Social Commerce Can Be Better Than e-commerce
The “right” way of ordering something online is to use an e-commerce site or app. But many people order via WhatsApp. Including me — I have been buying medicines from the neighborhood shop for years this way. I tended to dismiss this as not real e-commerce, but ad-hoc, informal solutions using tools not originally built for that purpose are not always a defective solution.
I recently realised that this is a better service than a traditional e-commerce site, in many ways:
- It has a lower barrier to entry than creating an account on a site, adding your address, adding your card, installing apps on all your devices, logging in everywhere, and so on.
- I just message what I want to the owner. I don’t have the overhead of selecting items, adding them to a cart, placing the order, not have the credit card OTP arrive, retry, etc.
- I don’t have to search the site to find what I want. I just message it to him and he does the search for me.
- When I don’t understand the doctor’s squiggles, which is often, I just take a photo of the prescription and message it to him. On an e-commerce site, I wouldn’t know what to put in the search box.
- If a medicine is not available, the owner recommends alternatives. When I was spending too much on a certain medicine and asked him for a cheaper alternative, he suggested one at half the price.
- If things go wrong, I can call up the owner. Whereas big companies have no accountability. For example, when I tried to cancel an order on 1mg, they told me they can’t cancel it, but I can refuse the delivery, and when it’s returned, I’ll get my money back. But the delivery boy refused to take it back, argued and spoke rudely. After going back, he called me and hassled me on the phone. I spoke to his boss, who was polite but didn’t fix anything. They wrongly marked it as delivered. 1mg wouldn’t listen to me. They had a dumb customer support agent who kept saying it’s delivered. And it turned out that the courier company had forged my signature. Big companies are often unaccountable because there are so many people involved, things can fall through the cracks, people have their defined jobs and stick to them, and customer dis-service people are told to just read scripts instead of being empowered to do what’s right for the customer. A small shop owner doesn’t have the attitude of “It’s not my job” because everything is his job.
- The service is excellent. Things haven’t gone seriously wrong even once in 12 years, probably because there’s accountability.
- The service is customised. For example, they don’t deliver in the afternoon because they know it’s inconvenient for us.
- There’s no delivery fee. It’s ironic that companies that are a thousand times bigger than a small medical shop, allegedly with a lot more sophistication and highly skilled experts on staff, can’t match this.
- If I need it urgently, they deliver immediately, such as in an hour, again at no fee. It’s a human relationship where we accommodate and help each other, not a bureaucratic system with procedures and policies.
- I pay at the end of the month, which is more convenient than paying each time, going through a checkout flow, selecting a card, having transactions fail, get an SMS and email both from my bank and the e-commerce site, and so on.
- I pay via IMPS, so middlemen don’t steal 2%, as with payment gateways. The owner said that he prefers delayed payment to losing 2%.
- I never get marketing spam, unlike companies that have an exploitative attitude towards customers. They’ve forgotten that if you treat people well, they reciprocate, and if you take advantage of people, they’ll reciprocate that, too.
- I have an authentic human relationship with the owner. He even came by to invite me to his sister’s wedding.
Small shops don’t have any of the VC-backed startup bullshit: they don’t burn through tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of money and then fail. Big startups can be like Chernobyl — big and dramatic in the wrong way. Small shops don’t have impressive glass buildings. They don’t have people with exotic job titles like VP, Strategic Partnerships who wear a suit and do god knows what. They don’t have PowerPoints with fancy business-speak like Incentivizing Disruptive User-Centric E-Markets. What small shops have is the critical thing in business: profit. Without that, a company is not a business; it’s a circus. It’s fun for a while to watch the clowns do their tricks, but eventually we must all go home. The other important thing small shops have is better service, and better relationships with loyal customers.
It’s good that this has been christened social commerce. Giving something a name gives it respect, reminding us that it’s a first-class option rather than a hack to be looked down upon.
My neighborhood medical shop wouldn’t benefit from tech in the traditional way. If tech is to help them, it needs to help these shops where they are. Initiatives like Facebook Shops are interesting because they’re approaching the problem the right way .
 Though I don’t know if their solution is right. But looking at the problem from the right perspective is half the battle won.