Ayesha Jhulka, who played Anjali in the 1992 blockbuster Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, went viral recently. The meme featured her singing the line ‘chahe tum kuch na kaho, maine sun liya’, from the hit song ‘Pehla Nasha’. The lyric translates to ‘even if you haven’t said a word, I have heard you’. It could be romantic, or, in today’s age of privacy, downright creepy. The widely shared joke was on the latter, more specifically, on AI algorithms on e-commerce platforms.
Have you noticed how ads, for instance, for a high-definition TV or 22 carat gold ring, pop up on your web browser, just when you were thinking of redecorating your house or making it official with your partner?
In spite of these intrusive targeting, e-commerce websites such as Flipkart and Amazon don’t have the reach they dreamt of. The target audience is too varied. Therefore, brands now rely on alternative e-commerce models in India, which operate through social networks (such as the family WhatsApp group), communities (such as websites giving grooming advice) and videos by influencers (stars and local celebrities, even Sonali Phogat may be welcome). These models rely on trust and familiarity.
The alternative e-commerce model story started first in China, like most do these days. Social commerce start-ups such as Pinduoduo, Little Red Book and Yunji saw booming business in our neighbouring country, challenging the might of Alibaba and peers by managing billion-dollar IPOs. Pinduoduo raised $1.6 billion on Nasdaq (valuation of $24 billion) in 2018 while Yunji raised $121 million on the same exchange earlier this year (valuation of $3 billion). These newbies are likely to corner 20% of the overall e-commerce sales there is this year.
India has a demographic similar to China, according to Dhruv Kapoor, partner at ven