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Net gains for the bargain-hunter

By Gargi Gupta in New Delhi
August 02, 2007 11:52 IST
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One of the unlikely survivors of the dot-com boom in the early years of the century is MouthShut, a consumer reviews site.

Launched in 2000, MouthShut  has more than two million registered users today who post reviews or compare features of 120,000 product categories -- everything from films to airlines, resorts and internet connections.

Today, seven years into its existence, revenues -- from ads and subscriptions from corporate bloggers (a recent service) -- are starting to flow.

"We expect revenues to grow 100 per cent in 2007," says Faisal Farooqui, MouthShut's CEO. What's more, venture capitalists are queuing up. "Everybody wants a piece of MouthShut," says Farooqui.

For long MouthShut was the only site of its kind in India -- but now it has company. There's admanya.com, launched in March this year, on which consumers can write reviews and rate products and services.

Another site that's in its beta version is tolmol.com -- a comparison shopping site where you can match features and prices from on-line and off-line retailers, segmented by city.

There are other smaller start-ups testing the waters -- pooraprofit.com, a website aggregating the best deals and sales in Delhi; and bechna.com, shopping comparison again.

Most of these sites have been started by software development and web-designing companies, looking to ride the boom in Internet use and consumer activity.

As per Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) data, there will be 100 million Internet users by 2007-08, while ecommerce, which was worth Rs 1,180 crore (Rs 11.80 billion) in 2005-06, is set to touch Rs 2,300 crore (Rs 23 billion) in 2006-07.

Besides, as Ashish Mehta, marketing head of Avake Technology, which has developed Tolmol, points out, "People don't use the net just to buy; they also use it to find products, compare prices, read what other people who've bought have to say."

As the IAMAI's Person to Person Referrals 2006 study found, 52 per cent online shoppers found consumer reviews important, while 31 per cent compared products and services "all the time" across different sites.

Given all this, revenue models -- both online and offline -- have become clearer and easier on tap. Tolmol, for example, has over 50 partners, portals as well as product-specific sites, and gets a cut for driving traffic to them, besides a subscription system for off-line retailers. With 500,000 page views a month, ad revenues have already started to flow in, says Mehta.

Jaideep Bhattacharjee, of Intechsys, the company behind Admanya, is more cautious. "User-generated content is growing, but it will take 12-18 months for us to be self-sufficient."

Admanya has come up with an innovative functionality, which also has potential for revenues -- reverse buying, where merchants bid for buyers who simply post their requirements on the net.

Clearly, it is a great time to bargain-hunt on the net.

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Gargi Gupta in New Delhi
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