Manasi Phadke

My ‘Appy’ Diwali

Manasi Phadke | Updated on November 17, 2021

Wanted, an app that allows you to haggle

I have had an extraordinarily ‘appy’ Diwali — absolutely full of apps. Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra, Nykaa and company have been whetting people’s ‘app’etites with those maddening discount seasons. Entire populations were found not working from home and comparing and ‘app’raising the prices across different sites.

There’s the minimum offer, and it goes off in exactly 13 minutes and six seconds, where’s the not-so-used credit card on which I can get a further 10 per cent discount, you mutter to the handbag, which stubbornly refuses to open the very compartment in which you kept the card and then you go at it vehemently, and now you have only six minutes and 13 seconds, but hold on! The other site shows price down and so you go there, but then you realise it still is not at that minimum the original site offered, but now its only two minutes five seconds and the handbag won’t comply.

What the hell, you shout in frustration, is there an offer on handbags? I need a handbag which has one feature — it opens! And you become Matilda and stare at the handbag willing it to open and then it does! But you know what, the credit card is not there, and now its only one minute to go, so you put in the usual credit card details and there! You shout gleefully, only to realise that the price down on the other site now shows a lower price plus 5 per cent discount on the usual credit card. Oh man!

There’s this thing about online shopping — you work really hard at it, but still don’t feel triumphant. That is due to the power of information — perfect information, over which economists go gaga over, can really make you depressed when shopping online.

Power of zero info

Now, the traditional way of Diwali shopping we used to have had a lot of information asymmetry built into the whole process — it was more like a zero-information expedition, actually. So, the family used to set out in the car, the kid singing happily in the backseat and the couple in the front dreading the crowds. You take 55 minutes to reach the shopping havens and another 55 trying to get parking.

By then, kid used to be hungry and the parents, tired beyond belief. And then you valiantly battle through the crowds, purse in one hand, and the child’s hands in the other, and then you are auto-pushed into a shop, not necessarily of your choice, but it’s well lit and the relief of seeing the own purse and child is so huge, you feel good even before you shop.

Then you yell down the other parents and enter a tug-of-war to buy that nice kurta which will so exactly suit bua-ke-dewar-ka-chacha. By then, the child goes wandering around and bawls his eyes out if you don’t buy him the jazzy blue shirt and then you are outside the changing room instructing the child inside on how best to put the arms into the sequined sleeves. The other mothers mutter ominously and in the meanwhile you also locate the exact grey shirt that suits sasurji.

It’s quite a fight to get into the payment line and then you are pushed into auto-exit with purse and bua-ke-dewar-ke-chacha-ki kurti in one hand, and child and sequins and sasurji ka shirt in the other. There might be another shop , boasting lower prices, but you are so, so done with the whole thing. You have exactly zero information on how much more you could have saved on the deal, and that whole fight has whetted your real ‘app’etite and you march into a restaurant, feeling triumphant and good. The power of zero information!

So, here’s a start-up idea. One can’t do away with the information being put out, but one can weave it into the app! Apps need to give online shopping a desi haggle-touch! Allow the shopper to put in a price that they are getting elsewhere and get the virtual shopkeeper to haggle. Shopper puts in a quote of ₹1,500 for the aforementioned handbag.

App says ‘Dusre app pe jao! This quality is only available at ₹2,500!’ Well, you are now entering active price discovery. Shopper puts in a quote for ₹1,800. App has to say the golden words, ‘Teri bhi nahi, meri bhi nahi! Final price ₹2,150!’ Please get me an app which ‘app’reciates how Indians shop!

The writer is a brave economist trying to laugh against the odds

Published on November 17, 2021

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