The app-only move is working well for Myntra, says CTO Shamik Sharma
Contrary to popular perception, fashion e-tailer Myntra's transition to the app-only mode is not hurting overall sales, its chief technology officer Shamik Sharma claims.
"It's true that we have lost a portion of our customers due to this app-only approach but I believe that has been compensated by a huge number of people who have come on board on the app platform," Sharma, who joined Myntra Designs Pvt Ltd in 2012, said. However, the company has not shared GMV statistics post its transition into a mobile-only platform.
In may, Myntra killed its web presence in favour of app-only usage, a move lauded by industry pundits but seen as ahead of time.
Interestingly, Myntra's parent Flipkart will also stop its desktop presence by September.
Prior to joining Myntra, the Hyderabad-born Sharma worked at Lytro Inc as VP - software. He had also served as senior VP -engineering and co-CEO at RockYou.
Myntra plans to acquire boutique firms this year, Sharma said. The company is also keen to strengthen its tentacles in the data science and image processing realm to improve customer experience. Excerpts from an interview.
Myntra has killed its entire desktop presence and moved to app-only platform. What is the reason behind this approach?
When we look forward we see in a couple of years, India is going to be predominantly a mobile only country. So we thought that how should shopping look like on mobile phones and we realised that the experience will be entirely different from desktop platform. Mobile enables much more targeted and personalised marketing compared with other platforms. It can leverage things like multitasks, camera, etc. Using our app, merchants can leverage technology for image shots to catalogue their products. A buyer can also do the similar thing to look for his required product. This is primarily the reason why Myntra has moved to this app-only platform.
Could you give us an update on Myntra's sales following the transition into an app-only player? Can you share some data on this front?
Surprisingly, our numbers in the last couple of months have been higher than the web itself. So overall we have seen growth. Obviously, there are a set of customers who are using only the desktop and they may not change their behaviour soon. Yes, it's true that we have lost a portion of our customers due to this app-only approach but I believe that has been compensated by a huge number of people who have come on board on the app platform.
Return orders seem to be a big pain point for e-commerce players. How are you combating this? How are you managing your logistics?
We don't see returns as a problem. For example, when you visit an offline apparel store, you go for trial after choosing an outfit. If it doesn't fit your size, you opt for something else. That can't be done in case of online fashion site. If we try to reduce our returns too much, it will lead to a poor customer experience. Whenever they will make the next purchase, they will have doubts before they order.
We are in fact making it easier in case of returns. We were the first company in this space to introduce exchanges. So if you bought a shirt and finds some defects in that, you don't need to return it and get the money back. This is because it may take more than a week's time. Rather, we are allowing them to switch to another product through our app and our delivery person will be at your doorsteps in no time. Even you can click a picture of a poor quality product and send it to us through our app. And we refund the entire money if we find that the complaint is genuine.
Around 70 per cent of our logistics is managed by our own staff. There are 2,500 plus delivery people across the country. We also have two huge warehouses in Bangalore and Gurgaon. The rest 30 per cent are meant for far flung locations where we deliver through courier companies such as DTDC, Blue Dart, First Flight, etc. We have also tied up with Fedex for this purpose. However, we are more eager to use our own people when it comes to delivery in Tier II and III cities.
Can you give us an insight on the company's product pipeline? Tell us about any feature which you introduced recentlyâ€¦
The biggest focus for us it to give a very mobile specific experience. More releases have come out recently such as visual search to enable a more proper view of the products. We also have a voice search feature to make it easy to search for products online. People can upload selfies of the products and can ask for suggestions through our app.
One such feature is image processing which has made the experience of a traditional Myntra buyer very different from what it is today. Our basic aim is to make ecommerce a more lively place. Nowadays, when you shop on ecommerce sites, it's a very lonely experience. You don't see what others are buying or the new trends going on in India. We are trying to make it more social by telling the buyers what others are doing.
We just spoke with the CPO at Snapdeal who said that the firm is looking at string of pearls strategy. How is the strategy evolving at Myntra?
Myntra is a pearl in the string of our parent company Flipkart. Besides us, Flipkart has already a bunch of pearls such as eKart, Flipkart add groups. The portfolio which Flipkart has is probably the biggest among the etailers. It's not a new thing for us. Even Amazon must have similar strategy.
What are the missing pieces in your tech portfolio which you look to fill? What is your technology hiring outlook for this year?
There are mainly three things. First to give our clients a more social, personalised and mobile specific experience. Second would be hiring and building our own capabilities. We are also looking at a bunch of acquisitions. Besides, data science and image processing are also our areas of focus.
It will be probably more than double this year in comparison with the preceding one. Next year it may go up to triple. That will possibly happen in the months of October-November.
What new can we expect from Myntra this year?
We have piloted a number of options. Among them one is 'open and buy'. We are introducing it in many cities. We are also launching the alteration facility in Bangalore. However, one has to pay a nominal fee for that. This is one thing which you won't find in any other online fashion player. Some other things are in the pipeline which are yet to be announced.
You have over 15 years of experience in the field of technology. What are the lessons learnt that can be applied at Myntra?
One would be the empathy of our users. You can't made a good product until you know what they actually need. I think most people focus on the existing technology and customers. They don't look forward. As technology moves very fast, you have to keep pace with it, otherwise you'll be outdated. We have to predict newer technologies in a bid to capture the consumer's imagination.
And we also need to build a very strong team—be it product or technology or system or engineers because most of the companies traditionally have always maintained a top-down culture. So like gauging the customer's behaviour and accordingly create products for them, equally important is to build a right team. It has to be not necessarily people like me but even these people can come up with ground breaking ideas.
What would be the key defining trends that we will see in the areas of tech in e-commerce or Indian retail?
Obviously more and more retail companies will move from offline to online. It will move faster in India than other countries as there are more real estate and sales & distribution problems in this country. The rate of acceleration that will happen in 2016 will be more than ever before.
Secondly, the mobile penetration will go even higher. The capabilities that mobile phones have will get better and better. What implies from the product and technology perspective is the kind of experience that people are used to in their shopping on phones will be more productive. They would be able to take a swipe at hundreds of products, look at videos and images, take a 360 degree point of view, share with friends and even talk to experts and get advice in terms of outfit for parties, outings, etc. All of these things would be very possible in no time.
In the next couple of years, what do you think is the revolutionary change that ecommerce should go through, to turn profitable?
On-demand local delivery will be a big change. Another would be personalised shopping help. For instance, an assistant will figure out on your behalf where to buy from and the allied benefits. The third thing would be that ecommerce will try to capture the chat joints as it is the space where an individual spends most of his time.
Besides, e-commerce players in the field of groceries, appliances and jewelleries will greatly benefit. So you might see that the items which are not available online at present will come on this platform soon.
Buying a house is a cumbersome exercise that involves lot of hassles. I believe that buying option of a property online will soon become a reality.