#Asia A tale of two startups and their different outlooks on what India’s shoppers want



Photo by Mainstream

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” The opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities have a strange resonance in the fashion and lifestyle shopping landscape in India today.

There’s no dearth of choice for the online shopper: Snapdeal, Myntra, Jabong, Roposo, Limeroad – the list of marketplaces with lifestyle products, stuff like designer wear to jewelry and fitness equipment, is long. And yet, shoppers can be left confused and dissatisfied even as they are bombarded with offers everywhere.

For the finicky shopper, this crowded, noisy marketplace can be a frustrating, time-consuming experience. And while discounts are the primary driver for ecommerce in India, the jury is out on how well it works in the spaces where India’s nouveau riche hang out. Some will barely glance at a price tag, while others will want a bargain on a Tesla.

Two startups which announced funding rounds today have diametrically opposed views on the needs of the lifestyle and fashion shopper. One offers flash sales while the other pitches a curated, personalized shopping experience. They’re a study in contrast.

Will you be Smytten?


Photo by Art Comments

Hyderabad-based Smytten, a mobile app that launches this week, has a cool tag line: “Discover the best of premium brands, enjoy free trials, and own them if you’re Smytten.” This addresses two primary pain-points in luxury ecommerce: discovery and try-before-you-buy.

The plethora of fashion sites and mushrooming of brands and products have made it hard for the luxury shopper to satisfy his or her craving. Smytten promises to cut through the clutter from the very outset by curating premium brands and “handpicking” cool products. Along with curation, its backend algorithm is set up for profiling a consumer and personalizing their shopping.

More than that, it claims to have tied up with over 50 premium brands to offer trials. If executed well, this will solve a big problem for shoppers. “Despite the huge market for premium products and services, the information available is fragmented, interaction with brands is sub-optimal, trial avenues limited, and the sector has massive consumer trust issues due to counterfeit products,” says Swagata Sarangi, co-founder of Smytten.

An industry body recently estimated that at least a quarter of the branded products being sold online in India are fake.

Swagata and his co-founder Siddhartha Nangia are both graduates of the premier Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad. Siddhartha headed business marketing at Google, while Swagata was a director at Unilever before turning entrepreneur. They announced US$200,000 in seed funding from angel investors today.

A Styletag with a lower price tag


Meanwhile, another luxury fashion marketplace in the country announced a much larger funding round of US$7.5 million today – Styletag. Its aim is to make luxury products available at bargain basement prices with a flash sale model. “All the products at Styletag are handpicked and provided to the shoppers through flash sales that are put up for a limited period. There is 100 percent authenticity on all merchandise being sold as it comes directly from the manufacturer or a licensed agent,” claims a statement on Styletag’s funding.

The couple behind this site, Yashodhara and Sanjay Shroff, ran a luxury store called Ffolio in Bangalore for two decades before hitting upon Styletag. Their idea is to bring “the best of couture and affordable fashion” to millions of people in the smaller cities of India. But a cursory browse through the site shows no recognizable brands for the “designer products” being sold.

So there you have it – a tale of two startups and two Indias.

Which of these diametrically opposed approaches to lifestyle ecommerce will work better in India – Smytten or Styletag or both? Drop us a comment below.

See: 15 top-funded ecommerce startups in India this year – with a few surprises

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