Net gain

Sharmi Adhikary | Updated on: Feb 01, 2019

Shoppers of the world: From fashion to food to beauty, there is something for everybody wanting to buy or sell on FB

Want to sell home-baked cakes, or jewellery or clothes? Just log on to Facebook

Shipra Alam has shut one enterprise and started another. Vividh Studio, her boutique in Pune for handloom saris and fabrics, has changed locations. The brick-and-mortar shop has downed its shutter, but a new outfit has sprung up on Facebook (FB).

For many business people, the internet is the new address. And FB is a hot favourite for a host of reasons: It has a wide client base, there is no rent to be paid, and there are no other overheads. “I’d rather have Facebook traction than walk-ins that do not translate into sales,” Alam says.

From fashion to food to beauty, there is something for everybody wanting to buy or sell on FB. After all, India is believed to have some 201 million active FB monthly users — that is, people who log in to the site at least once a month.

Supriya Malik is among those to have jumped on the social media market bandwagon, armed with the belief that the age of online entrepreneurship is right here, right now. She launched Indulgeo Essentials, a label selling natural beauty concoctions, on FB, following an overwhelming response from a group called Gurgaon Moms to her simple query: Would you like to try out my mother’s potions? “Facebook helped me set up shop,” says Malik.


Avipsha Thakur, owner of Bunavat Weaves

Given the ease of doing business in the virtual space — the transition from incubation to setting up a business isn’t tough, provided you click the right button at the right time — entrepreneurs are daring to dream. Avipsha Thakur, owner of Bunavat Weaves, a social enterprise selling handwoven and handcrafted products to urban woman, says, “We chose FB because we didn’t have the commercial bandwidth for a website, leave alone a store. It was a great platform to test the market, reach out to a global audience and gain traction.”

For Vishakha Bhaskkar, going live with an e-store was the first and only option when she decided to launch her fashion label, Angrakhaa. It is, she points out, cheaper than a physical storefront, entails a lower start-up cost and caters specifically to demand. “We operate on a made-to-order model. Inventory pile-up is the last thing you bother about in an online store. No wonder, we broke even soon,” Bhaskkar says.

Many who want to start a business are now looking at FB (as well as other sites) as the starting point. Take Priyanka Kondaveeti of Earthica, a Hyderabad-based ethical fashion label working in tandem with several artisans. “We started with an online model as we did not have enough funds. Also, our target audience visits the virtual world more often than they step into malls or stores,” she says.


Aditi Chakraborty, whose label Anki Buki Aditi includes handmade jewellery and apparel


The marketing mantra — location, location, location — does not apply to e-sellers. Sanjiv Kumar of Sangisathi, a fashion label launched to promote traditional Indian crafts and arts, has an outfit in Indore, but reaches out to the world with his FB presence. “We are based in Indore, the wrong place to sell our products. So, an online business on FB is the best option,” he says.

Aditi Chakraborty, whose label Anki Buki Aditi includes handmade jewellery and apparel, says sitting in Kolkata she sells her products to clients in Australia, Germany and the US.

Many online entrepreneurs point out that they started out merely as people who had a knack for creating something. Delhi-based Rewati Rau baked cakes, and soon found herself taking orders on FB, just as Kolkata resident Joyeeta Bose started selling hand-painted accessories after the images she posted on the site were greatly admired by her friends.

“Appreciation from friends on FB egged me to launch JoyeetaJoyArt. Word-of-mouth publicity also helped,” says Bose. Adds Rau, whose cakes at Bikku Bakes have been selling, well, like hot cakes, “I was stoked when a classmate messaged me on FB from the US and placed an order for her folks in Delhi.”

Most of the entrepreneurs, however, point out that FB is not a money-making platform. Instagram, they stress, attracts greater sales whereas Facebook gives them space to build their brands. Kondaveeti believes FB and Instagram should provide an organised menu feature for business pages.

The problem is that, being level playing fields, social media platforms are crowded with players and brands may need to spend on advertising or influencers to be heard and seen. Some people opt for paid promotions through Facebook for more visibility.

The entrepreneurs also rue the fact that likes and hits do not necessarily lead to sales but mere virtual window-shopping. Sales often depend not so much on what a business does but on the presentation of an image that starts trending.

“There are so many brands and items available on FB, and tons with false advertising, that it is difficult to differentiate the good from the bad. Good products get lost in the heap of fake items sold at cheap prices,” Kumar says.

It is easy to rip off designs, too. Sanjukta Roy, who runs Mareegold India, a silver and fashion jewellery brand, sometimes sees her designs duplicated and sold at cheaper rates. “That’s a nuisance in an open marketplace,” Bose adds.

But for Pragya Shrivastava of Silvermoti, a jewellery label based in Jabalpur, virtual has proved to be the real deal. On a recent train to Delhi, she saw a woman wearing a pretty pearl string. “I kept staring at her because the pearls looked familiar. On complimenting her, she said she had bought it from Silvermoti, which she follows on FB,” says Shrivastava. “It still gives me goosebumps.”

Sharmi Adhikary is a freelance journalist based in Delhi

Published on February 01, 2019
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