million people; those with feature phones, about 300 million people, and the rest, who do not have any. We wanted to also provide UPI (Unified Payments Interface) in a feature phone, to enable them to make payments. People without phones had the Aadhaarenabled Payment System. Interestingly, the second option never took off.

ET: Given that the Indian consumer behaviour is different, how are you adapting to what people call India-2 or Bharat?

Krishnamurthy: Around 65%-70% of our customer transactions come from tier-2 and 3 cities. At Flipkart, solving for Bharat is not a strategy, it is the business. We have initiatives to solve for the top-6 or top-8 cities, but 18% to 19% of the company’s resources – financial and technology – are already going towards solving for Bharat. The consumer e-commerce market is roughly $23 billion in value. I think the only person who can disagree with that is Amit (Agarwal).

ET: Amit, what are your numbers? You aren’t very fond of projections?

Agarwal: You know me very well.

Krishnamurthy: If you think it’s less, it means we are gaining market share. So, sitting next to Amit on the same stage, I thought I will use the opportunity.

ET: What’s your take, Amit? Are you losing market share?

Agarwal: As you know, we are not really obsessed about competition.

ET: How do you make sellers also follow you deeper into markets?

Agarwal: I think a really transformational thing today is that everybody has mobile internet. If you think about Bharat as a supplier, manufacturer and seller, you have millions now empowered to reach out to consumers globally. Our Amazon Tatkal programme was essentially a van that used to go to all the remote parts of the country, trying to sign up sellers online. We are also excited about our aggregator programme, where we get artisans and women entrepreneurs on Amazon. These transformations make sense if it really changes people’s lives, otherwise it is just a transaction.

ET: Oyo has become more of a real estate player, and at scale. What’s the reason?

Ghosh: Oyo is a full-stack hotel company. Nandan was asking me, ‘what is the difference between you and Hilton?’ and I said, ‘we are just a little bit larger’.

ET: But, you were not always that big?

Ghosh: We had to decide we needed to be in control of what customers experience, and then build a business surrounding it. In November-December last year, we were in 280 cities in India. Now, we are in almost 600 cities. That means, we went in, found the hotels, transformed those properties, brought them up to standard.

ET: How has physical presence helped you target an audience, which a lot of digital businesses have not been able to do?

Bansal: We started with a very clear vision, to give vision to India, because there are 600-700 million people who need spectacles and only 170 million have them. During the journey, asking ‘how do we give to even half of those 600 million’ we realised the only way to do that was to be omni-channel.

ET: Policy changes have affected ecommerce. What do you expect on policy front?

Agarwal: One basic foundational block of that policy should be to embrace ecommerce as a key driver of the future economy. Then you, kind of work backwards and ask yourself ‘what are the friction points that could allow it grow faster?’ If entrepreneurs want to do business in more than one state, they have to deal with more forms and taxation regimes. So, I think very simple changes can actually have a multiplier effect on what they do online and what they can actually do.

ET: What do you want the government to address on policy that will help businesses?

Krishnamurthy: Digital payments have been one of the biggest challenges in the past. A big part of the business continues to be cash driven, and (is) moving to digital payments. I would request the government to think of spending a lot more on technology R&D.

ET: Your expectations on speeding up adoption of internet as well as inclusion?

Ghosh: R&D has remained reasonably flat for 20 years now. It is less than 1% of our GDP. We have nearly 130 million new voters and assuming these 18-23 year-olds are building their lives, businesses, livelihoods and families for the next 20 years, what are the enabling factors that can create more opportunities for this demographic? Is it science and math education, spend on R&D or just pure tele-density and internet-density, which is a big divide between urban and rural areas? Has the gap shortened? Of course! But, it is still one-third or one-fourth of that in urban areas. Omni-channel will help us get there, but can this get us there faster, is the question.

ET: Privacy is also a big factor, especially for new users. How do you enable digital literacy for this new set?

Nilekani: A lot of responsibility lies with the company. Mr (Ravi Shankar) Prasad (Union IT Minister) has been key in laying the framework for what companies can or cannot do. I think the bigger issue is fraud, phishing, where you have new users come online and people taking advantage of their naivete to get something. Both the government and companies need to do something about it.

ET: Do you think the competitive landscape is going to be different going forward given that Reliance Jio, which was a big facilitator, is now also in the fray?

Agarwal: The beauty of the internet is that it’s completely transparent and customers can choose a truly superior experience. We assist customers every day, so that they choose us only because we provide a superior experience which will be the only tiebreaker that matters.

ET: Any closing remarks…

Ghosh: Can technology solve the hard problem that makes a difference in people’s lives? I am obsessed about that. If it is about solving a hard problem, then everything else will follow.

Bansal: Bharat, and people at all income levels, demand great experience. To them, ₹500 means a lot more than what ₹5,000 means to us. It is very important to understand that, as we build businesses for Bharat.

Nilekani: I think Bharat is about high-volume, low-cost video, voice, local language, full stack, consistent experience.

Agarwal: I think what is good for customers is actually accelerating a digital Bharat, and transforming lives.

Krishnamurthy: While Bharat is the most exciting and the biggest opportunity in the next five to 10 years, it is also the most challenging. The penetration of ecommerce and retail is negligible today, so it is a massive opportunity.

Facebook Marketplace: The Wild West of E-Commerce

Facebook Inc. created an online flea market where users not only see all the bicycles, bird houses and BMWs for sale nearby, but also the names, profile photos and general locations of buyers and sellers.

It is so popular that more than one in three people in the U.S. use it monthly, according to Facebook. Because Facebook started as a platform for people who knew each other, its Marketplace—at least in theory—operates on the notion that on the other side of every online deal is a real person with a network of friends and a social-media history.

But the experiences of many people who use the marketplace suggest that creates a false sense of security and a fertile ground for scams or misconduct—on both ends of transactions.

Some buyers say Facebook sellers change prices on items, list stolen or fake products, or are scammers operating under multiple profiles. Sellers say they are sometimes dealing with unreasonable offers, fraudulent payments or no-shows at scheduled meetups.

Bad actors sometimes disappear after blocking the victim—a feature that prevents someone from seeing a profile. Facebook Marketplace also allows buyers and sellers to put their reviews on private mode, which many people say defeats the purpose of creating a community of reviewers and building trust.

Sgt. Robert Parsons of the Dunwoody, Ga., police department said a Facebook Marketplace sale in his town ended up as a robbery at gunpoint. Such incidents have prompted Dunwoody and police departments across the U.S. to open up their offices as a safe meeting place for people making Facebook transactions.

“Criminals have turned it into a place where they can get access to victims,” Sgt. Parsons said. “Just because someone has a Facebook profile doesn’t mean that’s who you are talking to.”

On help forums, Facebook advises users who say they have been the victims of crimes to call law enforcement or report an offending profile to Facebook. Facebook also said users can assess from someone’s profile how long they’ve used the site and whether there are any mutual friends.

“We are constantly working to make Marketplace as safe and reliable a place to buy and sell as possible,” said a Facebook spokeswoman. “Ultimately these are transactions between real people and, while we have robust measures and advice in place to try to keep people safe, no system is perfect.”

Deborah Liu, Facebook’s vice president of marketplace and commerce, said she spearheaded the launch of the marketplace three years ago to encourage the bartering behavior that was taking place in informal Facebook user groups.

Like Craigslist, the social-media giant doesn’t exercise control over payment, delivery or pricing. It also doesn’t charge users. Facebook makes money by selling ads, which appear between product listings.

Unlike Facebook groups, which can boot a member for violating rules, Marketplace offers no such control to users, though Facebook itself can revoke a users’ buying or selling privileges after a review, according to Ms. Liu. She said that a team of reviewers scrutinizing flagged profiles need to ensure they aren’t booting people unfairly. “We actually have to do some due diligence and understand what happened.”

Lindsey Sterling, a 30-year-old nurse in Toronto, said she often sells makeup on the marketplace because it is so easy to use, but the lack of oversight is problematic. Earlier this year, she purchased a Kylie Jenner lip kit from a woman in Toronto and transferred $30. “The profile looked legit,” she said.

The person continued promising it was on its way, but the package never arrived, she said. She and her friends have been scammed so many times that they joined a Facebook group called “Facebook Marketplace Scammer Alert,” she said. The purpose of the group is for members to warn each other about bad actors, particularly those who have set up multiple profiles. It has over 2,000 members.

The number of users on Facebook makes it easy for sellers and buyers to find each other and chat capabilities make in-person meetups seamless. Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst, told Facebook executives on a February conference call that he used the marketplace to unload a 50-pound steel anchor in the yard of a house he had purchased.

“It sold in a day,” he said on the call. Then he listed old shoes, which also went quickly. “There’s a lot of liquidity,” he said.

The marketplace’s initial rollout in 2016 resulted in Facebook issuing an apology for allowing guns, drugs and wildlife to be listed for sale. The company blamed the posts on a technical issue with its system for identifying posts that violated its policies.

Facebook Marketplace still allows sellers to list items that wouldn’t normally be allowed on other retail platforms, such as leftover tacos, worn dentures and used makeup. “You can sell anything on this thing,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in response to Mr. Nowak.

Ms. Liu said the company uses machine learning to detect and block products that violate its policies. Users can appeal the decision or report a product if Facebook mistakenly blocks the wrong item or misses something.

Facebook doesn’t police products that don’t violate its policies, she said, but over time algorithms show listings that match a person’s browsing preferences. “We are not in the business of telling people what they can buy and sell,” she said.

Frank McKenna, chief fraud strategist at PointPredictive, which makes software to detect loan and transaction fraud, said the current lack of oversight on Facebook Marketplace makes it ripe for payment fraud. People are paying with fraudulent Venmo accounts, fake bills and bad checks, he said.

“It is a scammer’s haven,” Mr. McKenna said. “They love it because they can create a fake profile and it legitimizes them.”

Facebook said it has some restrictions in place for sellers to dissuade scammers. Its current requirements for sellers say that they can’t be new to Facebook and must be over 18.

At the end of last year, Facebook estimated duplicate accounts represented approximately 11% of the site’s 2.23 billion monthly active users, while false accounts made up 5%, totaling over 100 million profiles.

Facebook said it removes fake accounts regularly and is working on a new system that will make reviews more transparent. The company recently announced that people will soon be able to pay for their purchases directly on Facebook. Ms. Liu said buyers can still contact Facebook through its help page if a scammer blocks a victim to escape scrutiny.

Sharing personal information can sometimes pose a security risk. Mr. McKenna said his wife feared for her safety when a woman turned hostile after picking up a handbag from their house, he said. “Instead of selling a $100 item, you are now worried about your whole property.”

News reports abound of transactions gone wrong. In July alone, several people reported robberies and other incidents that started with Facebook Marketplace interactions. In Shreveport, La., a victim told the police a buyer pulled a gun and took off with the item. In Racine, Wis., a woman said a buyer pepper sprayed her and ran off with her two iPhones without paying. In Memphis, a man was shot during what was supposed to be a routine sale.

Stone Pannell, a 25-year-old in Memphis, said his road bike was stolen last month from his porch and soon after appeared on Facebook Marketplace. He found it listed for $850.

He called the police, but said he was told the officers couldn’t help unless the bike was brought to a pawnshop, which would trigger an alert for a stolen item if the serial number matched with his.

Mr. Pannell set out to get the bike back on his own. He told the seller he had reported him to the police but wouldn’t press charges if the bike was returned to him. The seller agreed to leave the bike at a location for him to pick up.

Despite getting his bike back, Mr. Pannell said he was taken aback by the lack of accountability. “If the guy knew everything I knew,” he said, “then he would have just said ‘whatever’ and blocked me.”


Sales Optimize Identifies Key eCommerce Players in Latest UK Report

DUBLIN–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Irish Data Science company SalesOptimize has recently completed a major study of the UK eCommerce market which is currently valued at £73B. The report identifies key retailers who are winning in the online space, and the companies they use for payments, shipping, marketing, finance etc. The analysis was conducted based on 17.5M website domains that are registered in the UK, of which only 10.6% (1.8 million) are active – this in itself is an astounding insight. These 1.8 million websites form the basis of this report, and using market intelligence, web bots and analyzers, SalesOptimize has broken down this dataset further, identifying 509K websites that are eCommerce enabled. Of these eCommerce enabled sites, 268K are shipping products.

Online shopping has significantly increased in the UK over the last number of years, with roughly 85% of consumers making online purchases in the last 12 months alone. But how will Brexit impact this? According to SalesOptimize CEO Liz Fulham, “The future of UK eCommerce retailers is uncertain. This is due not only to the continued growth of Amazon which controls 40% of the market, but also the threat of a hard Brexit. Consumer confidence is declining, and Britain’s high streets endured a terrible 2018 with several large companies entering into administration.

Debenhams recently announced plans to close 50 of its under-performing stores, putting 4,000 jobs at risk, and New Look announced that they will close another 25 stores, bringing their total number of closures to 85. This causes serious doubt over retailers being able to withstand the brute force of a hard Brexit.

The full eCommerce market report from SalesOptimize can be downloaded here.

Key Topics:

  • Online Sales Growth
  • Amazon in the UK
  • Top eCommerce Carts Ranking
  • Top Shipping Companies Ranking
  • Top Payment Companies Ranking
  • Top Merchants by Industry
  • 2019/2020 Outlook

Sales Optimize reveals the true company behind a website and who the key contacts and decision makers are within that company. SalesOptimize can develop a specific web bot for its clients to size their entire market and deliver their future customers – it’s the ‘Google’ for businesses. Visit the website to find out more:


Ordergroove Helps Small Brands Launch Subscription Plans

Ordergroove launched a new service called “Ordergroove Essentials” that allows emerging brands to launch subscriptions plans and other recurring revenue offerings.

Press release follows:

Ordergroove, the leader in relationship commerce, today announced the availability of a new offering, Ordergroove Essentials™, specifically designed for emerging brands looking to launch their first recurring revenue programs – including subscriptions, reordering and memberships – in rapid time.

Built for innovative brands looking to unlock recurring sales in new and disruptive ways, Ordergroove Essentials leverages Ordergroove’s years of experience delivering highly successful, enterprise-grade relationship commerce programs for leading brands like L’Oreal, illy and Unilever. The Essentials offering captures the critical requirements for innovative brands just getting started, enabling them to rapidly deliver the relationship commerce experiences that will delight their customers while extending their lifetime value.

Key features of Ordergroove Essentials include:

  • Best-of-Breed Platform Partners: Off-the-shelf integration with Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Shopify Plus, BigCommerce and Magento for rapid deployment.
  • Self-Service Tools: Making it simple to manage customers, configure communications, monitor performance and tailor program look and feel with ease, supported by Ordergroove’s robust knowledge base.
  • Comprehensive API Resources: Access to Ordergroove’s rich Relationship Commerce Cloud® to configure designs and layouts, and define unique customer journeys.
  • Full Suite of Capabilities: Access to hundreds of features leveraging Ordergroove’s unique integrated checkout, enrollment and retention promotions, analytics and reporting and the full range of recurring revenue experiences, including subscriptions, reorder and memberships.

“Recurring revenue experiences have been the fastest growing segment of commerce every year since 2016. Subscriptions and other recurring revenue programs are a must-have for brands and retailers looking to transform their businesses from one-and-done transactions to loyal customer relationships,” said Greg Alvo, CEO, Ordergroove. “To achieve our vision of a frictionless world for consumers, Ordergroove is focused on making Essentials the ubiquitous solution for innovative brands looking to grow relationship commerce.”

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