Haggling is a skill that comes with potential savings. But whoever heard of haggling in e-commerce?

Online shopping has till now largely been a fixed price model, albeit with lots of discounts thrown in. But we all know how much Indians love the art of driving a good bargain. To build the culturally important gesture of letting consumers feel they have got a good dea, Flipkart, Dentsu Webchutney and Google incorporated an innovative 'Hagglebot' in this year's edition of The Big Billion Days.

Voice, AI, and cultural nuances are emerging as the big new things in this year’s festive sales. “I really like the festive season online this year as players have been experimenting not just on sales or discounts, but also financing options, and have taken steps to introduce voice, AI and language search,” says Prasad Shejale, co founder and CEO, Logicserve Digital, a digital marketing consulting firm. The Hagglebot, he says, is an interesting tool, and commends the two big players for finding new ways for consumers to transact online.

"Hagglebot is a product of creative and technological collaboration among four teams across multiple continents: Flipkart, Dentsu Webchutney, ZOO @ Google and Codroit Tech, with work that happened across Bengaluru, Delhi-NCR, Tokyo and Singapore for close to 4-5 months," says PG Aditiya, Executive Creative Director, Dentsu Webchutney. He calls it a global-level first-of-its-kind experience.

Explaining why the team decided to incorporate haggling into this season's sales, Aditiya says, "The truly Indian habit of bargaining is what provides the thrill of getting a better deal. For years, India has trusted Flipkart to give these fantastic deals to them. This year, we figured we would trust our consumers back."

After saying "OK Google, talk to Flipkart, we immerse users in an adventure which involves bargaining with Assistant to get a better deal…just like they would with a storekeeper. Users try to get to the lowest price, upon which the winner is crowned The Big Billion Days ka Boss," explains Aditiya.

The Dentsu Webchutney team researched popular markets across India to understand how exactly the bargaining process works. Hours of footage was recorded, and things one would actually hear from a shopkeeper were simulated in the experience.

Lighting Up

If we saw Flipkart introduce bargaining, Amazon lit a new trail with its association with Signify (formerly Philips Lighting). Ahead of Amazon's Great Indian Festival sale, Philips Hue lit up the 'Amazon Festival Home', set up in New Delhi, between September 27 and 29.

The 'Amazon Festival Home' is a marquee event hosted in an actual bungalow in New Delhi, and showcased over 1,650 plus products, including the Philips Hue connected home lighting products.

Kaveesh Chawla, Director-Category Management, Amazon India said as consumers gear up for the festive season, "the Amazon Festive Home is an introduction to the kind of selection we have in store for them from India’s biggest brands."

Spreading wider

Prasad Shejale of Logicserve Digital says this he expects this year’s festive sales to be the biggest ever because of the way it has spread into smaller metros and tier 2 towns.

At Snapdeal's five day Mega Diwali Sale, which went live on October 10, two out of three buyers were from non metros.

As a Snapdeal spokesperson said, "In the first two days of our sale, the shipped volumes have more than doubled and continues to grow."

Ecommerce platform Paytm Mall too said it has seen an uptick in sales from tier II and III cities, many of whom were first time buyers.

EMI and bank offers too have helped with the shopping frenzy. For instance HDFC Bank has 'Happy Hours' from 5 pm to 9 pm that will last from Oct 15 to Nov 10. Amazon has programmes like its Amazon Pay EMI, no-cost EMI, EMI on credit and debit Cards, and instant bank discounts, among other offers this season.

Amazon Pay EMI provides instant financing options to customers who may not yet have access to credit for purchasing high value products, upto Rs 60,000 by splitting their purchases into instalments at low interest rates.

Though it is an invite-only programme to start with and selected customers have to complete a simple two-step registration process to get an assigned credit limit which they can use to make high value purchases on Amazon marketplace, Amazon Pay aims to reach out to customers who do not have access to credit cards and consumer lending solutions. Amazon Pay has partnered with Capital Float as its lending partner to design and enable Amazon Pay EMI.

Ad Blitzkrieg

Media agencies tracking the sector say e-commerce platforms are expected to spend 12-14 per cent more on marketing this festive season. Though primarily fuelled by Amazon and Walmart, smaller players are also lining up their ad campaigns.

Kunal Dubey, Director-Brand Marketing, Head-Media planning and Buying, Flipkart, termed The Big Billion Days a brand in itself.

"Tech-based innovation is one of the key pillars for us where we go beyond just advertising to integrate with the content that people consume. Our intent is to set the benchmark for the marketing fraternity with respect to how campaigns are designed, planned and executed. We aim to bring alive the ideas that are disruptive, unique and scalable," he said.

The two rivals (Flipkart-Amazon) are slated to capture nearly 85 per cent of all festive season sales in India, estimated to hover between $2.5 billion to $3 billion this year, according to research firm RedSeer Consulting.

Festive sales tend to power the growth of e-tailing. With their attractive deals and exclusive launches, festive days enable e-tailers to increase active customer base by 20-40 per cent, says a RedSeer report, adding festive sales have played a crucial role in ushering India into the era of online retail; it powered 6x growth in online market over the last five years as online retail penetration went from 0.7 per cent in 2014 to more than 3.2 per cent projected this year. This will be the first-time online retail will cross the 3 per cent penetration mark, which will be a landmark.

The size of India's online retail has grown from $4.5 billion in 2014, the year of the first festive sales, to $25 billion projected at the end of this year. Annual online shoppers (shopping at least once a year) increased from 25 million to 100+ million projected in 2018, a massive growth by any standards.

This could well be a tipping point for shopping @ a click in India.

(with inputs from Chitra Narayanan )