99labels: Premium experience for the Haggling Indian

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has lovingly eulogised the Argumentative Indian. Indeed, the enthusiasm for "sweet disputation' is stapled to the Bharatiya soul. But another trait, which is seemingly genetically encoded, is our obsession with discounts. The Haggling Indian, however, is moving away from street bazaars and "local' offerings to cyberspace malls and big brands. And 99labels, a 24/7 online shopping service, has tapped into the zeitgeist.

In an exclusive conversation with Adgully, Ishita Swarup, a founding member and CEO of 99labels, explains how her company is striving to placate the Haggling Indian's premium-shopping fantasy. Swarup begins by stating that 99labels was an idea whose time had come. "We were inspired by the success of online discounted-merchandise portals across the world," Swarup said. "Internationally, this model has acquired secure traction. We were also very confident of this business model because the Indian consumer loves bargains/deals/discounts on quality branded merchandise."

So how is 99labels different from the plethora of shopping sites? Exclusivity is the answer, Swarup said. "The rationale of 99labels is to build an exclusive online platform which organises private, online, and event-based sales of well-established luxury and premium brands for its members," she said. "And the membership is strictly by invitation." Swarup said that 99labels was extremely conscious of brand and merchandise selections. "We select brands keeping our member portfolio in mind," she said. "We are very careful about the quality of the merchandise. In addition, our expert merchandisers select products that are classics and will appeal to varied sensibilities." Another differentiator is 99labels' superior customer service, Swarup said.

Besides, the site offers an extra-zoom option to highlight the detailing on fabrics and design elements. "Also, images of products are shot from different angles and reference is provided to the height and size of the model to explain the fit as seen in the pictures," Swarup said.

That said, 99labels is also conscious of the fact that all Indians, whether they are Argumentative, Haggling or Wary, want more than just tech dazzle. Indeed, Indians crave the human touch. "Our features are backed by excellent customer care," Swarup said. "Our customer care executives are trained to help customers in making the purchase decision, by talking them through sizing options and providing information about the purchase process." Remarkably, 99labels also has a "no-questions-asked" return policy. "We have found that these support functions have made it easier for customers to buy from our site," Swarup said. That assertion is borne out by the fact that the site's membership base is increasing rapidly; there are 30,000 members at present. But Swarup hastens to explain that 99labels is not a part of the numbers' rat-race. "Membership is by invitation only. However, it is free, without any obligations to purchase," Swarup said. "99labels allows its members to shop 24x7, and even gives a heads-up to all sales two days in advance. Once the sale is open, members are guaranteed a secure environment where privacy is ensured."

Further, members also enjoy the benefits of calibrated service. "We have reached out to our target audience through tie-ups with certain relevant partners in travel, lifestyle and fashion space," Swarup said. "Social media is also a key instrument in our marketing initiatives and helps us by reaching out to relevant people through various engagement promotions and rich content streams."

Swarup said that 99labels also runs a referral programme through which members can invite their friends and family to be a part of the exclusive club. "We are now planning to incentivise the act of spreading the word," she said. The talk of incentives brought Adgully to the question of the bottom line. "It is too early for us to quote any specific revenue projections," Swarup said. "The market is still evolving for the category of event sales. There have to be multiple players in the space to be able determine such factors as the market size and our percentage of the pie."

Swarup, however, said that the potential for sites such as 99labels was enormous. That potential lies in key demographic vectors. "Our target customers are young netizens; geographically, they could be in metros, tier-2 and 3 towns, as well as outside India," Swarup said. "NRIs form a major section of our clientele as they do not have regular access to Indian designer brands. A 99labels customer is someone who is brand and deal conscious but is constrained by either time or access."

Swarup said the site has drawn members from metros like Delhi and Mumbai as well as from far-off places like Hazaribagh, the Andamans, Hajipur, and Aizawl.

The reach of the site testifies to the success of its exclusive-offers strategy. "We celebrated the Indian designer month to mark our inaugural," Swarup said. "Brands such as Satya Paul, Ashish Soni, Rocky S and Payal Jain were on sale. The agreement with the brands is to have their merchandise available on a short-term basis to an exclusive group of target audience."

Other brands on sale include Van Heusen, Louis Philippe, Guess and Espirit watches, Sia Jewellery, Bvlgari, Davidoff and Ferragamo perfumes, Ritu Kumar, Hourglass, Just Cavalli watches, and Rina Dhaka.

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