Talk about wanting to go back to one's roots. Back in 2007, ex-Amazon employees decided to quit their jobs and start an e-commerce venture of their own. Books is what they decided to sell because as co-founder Binny Bansal had pointed out in VCCircle Ecommerce Investment Forum 2010, "We were unknown to people and trusting us with a Rs 100 transaction of Chetan Bhagat book was much more easier". Plus there were the inherent advantages like no chances of damages, endless shelf space, low overheads and bypassing the issues posed by the touch-and-feel-then-buy consumer mindset at the time.
Thus, Flipkart began its spectacular journey as an online book seller. By end 2011, the home-grown etailer's gamble had paid off big time. It had not only emerged as the largest book retailer in India, reportedly cornering 80 per cent of the online book market, but had managed to make enough money to also branch out into other product categories. According to media reports back then, from selling a book a minute in 2010, the firm was able to successfully transition to shipping close to 30,000 items across 12 categories per day a year later.
But over time, Flipkart's focus shifted to more lucrative categories like gadgets and electronics as it stepped up the fight for eyeballs against arch rival Amazon. Steep discounts on books to drive sales, after all, are de rigueur, which translates to thin margins. But the latest buzz is that the Bangalore-based company is planning to bet on readers a second time round.
According to The Times of India, Flipkart has been building a new strategy for the books category over the past six months in order to regain the ground lost to the US-based ecommerce giant in the ensuing years. The report adds that Amazon India currently enjoys a 60 per cent share of the online book market.
The company's efforts to boost consumer engagement in its original playing field - from expanding the catalogue to upping the ante on quick deliveries -are already paying off. "Since our decision to put the focus back on the category, we have more than doubled the collection to 7 million from about 3 million books six months back. We are working out exclusive deals with publishers and authors to get certain titles only on Flipkart. All these efforts are being made to get the loyal set of book buyers back on the platform," Nishit Garg, who heads the books business, told the daily. In fact, the category has grown by about 70 per cent in the past six months. This is significant because consumers buying books have a higher engagement rate and, hence, tend to also check out other product categories.
Perhaps we will also see Flipkart re-enter the e-books business soon. It had exited this business back in 2015, saying that, "In its overall strategy for books, Flipkart does not see the e-Books service as a strategic fit." That had certainly played a role in the rapid growth of Amazon's Kindle. Can Flipkart now win back the ground it relinquished?
With IANS inputs