The Pilot Episode: ‘The one with the Sweet Beginning’

Even as we were in the first week of our stay inside our lush green campus in Gurgaon, thoughts like – getting ourselves accustomed to the hostel scenario,  interacting and knowing our peers, a probable change in our biological and sleep cycles and the hunch of going back to books(that still feels intimidating) were on our minds. A plethora of similar emotions was playing a strange medley in and around us. Then, Great Lakes came up with the outbound trip to Rishikesh, the most fitting pilot episode to our newest series in life- The B school experience.

Our trip began on 19 May as we boarded our buses and started our long and fun filled night. Antakshari, Dumb charades, singing and dancing were the norm for the night… This was just the beginning!

We reached our pristine and beautiful campsite ‘Life missions’ in the morning and got ourselves ready for a day filled with unforgettable adventures. We split into two groups. One group geared up for a thrilling tryst with Rappelling as another started for an electrifying Rafting experience on the river Ganges.

As I braced myself for my rendezvous with rappelling, I could not help but wonder what it would feel like. The thought of hanging from a tall bridge with just a rope to our rescue felt awesome! I am obviously talking for myself. I am sure the same was not the case for people with Acrophobia. 😀

Cut to the actual experience, it did feel awesome! It was amazing to let go and hang almost perpendicular to the bridge and slowly descend systematically. It also gives a sense of trusting the guide who was giving all the instructions. Trust is what drives all businesses! In retrospect, it seems there was so much of sub-conscious learning happening.

Next, we had a team exercise of building a bridge with straws. Working in teams and collaborating amongst each other was a fun learning experience, to say the least.

As the day approached noon, we returned to our campsite, had lunch and eagerly prepared ourselves for Rafting. The review provided by the other group that returned added on to the excitement. We started off and reached a location called ‘Marine drive’, strapped ourselves with life jackets and helmets, and made sure we took proper instructions given by the Rafting coordinator. I can vouch for the entire batch by saying that this experience was, without any argument, the highlight of the trip.

As we started rowing our rafts in unison, we came across quite a few surprises. For a person who is new to the rafting world, the idea of encountering ‘rapids’ was massively thrilling. Our coordinator gave us direct and lucid instructions before each of the four rapids we challenged. These were:

  1. Good evening
  2. Sweet 16
  3. Roller coaster
  4. The three blind mice

Each of these rapids has a special memory with all of us. Experiences like standing inside the raft with the probability of falling over, taking a toss in the river, witnessing an ever-beautiful landscape across the river and getting ourselves lost in a myriad of senses and thrills as we witnessed the beautiful sunset are a few souvenirs we took back home from this experience.

As the Rafting escapade ended, we had one more learning experience in the form of a raft building exercise that was veritably fun filled and utterly enriching.

Coming back to our campsite, an evening with the bonfire and music awaited us. With our batch having a talent spectrum ranging from professional violin players, drummers and guitarists to melodious singers and dancers, this evening was exactly what we needed to feel refreshed.  As we dispersed to our tents after such a happening day, we all had a sense of belonging amongst each other.

We struggled to wake up the next day, but Palhan Sir’s meditation session filled us with reinvigorated energy as we headed off to a trek. Returning from a short hike, we had one final meet up focusing on the assessment for the two group activities. It was fun witnessing all the teams doing interesting introductions and victory dances.

None of us was in a mood to leave Rishikesh and the trip back to Gurgaon did seem long. Nevertheless, the end of this eventful trip marked the start of our ‘B-School’ journey.’ A journey that will surely be filled with ups and downs just like the rapids that we faced in Rishikesh. But if we work together then I’m positive that we’ll all get a chance to perform our victory dances at the end of this year.

 

‘IN THE MIDST OF MOUNTAINS’

A trip to a beautiful place,

Uttarakhand, you blessed us with your grace.

Driving through your mountains’ maze,

Mesmerised by your rain’s presence.

Drifting down the bridge like a pro,

Amidst the mountains’ meadow.

To get rid of phobia of heights,

Rappelling was an amazing exercise.

Ganga, the mightiest of the rivers

Embraced us with all her ardour.

Feeling the quivers in her waters,

Rafting, an experience gifted to us.

An evening with a Bonfire,

Music, you are the sire.

Guitar, Violin and Drums singing to its melody,

Musicians tuning to all its glory.

Staring at the sky of twinkling stars,

Sleeping in the mother nature’s arms.

Opening eyes to the beautiful misty morning,

Waking up to the sun between the mountains, rising.

Meditating early in the morning,

Trekking through the hills in the surrounding.

Relaxing by the river that’s flowing,

Folks playing water volleyball, enjoying.

An end to a beautiful journey,

A lovely opening to a new Odyssey,

Cheers to a lot of memories,

As a fan of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, It is

‘The One with a Sweet Beginning’.

 

Authors: Samuel Johnson & Prithvi Naadig

PGPM, Class of 2018, Great Lakes, Gurgaon

Is a dot-com bubble shaping up in general merchandise retailing?

Internet business has definitely altered the way we shop but internet retailing will keep existing along with Brick and Mortar shops in future. Yes, “along with it”, as people will always have socializing needs as well as convenience of shopping online. I predict that brick and mortar shops will soon convert into something like life-style-shops, where people will come to have socializing time in an ambience and environment that will allow them spend quality time along with shopping goods with confidence of touch and feel. For example, there might be Mid-size or large cafes having a small-boutique store inside with a classy-touch so that women can shop while their husbands can sit down, sip a cup of exotic coffee or play games on a play station (A large-scale existing model of this is malls with shopping stores along with food and gaming stores; such models may change but will not erode away) and socialize with other people around in many ways. There can be ways to incentivize customers to socialize, network with people and refer their “experience” further; this can induce exponential demand. The whole idea is about creating user-experience because people don’t just buy products/services now…. they buy experience, whether its offline or online.

1

I would be delving into the internet retailing business in India to see if it’s another bubble-burst in making, more so for the top-three players that claim 70% of the market share in India viz. Amazon, Flipkart & Snapdeal and analyze who stand to win.  Among these three Amazon seems to be pacing much faster than other two. Each E-retailing company has its own strategy to increase its market share; What would help them to win would be business fundamentals rather than winning the “who-has-better-valuation-race” (based on some model, matrices and cash-flows in future….blah..blah …blah) While they are doing everything from price-slashing-discounts, Faster Delivery, exclusive tie-ups with brands, acquisitions to even backward integration in supply chain, the consumer is clearly able to get a different experience with every new move. Valuations can be subjective, over-optimistic or even completely off-the-track; what I would want to look at is whether this is again a bubble-bust scenario or is there some stability or sanity shaping in the online-retailing industry mostly driven by Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal.

As per industry report from various sources collated by Brand equity forum, Indian Retail Market is poised to grow at 12% per annum to about US$ 1 Trillion till year 2020 from US$ 600 billion in year 2015. Out of this B2C E-commerce is expected to reach US$ 102 billion by 2020 and US$ 220 billion (in terms of Gross Merchandise Value) and 530 million shoppers by 2025. Overall E-commerce market is expected to reach US$ 120 billion by 2020 supported by faster internet speeds and faster adoption of internet services along with increase in app-based customer base.

2

Brand equity

I strongly believe that any business proposition has to comply to established economic theories; Like how a country cannot keep printing its own currency at will, without substantial products, services & other fundamentals in the economy to back it up, any business also cannot be ascribed a value/assessed without strong fundamentals, products & services to back it up. Brand equity reflects a lot of these parameters as it also covers the perceived confidence of sellers and buyers. While recognition of a Brand as a performing brand, increasing market share and price inelasticity reflect a lot about brand equity, Online retailing industry is not yet  in a price controlling position (Can’t raise their margins, they don’t have any for that matter).

a) Customer’s Side

3

In B2C online retailing, Amazon has steadily increased its market share and has captured more than 1/3rd of the market-share, whereas Flipkart and Snapdeal combined have nearly 40% market share. If we talk about most used apps the numbers are still high for Flipkart at 34% along with 11% for Myntra and 6% of Jabong that it already owns. Amazon is installed on 21% of the mobile devices, whereas snapdeal on 16%. Noticeably Amazon seems to have picked up at the app-installation figures since November 2015, the time when Flipkart decided upon the strategy to provide mobile-friendly site for direct browsing rather than from app.

4

b) Seller’s Side

An important point that I would make is that assessment of any online retailer from sellers’s point is as important as it is from customer’s perspective. As per the results from a study (Neilsen’s E-commerce Sellers study Q1 2016-Jan-March) highlighted by Business Standard, starting point to assess the brand equity  is the brand-recall for most sellers (Amazon-25%, Flipkart-21%, Snapdeal-20%), second is the overall awareness (Amazon-86%, Flipkart-82%, Snapdeal-20%.). Providing a favorable platform to sellers increases the brand equity of an online retailer manifolds.

Fundamentals

Tracxn Technologies Pvt. Ltd. Has its own list of Deadpool companies (online business) in India and has its own matrices (like shrinking team size, , suspended operations and decline in user traffic) to list them. This approach seems logical when we look at recent failures in e-commerce business like askmebazaar that suspended its operations due to lack of funds/Cash and  as reported, left 4000 employees jobless in August 2016 ,was looking out for a potential sell-out.  There have been many dead and walking dead companies in the Deadpool list of Tracxn. Looking at recent sell out of Jabong at much lesser a price than valuation (giving rise to a terminology called Jabonged) and downfall of askme bazaar there are new rounds of discussion on e-commerce bubble.

So simply building an online business & burning cash to achieve figures that help you to make it saleable (be it Plan A or Plan B) is a “well-planned-scam” under the daylight, atleast for the stakeholders (Investors, debtors, vendors, employees…..well not customer… they just have to download another app and shop like a boss). Though finance is fungible and the money can be rolled but there has to be enough cash to be rolled. A business that was not started with intent to run & sustain on its own constructs rather than just the mercy and so called loyalty of its customers is a scam as somebody is going to lose sooner or later. Abidali Neemuchwala, new CEO of Wipro (although from a different industry) interestingly said, in an interview for Mint, “I am not afraid about falling Revenue or profitability, I am excited about profitable growth, we will not buy revenue by sacrificing margins”. Most of the internet businesses focus on growth, expansion, revenues and await success that never happens. Simply put the business has to generate its own cash from margins. On contrary all online retailing companies (taken in this write-up) have negative profits.

In case of internet retailing there are lines of products mostly common across all companies (only Snapdeal, Flipkart & Amazon in this write-up) whereas services, value proposition & operations would definitely vary as per their own common or mutually exclusive strategies because each one of them is trying to differentiate & win maximum market share whether it is volumes, Revenues, Product segments etc. So to have a pulse of the industry and see which company is going which direction, we should look for their past & present operations as well as current strategies that have futuristic approach or scope for profits as well.

FLIPKART

  • Flipkart has acquired Myntra and Jabong that have already been leaders in apparel retailing and it is going for strong private brand tie-ups (like how Myntra’s 25% revenue comes through Roadster, Mast & Harbour and Dressberry). HRX by Hrithik Roshan is a lifestyle & sports clothing brand (and some accessories) which is soon going to tie up with Flipkart (Flipkart is targeting the majority stake)
  • As per a report by A.T. Kearney and Google; fashion is expected to be dominantly, the largest product category in online retailing by 2020. Fashion segment offers much fatter margins viz a viz books and electronics and in fashion, private brand tie-ups reap larger margins than third party.
  • Flipkart is much ahead than everybody else when it comes to fashion segment (with 12 private brands of Myntra). As per a commentary by EY, having private brand tie-ups helps a company learn about merchandising and branding giving them better negotiation power with external brands. Flipkart is aggressively trying to improve in this segment as it offers fat margins and may help them become profitable.

AMAZON

  • Amazon is consistently improving on Revenue and market share and surpassed Flipkart in gross sales in July
  • Amazon is catching up well in Smartphone segment with Flipkart while it is already a leader in book sales.
  • Amazon is coming up with its fulfillment centers in Chennai, Coimbatore, Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai with a total of 5.5 Million square feet storage space (adding to 2.5 million sq-ft. already existing over 21 centers in various states in Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamilnadu, Telangana, West Bengal) for sellers which shall bring down their fixed costs. This strategy as per my opinion is going to have double impact for Amazon as it will get products at real lower rates (bringing down storage/logistics cost for sellers, also building closer association with them-80% of sellers on amazon use its fulfillment service) and consumers will keep getting lower rates on Amazon with faster delivery (two important factors in user experience). This strategy will have a strong backward integration advantage and strong geographical hold across India in supply chain.
  • Amazon Prime is a paid service that gives customer a faster delivery (1 or 2 days). This has seen success in US and other markets. But Indian consumers want more than just the faster delivery. However even a small part of the 50 million user base can be enough to give benefits.
  • Fulfillment center and Amazon Prime combined can help Amazon do away with discounts. Any company that can build a strategy around this idea will eventually see the sustainable success (profitable growth). Amazon seems to have taken a formidable position.
  • AmazonBasics (by cloudtail India pvt. Ltd.) brand selling headphones, charging cables, bags and various other accessories contributes more than 40% of its business and is set to expand it substantially this year (2016)
  • Have aggressive plans in private label offering in electronics accessories, groceries and fashion segments. If this happens they can take Flipkart head-on.

SNAPDEAL

  • While GMV (Gross Merchandise Value-Value of goods sold on an online-marketplace company) has remained a dominant metric to monitor the growth, Snapdeal-CEO, Kunal Bahl said Snapdeal is focusing on net revenue rather than GMV. It has cut down discounts and cost of advertisements; helps fight cash-crunch situation.
  • Snapdeal has diversified portfolio wherein it has FreeCharge (mobile recharge), Shopo, Vulcan, Gojavas, Rupee power (online financial services platform), exclusively (luxury ecommerce site) etc. in its basket.
  • Shopo is a market place for sellers of handicraft products (with zero-commission in revenue, just a fee). It has seen good amount of success with one lakh sellers onboard in just nine months. Shopo can be a promising online shop for small businesses with logistics (connects to logistics companies) and payments tools (freecharge) embedded.
  • Vulcanexpress and Gojavas were conceptualized by snapdeal to compete with its rivals flipkart and Amazon as having in-house logistics is more economical for marketplace companies (it makes logistics reliable & scalable) but snapdeal was late to do this and has faced problems with these two ventures.
  • Freecharge has much younger customer-base 18 to 25 years (age-bracket), with 10 million app-install-base. Snapdeal has a app-install-base of 20 million and its customers belong to 25 to 35 years age-bracket.
  • While Snapdeal seems to have taken a diversified approach, success is yet to be seen in these ventures as well and focus will be shared on all such ventures, whereas its rivals are focusing to improvise on lesser diversified models.

Conclusion

5

The financials available for the online-retailing companies (on public forums and platforms) do not give a veritable insight. However, I have tried to track the fundamentals and strategies being followed by the major players in the industry.  While Amazon and Flipkart seem to have taken the formidable position of top-two players over last one year, Snapdeal despite its move to focus on profitable growth, is losing market share and its strategy doesn’t seem too focused. Snapdeal is trying to grab everything it can, Flipkart is much focused on its most profitable segment, Amazon has a sound approach of wooing both customers and sellers on its market place and is working towards weaning off the discounts. My personal opinion is that Amazon and Flipkart can be the last survivors with profitable growth. Snapdeal and other players may lose the game. It’s a boom-bust situation for everybody else than Amazon and Flipkart.

Disclaimer: This study is based on use of data from private company database, newspaper articles and internet-trends. The data collated through different sources like “similarweb” etc. have been duly credited to and are indicative in nature. The author doesn’t claim any ownership or the veracity of figures mentioned. The ideas that have been borrowed have been duly credited and other self-proposed ideas are inconsequential and meant only for the academic-engagements of the institute.

Author : Gaurav Chauhan

Senior Research Fellow, Great Lakes

365 Days @ Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurgaon

Should I start off like any other “typical” narration about “The MBA/PGPM Life” or is there another way? In fact, that is what I learnt first here at Great Lakes. There is another way. All you need to do is stop “running” and enjoy the view because the picture you’ve wanted to paint all along is turning out to be better than expected.

There were obvious apprehensions prior to the dawn of the program, leaving the professional world as we know it in hope of embarking on much challenging journeys in life through unchartered waters. Yes, I know that feeling because I was reading up on schools like you are right now. That feeling will soon be put to rest once you realize that the friends you make here are going to last a lifetime.

The “Ice-breaker” trip we had to Rishikesh drove home the realization that of all of us “are in this together” and made us work that way from that day on. Win or lose, we’d do it together (especially the white water rafting). And, either way we would end up indulging in multiple rounds of “bunta juices: A delicacy of the location”.

The Outbound Trip

The Outbound Trip

I’m writing this post at the very end of my program here at Great Lakes. Well, almost. And looking back I really can’t understand how the time has flown by. Yes, there have been a ton (quite literally) of trainings, classes, exams, late night study sessions, projects, more projects, and the always entertaining group assignments. Watch out! This is when the person you would’ve killed a thousand times over in your mind becomes a friend and you realize that you were judgmental. To anyone in any B-school past / present saying otherwise, trust me they’re trying really hard to be cool. To all the B-school grads that’re reading this, am I right? Or am I right?

Assignments & Fun

Great Lakes, Gurgaon is known for two things in particular. First, we are the front runners in having in our curriculum two of the fastest growing industries in India, Energy and Big Data & Analytics. Big Data & Analytics isn’t just a mammoth sized file with a gazillion numbers but indeed is a thinking business. “Lateral thinking” methodologies are put to the test and all Great Lakers are Analytics minors at Gurgaon. Second thing Great Lakes is known for is the extraordinary faculty- Great Lakes has spared no measures in reeling in the best of teachers who not only cater to other premier schools in India but abroad as well. Having a global perspective of learning has only strengthened the meaning of our motto “Global mindset. Indian roots”.

While I could give a run-down of the academic portion, projects and lecturers of the program it’s also important to describe other critical aspects of the program and that is the out of class experiences that are critical to our development as business leaders in a culturally diverse world. Great Lakes, Gurgaon has a lot (And I mean “A LOT”) of Industrial speakers who take the time out from their busy schedules and interact with the student. Imagine meeting and interacting with HR head of Ikea, the founder of Shopclues and the former MD of Wrigleys within a week of you being in the campus! These interactions are important as they are a link between what we learn in class and what the business world really expects from us. While our “live-projects” and Empirical research projects also gives us such insights, the sheer quantum of knowledge that is shared in these sessions can be compared to none. Uncle Bala calls it “Experiential Learning and insights”. We couldn’t agree more.

Mr. Sankar Ramamurthy, Executive Director - PwC

I was among the lucky three to visit the Chennai campus for three days. Although both campuses are identical in academics and most events are replicated across locations, the student life is completely different. To put it in a nutshell: “In Chennai, I know more people. In Gurgaon, I know people more”.

Let me shed some light on the activities. While some enjoy swimming or working out when we find the time to, there are some who diligently play every day. Yes, every day just by learning to manage their time better.

“Be an opportunist” Uncle Bala’s words were taken a little too seriously. Be it going that extra mile to make things happen in college or quite literally going “the extra mile” to land in Jaipur for a weekend at a classmate’s place! Either way, the fact is that we’re a culturally diverse group and know very little of cultures other than our own. This program also gave us an opportunity to live and experience other cultures. Yes, I am from Bangalore and have now come to realize that “sarso ka saag” tastes a lot better than it sounds.

Celebrating Onam

“The best year of your life” has long been associated with Great Lakes’ PGPM program. Having experienced it myself, I realize calling it “the best year of my life” is merely an understatement. Never have I been exposed to such miscellany, where differences are celebrated and they blend perfectly to form a different kind of culture beyond religion, and other social nuances. A culture filled with humility, respect, and at the same time, courage and tenacity to take on the world.

Group

It has been an honor and I hope this narration has been helpful. From the corner table of the classroom, Yogesh Babu, signing out.

– A Titan