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How e-commerce sites are cashing in on people's devotion

August 20, 2014 12:44 IST

How e-commerce sites are cashing in on people's devotion

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Reghu Balakrishnan in Mumbai

Online prasad and virtual aarti are passé.

To secure a bigger chunk of the spiritually-oriented, e-commerce sites in the religious segment are now going beyond commoditised services.

So, ready yourselves for combo offers tailor-made for your kind of devotion.

OnlinePrasad, the largest player in this sector, has launched a combo offer for devotees of Lord Krishna.

Goonjan Mall, founder, OnlinePrasad, says the site has increased its catchment area from four temples to 50, as devotees are no longer happy with prasad from the Mathura temple alone and want prasad from all leading Krishna temples in India.

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Image: Devotees carry a statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesh for immersion in the sea, on the last day of 'Ganesh Chaturthi', in Mumbai.
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters

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During Janmashtami, OnlinePrasad launched a ‘two-plus-one’ scheme, which provided prasad from the Vrindavan, Dwarka, Srinathji, Puri Jagannath, Pandharpur Vitthala and Goverdhan Giriraj Dharan temples.

The company’s Zevotion brand accounts for about a third of the e-commerce site’s revenue.

Launched six months ago, it offers rudrakshas and idols. Mall says Zevotion is India’s first devotional brand.

Another popular site, Saranam.com, offer services that combine astrology and pujas.

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Image: Devotees try to form a human pyramid to break a clay pot containing curd during the celebrations to mark Janmashtami in Mumbai August 18, 2014.
Photographs: Shailesh Andrade/Reuters

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It offers analysis of horoscopes, as well as pujas, depending on various planetary positions, on an annual subscription basis.

It has a monthly customer base of about 4,000 to 5,000.

Such devotion has a material aspect, too.

The site charges $2,750 (Rs 1.6 lakh) a year for this service, Talisman, which includes pujas, homams, consultation and shipping charges.

“In the recent past, we have seen a lot of interest from non-resident Indians who are unable to do pujas every month at their favourite temples in India.

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Image: Devotees wait to enter the holy cave of Vaishno Devi, goddess of power, during the Navratri festival in Trikuta hills about 58 km (36 miles) north of Jammu.
Photographs: Amit Gupta SD/FA/Reuters
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The ‘Talisman’ package will help them with pujas according to their planetary positions through the year, with delivery of prasad to their doorsteps,” says Mahesh Mohanan, founder of Saranam.com.

The site also sells rudrakshas, and claims these are value-added through pujas.

Launched in Chennai in 1999, Saranam.com plans to launch travel services to various temples across the country soon.

When money comes in, can private equities be far behind? OnlinePrasad plans to raise a second round of PE funding and is engaged in talks with various firms.

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Image: A Hindu devotee lights an earthen lamp on the steps of Sindhiya Ghat during the Karthik Purnima and Dev Diwali festival in Varanasi.
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

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Expansion plans include those for product launches under Zevotion, scaling up temple reach, logistics, and promotion & marketing.

A year ago, OnlinePrasad raised angel funding from GrowthStory (an investment company founded by Krishnan Ganesh and Meena Ganesh) by divesting 35 per cent stake.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eye Sight, a retail consultancy, said, “The market related to religion and spirituality will always see growth, as customers are unlikely to cut expenditure, even in a downturn.”

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Image: Hindu priests hold fire lamps as they perform evening prayers on the banks of river Ganges in Varanasi.
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
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He added these sites could gain significant margins by selling products and services, as these weren’t standard and varies from sites to sites.

In India, temples have seen good growth in annual revenue.

Last year, Tirupati Devasthanam in Andhra Pradesh earned revenue of Rs 2,260 crore (Rs 22.6 billion).

Annual revenue of other religious sites such as the ShirdiSaibaba and Siddhivinayak and Puri Jagannath temples, as well as the Vaishnodevi shrine, stands at Rs 100-1,500 crore (Rs 1-15 billion) each.

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Image: Devotees form a human pyramid to break a clay pot containing curd during the celebrations to mark the Hindu festival of Janmashtami in Mumbai.
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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