E-commerce helped our business survive the pandemic

Dheer Shah, MD, Jivraj Tea Company reckons that when he decided to launch Samaara Tea only on e-commerce platforms, he faced questions like why will a consumer who is used to buying tea from local departmental stores would buy such an essential yet basic commodity online. The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a blessing in disguise for the company, as it helped the company survive the economic uncertainty caused due to the pandemic. 

Dheer Shah, MD, Jivraj Assam tea

IBT: What role does e-commerce play in your business? What initial hiccups did you face while establishing your brand’s online presence?

Dheer Shah: Our primary focus at Samaara Tea has been to strive forward with superior quality of product while adapting to the changing national & international market trends. After observing and analysing the shift of India’s trade market from offline platforms to an e-commerce marketplace, we at Samaara decided to establish ourselves in the present and future of trading in India i.e. e-commerce. Thus, Samaara Tea is available across India on e-commerce platforms such as our website, Amazon etc. 

In the process to make Samaara a renowned name in the e-commerce trade industry, we faced obstacles which were a bit different from what a tea manufacturer and trader generally faces in the traditional offline space. I distinctly remember being asked and doubted when we decided to launch Samaara Tea only on e-commerce platforms, that why will a consumer who is used to buying tea from local departmental stores would buy such an essential yet basic commodity online? Well one of the major challenges we faced while establishing Samaara’s presence online was breaking this mindset and making tea accessible online. 

IBT: How did e-commerce help you sustain your business during the pandemic?

Dheer Shah: Businesses worldwide had faced the initial hit and panic raised by the pandemic. However, e-commerce helped our industry and Samaara surge forward comparatively easily. The pandemic led to closing of shops in India in a three month imposed lockdown. While all the local shops and offline trading channels were closed there was an influx in online sales on various e-commerce platforms. 

People started to rely upon online methods of buying essential FMCG goods to sourcing luxurious commodities. The fear of catching the virus while shopping from a crowded marketplace was highly inept; thus, there was a shift in majority of Indian’s buyers to try e-commerce channels. This played to our advantage and placed our product which is available online at an advantage. According to an economic report, the food and beverage industry saw a global rise of 23% in online sales. Thus, e-commerce has helped our business survive the economic uncertainty caused due to the pandemic. 

IBT: What are the key commodities that are traded across borders on your platform? Which are the main areas they are exported to?

Dheer Shah: Some of the key commodities amongst the wide variety of teas we trade across borders are black tea and green tea. Apart from these two, we have a vast product range which includes flavoured green tea, masala CTC black tea etc. Major countries where our teas are exported to are the UK, USA, South Africa, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Oman, Qatar and several other parts of Europe and the Middle East. 

IBT: How does the cross border e-commerce trade work in terms of payment options, return and shipping policy, etc.? What challenges exist in its operations?

Dheer Shah: Samaara is available across borders on offline stores thus eliminating the major payment issues, return and shipping hiccups. Our international consumers can find Samaara Tea at local departmental stores and buy without any discrepancies. We have a distributorship in place with our international markets in which we export our products and the payment channel is set through distributors. 

IBT: What are the opportunities/challenges do e-commerce sales have vis-a-vis retail?

Dheer Shah: The opportunities that we face in e-commerce is the opportunity of up-scaling. We are able to reach more consumers easily and globally. The problem of setting up a trade network including distributors and salesmen is eliminated. Generation of influencer content creates testimonials, awareness and helps in building loyal consumers and generating quicker ROS. Another major advantage of e-commerce is that there is no cost of shelving. We can manufacture the product, store it in warehouses and then ship it to our end consumers easily. 

The challenges we face in e-commerce entail the tedious process of trust building of consumers on the quality and taste of our products. As the touch and feel of the product is absent, we often face the issue wherein the consumer hesitates before making a buying decision, as he/she is unable to decide the quantity and size of the products. Another major challenge is the return of orders, as in India we accept cash on delivery. Due to this, whenever there is return in orders the company faces additional cost for delivery and pickup for the same.

IBT: How can the contribution of e-tail to India’s GDP be enhanced in the next 5 years? What can the government facilitate the same?

Dheer Shah: The e-tail segment is facing a major boom in today’s market. For instance, in the pandemic Amazon’s sales increase by 300%. The significant shift in the choice of potential buyers and a change in their buying behaviour has increased the profits earned by the E-tail segment. Thus it’s a given that the industry will boom in India and enhance the GDP in next 5 years. The government can create schemes and policies that encourage the buyers to host their businesses online and choose e-commerce marketplace. 

Dheer Shah is the Managing Director of Jivraj Tea, a progressive company dating back to 1900’s and serving the global market with high quality Indian teas. He has a history of working in the food & beverages industry. He is skilled in Retail, Product Marketing, Retail Sales, Marketing, and Social Media Marketing. He has a Bachelor’s degree focused in Business Administration and Management, General from Christ University, Bangalore.

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