Fabricated shopping holidays are all the rage around the world. In the West, we’ve had Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both invented and popularised by retailers working with the media to drum up enthusiasm for spending more money on these days. In China, there’s Singles’ Day, popularised by Alibaba. Around the world, other local shopping holidays rival the activity of Black Friday in terms of retail spend and numbers of consumers participating.
One of these holidays is India’s Big Billion Days shopping event. Initially proposed by India’s domestic eCommerce giant, Flipkart, the event precedes Diwali and is now matched by a similar shopping event run by rival Amazon.
Like Singles’ Day, India’s pre-Diwali shopping events have really come out of the efforts of a dominant eCommerce retailer wanting to stoke retail activity in its own favour. And like Singles’ Day, some of the activity now spills off the original platform into other retail outlets.
Fabricating a shopping holiday is now de rigueur if you’re in a massive domestic eCommerce market. In the Middle East, the Amazon-owned souq.com (now amazon.ae) has raised retail passions with its own White Friday event.
This has had the effect of encouraging a flurry of sales over the 4-day shopping event. This region of the world is thought to lag behind comparable economies in terms of online purchasing, so part of souq.com’s strategy is to tempt new shoppers in and win market share in what’s seen as a growing eCommerce market.
India’s own shopping proposition
Like the Middle East, India remains ripe with promise for eCommerce vendors. This sector is still a small part of India’s total retail activity but is seeing huge growth.
Indian consumers tend to be particularly price-conscious and love a bargain, so discount events are a particularly effective way to lure them in. And it seems to be luring them in not only to the vendor in question but potentially to try buying online for the first time.
It certainly seems to be effective at raising sales. Flipkart reported sales rose 90% during the October sales period. Amazon is combatting Flipkart with its own retail event at the same time, which it calls the Great Indian Festival. In 2018 Amazon claimed sales on day 1 were already 3 times greater compared to 2017.
What’s less clear is whether the sales were profitable or whether the bonanza was effective at attracting shoppers in the long term. India has a highly competitive online marketplace and price competitiveness is high.
Major players, such as Amazon, are putting huge resources into effect at securing this market for the long term. Deep discounting is a strategy that will damage all players in the long term – but consumers will be pleased to benefit from low prices. Unfortunately, this behaviour by the major retailers is conditioning online shoppers to expect great deals, which may ultimately challenge vendors as they seek to return to profitability.
In this competitive market, increasing revenue isn’t the only reason why India’s eCommerce giants are so enthusiastically embracing their shopping events. It’s also a competitive opportunity to talk about how they are winning India’s online market.
Major players often refuse to release their figures but they are keen to boast about how sales are ‘X times higher’ than they were the year before, or make ludicrous claims about selling enough fairy lights to garland Mount Everest.
Although there’s frequently a backlash against popular shopping events, this rarely does much to put a dent in activity. Every year the media announce the death of Black Friday, but this isn’t reflected in the healthy retail figures for the event.
India’s eCommerce platforms will annually boast that their sales have beat all prior records – but that’s to be expected in a market where eCommerce is expanding rapidly. Both Amazon and Flipkart are also luring customers in by offers of instant credit. It’s another example of vendors using every trick in the book to win over uncommitted customers in the hope they turn into long-term cash cows.
Other opportunities – and threats
The Big Billion Days event isn’t India’s sole local retail sales holiday. There’s also a flurry of activity around Holi, where the emphasis is on selling brightly coloured products. Amazon’s also active in sales during this period, offering electronics in particular and WhatsApp also offers special Holi-themed stickers.
So, it’s clear that there are opportunities for other brands and sectors to get involved with the flurry of activity during these major Hindu holidays.
During Holi, Indian brands don’t just offer discounted products, they also tend to tailor their offering around this period to make them more colourful or offer other features.
Consumer priorities change during these festival periods, meaning they are perhaps more interested in gift-giving or getting together with family and friends. To capitalise on this, retail brands should look to ways to support this without offering painful discounts.