Start-ups, riding the live commerce wave in India

by Tanya Krishna

20-August-2019  |  14 mins read

Apparel is highest performing category in live commerce
Apparel is highest performing category in live commerce.

The digital transformation that India is going through is expected to push up the country’s total internet user base to 829 million by 2021 from 560.01 million in September 2018. While the user base continues to grow, so does the country’s internet economy which is expected to double – from US $ 125 billion in April 2017 to US $ 250 billion by 2020 – majorly backed by e-commerce. And as it continues to grow and evolve further, new formats are also being evangelised by the upcoming entrepreneurs as well as established brands. One of these new formats is social commerce which has gained traction and is attracting investors. Another format that is taking the consumers by storm is influencer-cum-video based commerce. Even as this segment is yet to find its product market fit, several start-ups operating in this format have already bagged investments from renowned angels as well as VCs.

The way Indian populace has started consuming and relying on videos online has evolved at a phenomenal rate and online videos featuring products and brands actually help consumers make a buying decision. According to a study, videos affect 64% of purchases made online. The new trend has given impetus to live commerce in India and start-ups like Bulbul.tv, Simsim and EkAnek Networks are already up for a grab of this segment. While the trend is catching up in India and is still under trial, it has been tried and tested in China where the model is worth US $ 18 billion. Several large scale companies like Taobao, AliExpress as well as niche platforms – Mavrck and Zorka.mobi are successfully operating live-commerce in the world’s second largest economy.

How lively is live commerce?

Live commerce is an ingenious amalgamation of the rage that is live video streaming and the e-commerce market. Sounds interesting! But how lively is live commerce really? China’s AliExpress has already registered an incredible conversion with its AliExpress LIVE which saw as many as 320,000 goods being added to the cart per one million views during a single live streaming session. Inspired by this success and the raging market for live commerce, Bulbul.tv is bringing a corroborative shopping experience wherein it is letting the consumers choose from a large variety of products being offered in two ways – pre-recorded video demonstrations, or live streamed videos which also facilitate interaction with the consumer.

While the concept is reminiscent of teleshopping networks or online retail marketplaces, it has few fundamental differences and none of the other two is a competition for live commerce. “TV commerce has always been a disconnected experience with distractions of other entertainment channels and a lot of eyes on a single screen. Also, companies selling merchandise through this medium incur heavy carriage fees which in turn increase the average selling price of the products; production cost is high as well since TV content need to be of high quality. Whereas live commerce is a homogenous shopping experience which facilitates looking at video demonstrations and purchasing with just a click, our production cost is very low, we have wide assortment of collection and we are a marketplace and have a different target audience. Also, I don’t believe that live commerce is a competition against online but the segment is targeting an entire different demographic of e-commerce. The overall segment is so huge that no start-up or a firm will have a direct conflict with each other,” informed Atit Jain, Co-founder, Bulbul.tv.

Bulbul.tv prides in a high conversion rate, which, as Jain confirms, is higher than a standard e-commerce conversion that remains around 1½-2% in India. He affirms, “We entered this business because the overall model is the same whilst the conversion rate is better. This medium will reach an audience which otherwise was not appealed to by online marketplaces. There are a lot of problems to be solved but the present numbers say that the industry is headed for a phenomenal growth.”

What works best in live commerce?

Sachin Bhatia, Sichen (Sianna) Liu and Atit Jain, Co-Founders, Bulbul.tv
Sachin Bhatia, Sichen (Sianna) Liu and Atit Jain, Co-Founders, Bulbul.tv

Even as the concept is trending and is gradually being accepted by the consumers across the country, a lot goes into the decision making process of what will work best on this medium. While China is dealing in everything ranging from table fans, wires to televisions, etc., India still has a long way to go. For home-bred start-up Bulbul.tv, categories like home and kitchen, health and wellness, jewellery, cosmetics, apparel, are the hot favourites. “Any product which is demonstrable can perform on live commerce. In fact, it only depends on one’s imagination. China is even operating B2B buying on live streaming. For us, apparel is going to be a big vertical for us and in that, office wear and ethnic wear will ride the wave at Bulbul.tv. The only reason it had been lower in our priorities was that apparel is plagued with high returns. But, we have realized that it has very high repeats and no e-commerce business can go on without having apparel,” points Sachin Bhatia, Co-founder, Bulbul.tv.

Are investors interested?

Bullish on this trending format that promises scale beyond usual reach of an online firm (50 to 80 million), Sequoia Capital, Lightspeed and Matrix Partners have put in US $ 10 million seed round in EkAnek Networks while Bulbul.tv was selected by Sequoia’s accelerator programme – Surge. The firm is already backed by Sequoia, Leo Capital and few of the angels. Rajul Garg, Founder and Managing Partner at Leo Capital India, prides in the investment as he maintains, “Bulbul.tv has a fantastic team with deep experience in consumer internet. They had a very specific product vision around using videos to reach out to the next generation online shoppers which we found exciting. As new internet users come online, they struggle to buy on traditional e-commerce sites. It’s too complex and more search-oriented. Bulbul.tv is the commercial entertainment space, is more discovery-oriented, vernacular and better suited to the new generation of shoppers. Leo Capital generally invests in technology-led companies with large scale potential and we will continue to see potential in Bulbul.tv and will be part of future rounds of investment as well.” The start-up is growing at an impressive rate and doubling on month-on-month basis. It raised US $ 2 million earlier this year. The round was led by Sequoia Capital and Leo Capital. The first round was invested entirely on product building and team building. Now the start-up has started spending a lot of money on marketing which includes social media campaigns/marketing as well as offline marketing strategies.

Moving forward…

While the entrepreneurs and investors are equally excited about the video and influencer based e-commerce model, it is still in its nascent stage in India and would take at least few years to gauge its impact. A number of investors are pumping capital in start-ups in the segment. Bulbul.tv’s co-founders have understood the potential of the category and have a series of plans in pipeline in order to enable a notable market disruption. “We have a lot of activities planned. Since the medium is audio-visual, we can do thematic programming, quizzes and celebrity guests. We are planning things that will not only keep the customer hooked, but make him want to invite friends and family on the platform. It is very expensive for a company to only rely on acquiring new consumers every time and we are cognizant of the fact. We see a healthy repeat rate everyday but we realize it needs to be upwards of 50-60% for it to be viable,” says Jain. Like the major e-commerce firms, Bulbul.tv too is looking forward to launching its private labels in the next 3-4 months and this will begin with the luggage category. Going forward, while the potential is immense, India still has a long way to go for a 100% video commerce app, with slow internet speed in majority of Tier-2 and beyond towns. However, start-ups in the segment are continuously working towards making it a successful model of commerce.

CASE STUDY

Back-end nitty-gritties of the start-up in point

Study suggests videos affect 64% of purchases made online.
Study suggests videos affect 64% of purchases made online.

Founded by Sachin Bhatia, Atit Jain and Sichen (Sianna) Liu in November 2018, Bulbul.tv is an online shopping app where customers can watch hosts demonstrate products live…, similar to a physical store.

The live videos on Bulbul.tv are filmed with a phone on a tripod and the hosts at the firm are given some information about the merchandise in order for them to speak about the product. The start-up does not give an elaborate training to its hosts but ensures to always bring on camera people who the consumers can relate with. The pre-recorded demonstrations, on the other hand, go through video editing process. With over 650 videos already on the app, the firm is ramping up production with 200 videos being uploaded every week. While the demonstration videos do not enable users to comment, Bulbul.tv is planning to roll out this feature very soon.

Bulbul.tv understands that from procuring the goods to selling them, it is essential to find the right balance of inventory. “We are not a brand but a marketplace where we source from all over India. While 60% of our products are Indian, 40% are Chinese. We have recently set up an office in China as well and intend to source a lot of products, especially apparel, from China. Our replenishment cycle works on three principles – drop-ship, sell or return (SOR) and outright. The first requires samples to be shipped by the vendors. They get enlisted on the app and as the orders start to roll in, the products are shipped directly from the vendor. In SOR, on the other hand, a certain amount of stock is maintained in the warehouse which is returned to the vendor in case of leftover inventory, while the outright model requires a full purchase of inventory for the bestselling products,” explains Atit Jain.

Bulbul.tv outsources all its logistics needs and has collaborated with Delhivery for its shipments. The marketplace also has 5-days return policy. Besides selling almost 10 direct-to-consumer brands, mid-ranged cosmetic brands and other appliance brands like Prestige, the company is looking to partner with other manufacturers, suppliers and private labels to fulfil the anticipated 10,000 orders a day, just for the apparel category, in the coming months.

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