Business Standard

Online retailers: Amazon versus Flipkart versus eBay

Business Standard buys products from all three and lists the key differences

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With the formal entry of Amazon, the world's largest online retailer into India, buyers have another option, besides the two best known entities - and Flipkart. Currently, product options on are limited. It offers only books and movies, and intends to add other products in time. Both and eBay offer a wider range of products.

Business Standard bought a book, Khaled Hosseini's And The Mountains Echoed, and a film DVD, Life of Pi, each from Amazon, Flipkart and eBay. On the Amazon site, the book was priced at Rs 370, Rs 420 on Flipkart (Rs 370 and a Rs 50 delivery charge for books costing less than Rs 500) and Rs 479 on eBay. On eBay, prices and discounts are decided by individual sellers. Therefore, there are different price options for the same product - if a product is available for a particular price one day, it isn't necessary it would cost the same a day later.

Unlike the other sites, Amazon allows one to preview a book before buying it. Some books on the site have a "look inside" sign, though a note reads "This is a preview. The number of pages displayed is limited". (CHOOSE THE ONE BEST FOR YOU)

The DVD of Life of Pi costs Rs 478 on Amazon, Rs 1,199 (excluding delivery charge) on Flipkart and Rs 521 (including shipping cost) on eBay.

What differentiated the three sites were the price range and the number of sellers. Amazon has eight options for Khaled Hosseini's book - ranging from Rs 370 to Rs 599 - across sellers. For Life of Pi, there were four options - between Rs 122 (for Hindi) and Rs 1,499.

The prices on eBay were slightly higher. For the English version of the film, there were six options in the range of Rs 521 and Rs 1,739. For the book, there were five options - priced between Rs 419 and Rs 599. Some offered free shipping, while others had a shipping charge (Rs 59-99) decided by sellers. If you choose an item that doesn't have an extra shipping charge, it doesn't mean it would take longer to be delivered, compared to items with an extra shipping charge.

Flipkart offered limited options; in fact, just one. Four options for the book (priced at Rs 599-2,000) were out of stock. The film was available at Rs 1,199, while three options (priced at Rs 479-1,699) were unavailable.

The fact that a delivery charge of Rs 49 is shown in the bill before payment is being used as a marketing pitch by Amazon. However, the bill says this charge is waived. Flipkart has a Rs 50 delivery charge for books priced less than Rs 500. Experts say if Amazon starts charging shipping costs, it would be an expensive online store.

From a storage facility perspective, Amazon's model is better, says Amit Bhargav, a Bangalore-based IT professional.

"While Flipkart buys books from publishers and maintains its own inventory, Amazon is a marketplace. This is a big plus point, as I don't need to shop through more than one e-tailer for the best deal," he says.

But this presents a challenge as well. Since the product is ordered from different e-tailers, delivery may not be possible on the same day. "This is because it offers products from various sources and those sources dispatch your purchase, taking their own time," Bhargav says. So, in case you are buying three products to gift the same person, you may have to order these well in advance to ensure these are delivered on time.

With eBay (another marketplace), too, this is the case. Business Standard placed the orders for the book and the CD on the same day. The book arrived two days after placing the order and the CD arrived three days later.

Similarly, when Business Standard bought the DVD, Amazon said the product would reach in two-four business days; the next day, came a mail saying the product had been shipped. Delivery happened in two days of placing the order. Given the book was from a store (Makemeread), delivery would take four-seven business days, the site said. But this, too, was received within two days of placing the order.

This is where Flipkart scores. Flipkart dispatches such products together.

The transaction speed on Amazon is better than that on Flipkart. But for those looking for cash-on-delivery, Flipkart could be a better option. It mentions cash-on-delivery as a mode of payment, along with credit cards, debit cards and net banking, unlike Amazon, which doesn't allow such payments for all items. Of course, the deal could be a tad expensive, as Flipkart has less stocks compared to Amazon. Also, it levies a delivery charge. On eBay, the cash-on-delivery option is available only if a seller offers it.

From Amazon, one cannot buy as a guest user; to be able to complete a transaction, it is mandatory to register with the site or make an account there.

eBay, however, also allows purchases by guest users, though a guest user can carry out only up to five transactions. Also, guests would miss out on benefits such as coupons and other discounts.

Flipkart allows one to buy as a guest user. After the guest user provides details (name and e-mail ID), it makes an account (with the e-mail ID) and mails the details to that id. So, one has to remember the email id and password concerned, as he/she would need these for every transaction.

eBay offers 15-20 per cent discounts for non-fiction books and up to 40 per cent for the fiction segment. Usually, discounts on best-sellers are better, says Deepa Thomas, the company's e-commerce evangelist. "A foreign author's Indian edition book would have the same discounts as that on an Indian author's. A foreign edition may not have as high a discount," she adds.


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