You are here: Rediff Home » India » Get Ahead » Leisure » Columns » Sidin Sunny Vadukut
Search: The Web
  Discuss this Article   |      Email this Article   |      Print this Article

Dot Con Experiences
Sidin Sunny Vadukut

Get news updates:What's this?
November 27, 2007

Experience the joy of shopping from the comforts of your home! Assuming your home is comfortable! Just browse, click, pay and this wonderful product will be all yours! Instant shipping! Normally to somebody else's address! Satisfaction guaranteed! We mean to our CEO!'


So how many times have you fallen for that line on an e-commerce website? I am sure you have. By the name of god I have!


When the concept of buying things online first poked its young and exciting head up some six, seven years ago I was one of the first people to wave the online retailing flag. (Don't laugh. It hurts me still.)


What was there to dislike? Sit at home. Click on to a website. Browse through thousands of products till you found something you liked. Walk gently to the bedroom while dad slept and slip out his credit card. Run back to the open Internet Explorer window. Fill in some details and, voila, the 'Penthouse Letters Part Five' was yours. Your collection was complete!


It seemed liked a kick-ass idea at the time. And not just to me. Hundreds of venture capital types, investment funds and impatient entrepreneurs launched at the idea of online commerce. Everything seemed right with it. Low real estate costs, huge product offerings, almost limitless capacity to handle customers, 24 hours operations and, most important of all, stupid investors who, in keeping with God's taste for irony, had truck loads of money and IQs in the low teens.


Entrepreneur One: "We have a solid business model with proven strategy!"

Investor: "Ha ha ha ha. We won't fall for that old trick anymore! Next!"

Entrepreneur Two: "We have this dotcom that will --"


Entrepreneur Two: "IMPORTED FERRARI [Images] HERE I COME!"

Investor: "WHAT??!!"

Entrepreneur Two: "I said: New-age customer service benchmarks and revolutionised electronic commerce advantages to add value to everyday retailing transactions will now reap rich benefits for your company!"

Investor: "I thought so."

Unfortunately, the poor customer that I am, I had no idea that the dotcoms selling stuff often were shady operations that had very few resources at their disposal including, but not limited to, 'product'. Also, conveniently, 'refund policy'.


But there was no time for such negative sentiments then. Remember when any company that was cool had to be a dotcom of one kind or the other. So much so that people were randomly plugging in a 'dotcom' at the end of their names. This was immediately followed by an explosion in stock price and imported cars for everyone.


Male TV Anchor on popular TV business channel: 'National Cotton Textiles, Hosieries and Dotcom' is showing a lot of momentum in trading today!'


Female TV Anchor on same programme: 'Yes, but nothing compared to the phenomenal spikes in growth of Muniyandi Vilas Hotel with Attached Bar Dot Com Pvt. Ltd.'

People working in boring old jobs like manufacturing, insurance and accounting were beginning to feel left behind by their friends who were working for cool dotcoms where they could go to work in bermudas and tee-shirts making four times as much money.


Of course the management of these dotcoms worked really hard too. The investors were not complete fools. They demanded growing sales and increasing profits. This meant that the dotcoms had to work late nights to ensure that every cell on every excel sheet had been changed before the board meeting the next day.


CEO: "And therefore as you can see here our sales have actually increased by 50 per cent this month."

Investor: "But that cell is showing a Rs 3-crore loss for this month!"

CEO: "Hey look a woman in a bikini behind you!"


CEO: "Ah she's gone. But the cell is now showing a Rs 20-crore profit!"

Investor: "Bonuses for everyone!"

CEO: "Just doing my job."

And how did all this pan out for the consumers?


I once ordered a sling bag for my brother to take to college for his birthday. This was in March of 2001. His birthday is in May and he got the bag promptly sometime in mid-September. By the time he got it small furry creatures had made robust accommodation in the bag.


Another friend of mine once received a cake and flowers from her husband, who was abroad on work, on her anniversary. In order to avoid damage during transit the cake had been packed in a plastic bag, thrown into the dickie (Ed. Note: He means boot. We hope.) of a truck and then strategically placed under several pieces of furniture. We are not sure about this, but they may have driven a bus over it a few times to make sure. The flowers, thankfully, had been preserved in a nice cone of aluminium foil right after they had been plucked from their parent plant sometime during the previous six months.


Women don't take such things lightly.


Spectacular incompetence was reserved for the shipping department in particular.


Customer: "Hello! My book of erotic poetry with lifelike illustrations still has not reached."

Customer Service Guy: "Sir our records show it has been shipped."

Customer: "To my address in Kolkata right?"

Customer Service Guy: "No sir. We shipped it to the same address you used last time. You may have forgotten to change it sir."

Customer: "The one where I sent the bouquet and the cake?"

Customer Service Guy: "Exactly sir. It has reached today. One Mrs. Kapoor accepted it."

Customer: "Oh no --"

Of course not ALL online retailers were swindling scumbags. Some genuinely made life easier for you and helped you save money.


For instance there were a couple of bookstores that actually shipped the books to you in time. You also got free mousepads and bookmarks as gifts. They had great customer service and a really comprehensive range of books to choose from. These guys had their business plans in place. And great operations too.


They normally shut shop in six months. But just after you'd paid 1,200 bucks for the 'Super Saver Loyalty Programme' where you got special discounts and loyalty points. (One point for every thousand rupees spent. Thousand points equal to one rupee. Minimum redemption of Rs. 100. See you sometime in late 2057.)


Mark my words on this one. The moment a website announces a Loyalty Programme that means its time to pick up your business and run somewhere else. Bankruptcy is imminent.


Then there was talk of B2B models and B2C strategy and C2C initiatives and every combination in between. (Every letter meant an additional ten million or so in venture funding. A powerpoint on B2B2C2B was worth millions in itself.)


Thankfully before dotcoms could completely drive the consumer nuts the online bubble burst and people were forced to go back to boring old physical shops to enjoy some old-fashioned customer service.


But now, after a few years of silence, dotcoms are raising their heads again. The widespread access of broadband internet is giving fuel to fires of old. Dotcoms are popping up everyday with enticing offers just waiting for your hard earned rupee.


'Buy two movie tickets and get 100 rupees off on any Platinum Class ticket you buy for Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag!"


Time to be vigilant my consumer friends.


And watch out for Loyalty Programmes in particular.

Earlier columns:

More adventures of the Vadakuts, mister and missus, can be found at Domain Maximus.

 Email this Article      Print this Article

© 2007 India Limited. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer | Feedback