A year into the pandemic, ‘homepreneurs’ and small businesses from tier II and tier III cities are finding their feet online via a growing list of platforms
In Mumbai, engineer-turned-artist Bindiya Shetty puts brush to paper to create a painting for her Etsy India shop, trystwithcoloursbyB. Meanwhile, in Payyanur, a riverside town in Kerala’s Kannur district, Manjunath Pai is curating products for Ayurveda Store, his space on MyEasyStore that sells ayurvedic and wellness products — from moringa powder and aloe cucumber gel to spices and even rice.
What do Shetty and Pai have in common? They are part of a large number of entrepreneurs and small businesses who set up an online store in 2020, after the pandemic broke out. Though Shetty had started selling on Instagram in 2019, Etsy was a game changer, especially in targeting the international market. “For Indian customers, I use Instamojo [a Bengaluru-based platform that helps businesses] and Amazon as well.”
Meanwhile, Pai shares that the number of orders has increased by up to 35% from last year till now.
Calling all entrepreneurs
From ‘homepreneurs’, such as mums making pickles, to jewellery designers and sellers of saris, kurtas, home décor and even fruits and vegetables, you can find them all on global platforms like Shopify and Etsy, and homegrown ones like Shoopy and MyStore by Khatabook (formerly Dukaan by Khatabook).
Himanshu Wardhan, Managing Director, Etsy India, says, “Online retail is a much more democratic way to build a business, especially for small sellers. The pandemic drove many creative entrepreneurs to explore online selling in a time of economic upheaval. Nearly two million new sellers turned to Etsy last year, bringing the total number of active sellers at the end of 2020 to 4.4 million.”
Betting on reselling
- Bengaluru-based Meesho, set up in 2015, follows a reselling model on its platform. The company, which became the country’s latest unicorn after it raised $300 million last month, in its latest funding round from Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, says it has enabled more than 13 million entrepreneurs across India.
- CEO and co-founder Vidit Aatrey, says, “Meesho has suppliers whose products are listed on our website and app. Our entrepreneurs — mostly belonging to semi-urban and tier II towns — choose from the listed items, and share them with their contacts on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, and earn profits on every sale.” Fashion and lifestyle continue to be the most prominent categories, but 2020-2021 have seen a significant surge in non-fashion categories such as home decor, kitchen appliances, and home cleaning equipment.
- Now with the pandemic crisis, Meesho has announced several initiatives to help entrepreneurs. Under its ‘Cares Campaign’, it has declared a corpus of ₹1 crore to offer interest-free loans to eligible entrepreneurs. It is also partnering with banks and non-banking financial companies to provide sellers with the option of taking short-term loans and overdraft protection.
While there are limitations in terms of the number of products that can be listed (depending on the plan purchased), the advantages are that even an average person who is not tech-savvy can use the tools provided by these platforms to set up a store, customise its look, and start their business without paying exorbitant amounts.
With large numbers of both consumers and sellers moving online in 2020, new platforms have come up, such as MyEasyStore, Dukaanand Facebook Shops. For Hirdyesh Mordani, who launched Mumbai-based MyEasyStore with his childhood friend Sanju Bhambhani, the idea came from personal experience.
- Well-known illustrator Alicia Souza has maintained her store on Shopify for about four years now (the Canadian e-commerce platform entered the Indian market in 2013). Her advice: “Start small because you don’t want to be stuck with stock. It’s a logistics game. And if you can get someone to run the business side of it, that helps even more.”
Mordani had shut his chain of three cloud kitchens last April and switched to selling cookies, brioche buns and the like on social media and WhatsApp. “It had got to a point where I was constantly answering the same questions: ‘How do I know what else is available? What flavours are there? How much does it cost?’ So I asked Sanju, who is a software engineer, if he could build a landing page where all this information could be displayed. And it really took off.” That’s when the duo thought that their product could help a lot of small businesses.
“We put it out in the public domain and it immediately started to get a lot of interest from entrepreneurs, home chefs, startups.” Now, the website (Mordani clarifies that it’s not an aggregator of vendors) has about 1,000 businesses on it. “It’s not just B2C, it’s also B2B; we don’t limit the vendors,” says Bhambhani, sharing that they’ve added more features this year, in terms of delivery charges (the seller can set it based on distance, pin code, or a flat rate), integrations, payment providers, and the like.