Flipkart-owned fashion discovery portal, Myntra, will re-launch its desktop website on June 1, ending the company’s push to become the world’s first app-only marketplace. While the jury is still out on whether the move was a bold experiment or a sour mistake, it’s clear that even a mobile-first country like India isn’t yet ready for a mobile-only service.
There are still people who shop only on a PC
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Myntra boss Ananth Narayanan said that the company expects sales to grow by 15-20% this year on the back of re-launching its desktop website.
Many studies, including the ones done by Myntra before shutting down its web presence in May 2015, showed that people actually spend more on mobile when compared to shopping online. The only explanation for the shift is that the fashion portal sees significant number of shoppers during office hours — evident in workers getting delivery of goods in most office complexes across large metros. The expected sales growth then can be attributed to these marginalised users who will now come back to shop on Myntra on their office PCs.
The smartphone isn’t yet the ideal shopping device
Smartphones may beat desktops on a lot of fronts, but providing the best shopping experience isn’t one of them. While smartphones make payments easier, apps are more customised to a user's preferences and notifications help them discover better deals, the lack of screen real estate and patchy and slow mobile internet connectivity in India are two huge hindrances.
Myntra, too, said that people like viewing products such as home furnishings and fine jewelry on larger screens, not to mention fashion products require more scrutiny before purchase than something like groceries.
The web experience is catching up with native apps
It helps that Google’s browser is the most widely used browser in the world (and in India). So, any improvements to Chrome can be counted as overall wins to web browsing.
Google has built in several features into Chrome that parallel native apps, such as custom notifications, auto logins, location logging and has even improved the kind of data web developers can collect from their users. The company has also built several web tools that allow developers build websites that follow its Material Design principles, the design language of its Android OS and native smartphone apps.
Registered users vs Transacting users
Flipkart claims it has 75 million registered users on its platform. However, ask any web expert and they’ll tell you the number of transacting users has barely crossed the 30 million user mark. Now these 30 million odd transacting users in all probability belong to the creamy layer in terms of income, that sit right at the top.
By the power of deduction, it's not hard to assume that while these users do indeed have smartphones, they also have access to desktops. Now choice becomes a huge part of a service’s offering to customers and taking it away isn’t an option. Ask Facebook, out of the 1.65 billion people that access its service, over a billion of them do so on mobile, however, the company continues to build out both web and app services, and doesn’t ignore the former.
Flipkart can’t afford to alienate even a small number of users
Myntra’s owner Flipkart is engaged in a heated battle with rivals Snapdeal and Amazon and regardless of who’s in front and who may be closing in, it’s probably right to assume that every customer Flipkart and Myntra turns down is a customer of the other two. By alienating users that wanted to shop on desktops, Flipkart wasn’t just losing users but was fueling the growth of its rivals. All along, we assumed that number would be quite small, but Myntra’s claim that bringing back its desktop website can yield an additional 15-20% in sales this year turns that assumption on its head.
So what should we expect next?
Myntra’s parent Flipkart has already built itself a Windows 10 app that runs on desktops running Microsoft’s latest OS. If apps do indeed provide better experience than websites that in turn result in higher yields for marketplaces, expect Myntra to do the same.
By launching a Windows 10 app, Myntra will be able to cater to the few users of Windows Phones as well as desktop users that are willing to download its app. However, given that Microsoft too is struggling to get people to adopt Windows 10, don’t expect Myntra or Flipkart to announce that they’re shutting down their desktop websites anytime soon.
The mobile-only debate in India is reminiscent of the debate that took place in developed markets such as the US when smartphones began to become huge. Web services now had a new medium to play on, smartphones, and ones that chose to stick to just the web soon lost out. Facebook and Amazon are prime examples of web services that took the leap of faith and built for mobile, and they gained significantly because of it.
In India, to dismiss the web and build for mobile isn't an option just yet. Unlike when the debate that panned out in the US, PCs aren’t growing to take over mobile, infact they’re dying if we’re to believe technology evolutionists. Still, to assume that the mobile has replaced the PC is daft. Many of us still use them almost on a daily basis and even if we don’t own one, we often encounter them at the workplace.
The future belongs to technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality and they will be primarily driven by mobile. Today it’s not farfetched to think of putting on a pair of virtual reality glasses and seeing yourself clothed in a dress or trousers you like on Myntra, and things are indeed moving in that direction. However, until mobiles get that far ahead of the PC, don’t dismiss the good old devices just yet.