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e-commerce is the 'in'- thing

Photo: K.R. Deepak.

Sushil Shankar explaining a feature of his e-com site.

After three years of unprecedented boom, the bubble got pricked, followed by a resounding crash that was compounded by the 9/11 demolition of the twin-tower World Trade Center. This is in a nutshell the computer and e-commerce boom story. But will the web culture rise like a phoenix from its own ruins? This is quizzing everybody's mind. "Well, it may not regain its celebrity status but it will certainly return, as Net is the `in'-thing," say experts.

The boom that was orchestrated by unrealistic expectation, huge amount of money pumped in by venture capitalists and the idea of making a few fast bucks converted the people of this port city to Internet buffs. Overnight cyber cafes sprouted all over and people with the backing of NRI friends and relatives started to host websites and portals promising Vizagites the beauty of e-world in their living rooms.

It all started in 1998 and by 2001 it was all over. Most Internet gurus attribute the premature crash to reasons like too many players in a short time, failure to control cost and lack of foresight. Websites and portals that came up overnight vanished and the concept of e-commerce took a battering even before it could really launch itself. But the survivors are the ones who tenaciously held on to their objective and dreams. They are being termed as the real players: amazon.com, rediff.com, fabmart.com and bazee.com.

There is one such player in this metro that withstood the crash and survived through the lean years to become the only company to have an e-commerce portal. Vizageshop.com promoted by `net Savant' is an exclusive B to C (Business to Customer) portal that lives to link the people of Visakhapatnam to the electronic world of shopping pleasures.

"Internet medium even today is basically looked as a mailing and information download and upload tool. But e-commerce, especially the B to C segment, has a future. Though Internet gurus forecast that the B to B (Business to Business) segment is going to be the `in'-thing, B to C has lived to outbeat it in the long run. The Net penetration is increasing with every passing day and that has stabilised the e-com growth, and we shall not see any extremes in the near future. Other reasons that are contributing to the e-com growth is the aggressive marketing of credit cards by the card companies and the flexible hi-tech banking system that are being offered by some bankers. The concept of e-com will shoot up in India once the people get access to a broader bandwidth. We are waiting with bated breath for companies like Reliance to launch their optic fibre broad-based bandwidth," says the CEO of net Savant, Sushil Shankar.

The liberalisation policy initiated by the Government has thrown open vast new opportunities and changed the people's lifestyle. Indians have not only been exposed to a cultural shock but can now access and purchase goods from any corner of the globe that were restricted to the privileged class till some time ago, with the mere click of the mouse.

Capt. Shankar, who is basically a maritimer, got enticed by the world of web when he enrolled himself for a short course in a US university. The unlimited access to the Net in the university library made him discover the magical world of the web. His love for Internet and his hometown Visakhapatnam propelled the idea of hosting a website in Vizag. And that was the seeding of vizagonline.com. What started as a hobby soon became a full-fledged dot.com company with over 15 professionals operating it. His firm belief in the concept and foresight that it would succeed in the long-run impelled him to start the integrated e-commerce site, vizageshop.com.

"e-commerce in a B to C site is nothing but armchair shopping. One can view the list of shopping menu in any of the B to C site or portal and go on a purchasing spree from home itself. The only difference is that one would get only the virtual feel of the goods unlike the realistic one while shopping in person. e-shopping is ideal for generic and branded products. To send a gift one need not personally go to a shop and deliver it. All one has to do is to go to a good site, choose the item and order for its delivery after fulfilling certain norms with mere clicks of the mouse button," says Shankar.

Vizageshop.com is one such portal that hosts a variety of features. One can access a wide range of items like computer consumables, fruits, flowers, cakes, sweets, soft toys, dress materials, watches, jewellery, kitchenware, greeting cards, books and cell phones. Just select the item and give the delivery address. The facility is available not only for Vizagites but it is extended to over 80 cities in India through the Door Bandhan feature.

"We provide end-to-end solution under one roof unlike the other major sites who offload their logistics and commercials to some other business partners. At our place all the three basic departments that are required to run an e-com portal like technical, commercial and logistics are placed under one roof. We personally deliver the order of the customer irrespective of the city where he or she is located. All one has to do is to make the purchase and fulfil the payment criteria in the shopping card. The payment can be made through the Master or Visa credit card or through the Internet banking facilities of ICICI, HDFC and IDBI. We also accept cash payment on delivery apart from DD and money orders," says he.

To add local flavour, Shankar has started goaeshop.com and poonaeshop.com and has plans to start in 16 other states. The parent portal vizagonline.com is also linked to the VMC site Saukaryam.com and to the official site of the East Coast Railway.

"e-commerce is here to stay, and the best days are yet to come," he asserts.

The main deterrent

The main deterrent for the growth of e-com is its payment system, according to Capt. Shankar, CEO of net Savant.

"Many still feel that using their card over the Net could be risky. That is a myth and it should be demolished," he feels.

In the Net no human being can actually see the card number unlike in the case of a manual use, where even the hotel waiter can physically see the number and if he intends to play foul can jot it down and later transact on the Net. All the transactions through the Net are encrypted.

"But there are certain precautions that one should take while transacting through the Internet. Never use the card in any porno or gambling site. In case of shopping, go to a reputed site like amazon or rediff as they are safe. Before entering the monetary transaction stage see whether the site is an encrypted one or not. To identify such sites one should see whether the IP address has the letters `https' instead of the standard `http'. Avoid transacting from public computers and never go for an auto deduction transaction. Moreover, every good e-com site normally encourages its regular registered visitors and the new ones are always treated with an element of suspicion. High value purchases are also treated as suspect transactions and the company normally verifies the authenticity of the subscriber. Good sites ask for a few personal details like date of birth and anniversary dates that are tallied with the details in the card application. In such cases it is difficult even for the best of the hackers to crack the data that are stored in the main server of the respective card company," says Shankar.

S.B.

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