23/09/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

COUNTERED: 7 Arguments Against Flipkart's App-Only Makeover

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Flipkart's application loading page, left, and website are displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone 5c and iPad respectively in an arranged photograph in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Flipkart, India's largest online retailer, will buy competitor, according to people with knowledge of the talks, to gain a business with higher margins and strengthen its position in the local market against Inc. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Whoa! My previous article, "6 Reasons Why Flipkart's App-Only Strategy Is A Masterstroke", sparked quite a debate in the realm of social media. Every second person who took the time to read the article had some sort of problem with Flipkart's impending move. While I continue to reply to each and every comment to explain my perspective, I reckoned it would be more efficient to address the common concerns expressed by readers in a single post.

"The issue for the majority of people is the 'lack of convenience and easy access' in the app (i.e. in its present avatar)."

Now, let's quickly run through what the readers of my previous article had to say to argue against Flipkart's app-only move.

Argument 1: "It's impossible to browse 20 products/100 webpages/1000 reviews quickly and simultaneously in the app."

While being able to open a 100 web pages and read reviews about each of the products simultaneously does seem efficient, the app experience on the new smartphones and wearable gadgets aim to make such an effort by the end-user, an unnecessary chore.

I agree that the e-com business model is mostly about convenience and easy access. And, I also believe that our definition of convenience is about to change drastically in the coming years; in fact, it is changing already. Two to three years down the line, do you really think you will be sitting in front of your PC/laptop to browse the internet? Will all the smart wearable and innovative gadgets not drive the PC/laptop out of the picture?

Even today, laptops are not as convenient as tablets and phablets. Yes, it's easy to think of a laptop as a convenient device while shopping from your office or a computer lab. But when you're chilling on a recliner with the AC on full blast, wouldn't it be more convenient to use an iPad than a PC/laptop? I did a survey recently in my college and found that around 80% of the students find their cell phones/phablets more convenient to use than laptops (because they can even use it in their classes. Sigh!). The teenagers love their apps and so does the rural population who cannot afford a PC but definitely a phablet/smartphone. They find it more convenient to shop on these "smart gadgets" than on a PC.

People are shifting to various wearable gadgets like smart health bands etc. And what would be required in those gadgets? Yes, an app! Convenience would shift pretty quickly from a website in a laptop to apps in mobile gadgets, as well as wearable ones like Apple watches and Google glasses (the next version of it). There is no place for websites in the near future, at least for luxury (sometimes very necessary) activities.

Argument 2: "No one will shop on the app!"

I believe this argument is rooted more in intuition than in fact. Worldwide, a solid 25% of consumers already use apps to make purchases and this number will only rise, as is evident from this Nielson study done in India. Moreover, once the rural population who do not have immediate access to computers, enter the picture, it would be a different ballgame altogether. And the penetrating "smart wearable gadgets" market would add to the success of apps.

Argument 3: "Even Amazon and Snapdeal have apps to compete with Flipkart."

Point duly noted! However, Amazon's website has more than a decade's worth of a headstart over Flipkart. They undoubtedly have massive infrastructure advantages in that sphere. Conversely, their app does not have much of a headstart on Flipkart's and hence, it can be rather safely assumed that an alpha does not exist amongst the e-commerce apps yet. As a consequence, Flipkart has a very good chance of winning that race, although it has most certainly lost out where the website is concerned.

"[O]nce Flipkart concentrate all their resources on making a super UI/UX for app consumers, doubts will slowly die."

Argument 4: "Why not keep the website along with the app?"

A little birdie tells me this might have something to do with costs. Maybe the costs they are incurring to maintain the website, its allied activities and the number of customers/sales generated from the website are not matching up properly. To add to that, the number of smartphone and smart wearable device holders are relatively on the rise and penetrating the market, opening up new frontiers for them.

Argument 5: "I will stop using Flipkart if it goes app-only."

It's the festive season again! And you have been craving that joy of an iPhone for a long time. Sigh! If only there existed a cheaper alternative... You are on the internet and suddenly come across an advertisement that makes all your immediate materialistic dreams come true! The only catch is that you would need to take the 30-ish seconds to download an app which is available for free and maybe another couple of minutes to look up the product and make a purchase. For most rational people, the trade-off seems to be very reasonable!

Argument 6: "I have not used Myntra after it went app-only."

I believe Myntra is a different story. I must admit their app experience is not yet up to the expected standard (according to me). Although their profits are apparently rising, I am sure they are losing out on new customers.

Argument 7: "Even on the mobile platform, People can and will compare prices. Flipkart will not be able to fool them."

I truly believe Flipkart will not try to stop people from doing their basic research before purchasing an item. That's just impossible in today's connected world. FYI, apps to compare prices on different online stores already exist! Flipkart will only retain customers and force loyalty by dint of their service i.e. app experience, convenience, and competitive prices, and nothing else.

Now let me give you some of my own points to ponder over:

  • Infrastructural cost reduction.
  • Increasing sales due to market penetration/expansion.
  • Added revenue generated from ads.
  • Nullifying Amazon's decade's worth of website/infrastructural/platform advantage.
  • Leverage of the rising ratio of mobile to desktop users (both youth and rural).
  • Penetration of the smart wearable gadgets/IOT.

Aren't these reasons good enough?

Innovations are happening in the app arena. Apps are the future. Three years from now, where do you think you are really are going to shop -- on your PC or on your smart band/watch/glasses?

"Apps are the future. Three years from now, where do you think you are really are going to shop -- on your PC or on your smart band/watch/glasses?"

So, Flipkart has started the transition, keeping a long-term vision in mind. They have a clear target of the customers they want to serve in the coming years. And once they come up with their own ecosystem of smart gadgets to complement this move, while improving the present condition of their apps, everyone will discover their much-needed convenience. You might doubt their move today, but the doubt stems from the poor nature of the app experience that they have today. Well, let's show some patience. Innovations in the mobile arena are happening as we speak and once Flipkart concentrate all their resources on making a super UI/UX for app consumers, doubts will slowly fizz out.

Now, if they don't do it, someone else will, and eventually, it is the app that will hold the key to convenience and easy access to e-commerce. The topic has more angles to it (as explained in my earlier article) but I really think this move is justified, provided they really up the ante in the UX/UI of the app.

Finally, I would like to close this topic by saying that I do not claim to be an expert. I do not speak for Flipkart, and I surely do not own a crystal ball to foresee the future (though that would be pretty neat).

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