The new room would measure five inches or maybe a tad more, and be powered by a quad- or octa-core processor. Though much smaller than the conventional changing room of a brick and mortar apparel store, online retailers say the smartphone will do for India's fashion industry what Bruce Lee did for martial art movies.
"Fashion is the fastest growing category in online retail after electronics," says Prasad Kompalli, head of e-commerce platform at Myntra, one of India's largest online fashion retailers. Currently, every third search term from India is fashion related, says a Google study. It estimates that by 2020, online fashion retail will be 35% of the total online retail revenue generated in India. Currently, it accounts for 1% of the $43 billion fashion, accessories and footwear market.
With most of the action moving to mobile screens, the Bangalore-based Myntra, which was acquired by Flipkart for around Rs 2,000 crore last year, now plans to shut down its year, now plans to shut down its website and focus on its app.
"We are expecting 300% growth in sales in the next financial year," he says. The optimism is based on the fact that for Myntra, online traffic from mobile has jumped to 90% from 10% in less than a year. "When it comes to fashion, apps are more engaging. We are developing new features to track the social calendars of customers and advise them on what to wear on what occasion," says Kompalli.
Fashion as a category is infinitely more complex than say, selling mobile phones on the net. The phone is a standard product and comes in sealed boxes. Clothes or shoes are much more varied. How does one get a fix on colour, size, the cut of dresses, the fit of shoes etc?
The no-fuss facility of returns is a deal maker. For instance, Fashionara allows its customers to try clothes at home before paying, while Myntra has recently tied up with local tailors in Bangalore to pilot a customization project which includes alteration of new clothes.
Anant Nahata, the 31-year-old behind e-commerce portal Koovs, says technological advances will only enhance the online shopping experience in days to come. "Nearly all hurdles have been crossed apart from the touch and feel factor that a physical store offers. Even that will be solved by new developments in 3D technology," he says.
Koovs started off by offering deals on electronics, but Nahata, who is joint MD, transformed it into a fashion retail website.
His sprawling office in Gurgaon teems with designers who churn out chic fashion content for the in-house magazine as well as the website. "When e-commerce started here, people thought it would remain a small adjunct to brick-and-mortar behemoths. But that perception is changing fast," he says.
Amazon too has shifted its focus to fashion. "Since launch, our selection of shoes has grown by 350%, handbags and clutches by 500% and jewellery by 3000%," says Amit Agarwal, country head, Amazon India. The growth figures are, of course, so dramatic because of the low base.
The Seattle-based company sponsored the India Fashion Week last month got a bevy of fashion designers to sell on its website. It also plans to launch at least eight premium fashion brands in the next few weeks.
"The margins in fashion are fatter than those in electronics," says Praveen Sinha, founder and MD of Jabong, a Gurgaon-based fashion e-tailer that sells everything from shoes to sunglasses. "And, it's quite likely you will buy more shirts than cellphones during your entire life."
Since its launch around three years ago, the fashion portal has gone from sales of Rs 4.6 crore in 2011-2012 to Rs 527 crore in 2013-14 - a growth of 11,357%. In the same period, Jabong and Myntra's combined top lines outpaced those of fashion giants such as Zara and Levi's.
"High street won't be able to compete with online retail," claims Vivek Gaur, founder of Yepme, an online retailer that sells affordable fresh fashion. "When kids used to internet enabled devices grow up, they will not know any other way to shop."
However, that's still a long way off. Despite clocking blistering growth, most e-tailers have not yet come out of the red. But the low penetration of online retail has helped these companies raise more funds.
"The headroom to grow in fashion is huge," says Arun Sirdeshmukh, the former CEO of Reliance Trends who launched Fashionara, currently valued at Rs 200 crore. "Margins in electronics and books are traditionally wilting and penetration of online sales in these categories has reached a saturation point in developed markets. In the US, for instance, one out of every two books sold is bought online while one out of eight fashion-related products sold is bought online. Here, only one out of every 100 fashion-related items sold is bought online." Sirdeshmukh is looking to double his business to Rs 500 crore this year, and has raked in around $15 million in funding.
So, is the game up for offline fashion retailers? Or can they measure up with a combination of physical and online formats?
"Offline retail is not dead," says Rahul Chowdhri, partner with Helion Venture Partners, a VC fund that has stakes in companies such as Fashionara, Yepme and Shopclues. "Offline players will find a way to adapt and combine their services with online players, and online players too will do the same. For instance, there is an emergence of fashion discovery startups like Wooplr that bridges the offline-online divide by allowing people to add their favorite products and stores in the city and share it with others. The platform helps people discover new products available in their neighborhood and also allows offline stores to acquire an online customer base and increase in-store sales," he says