#Asia Not your run-of-the mill ecommerce app: meet India’s first online flea market

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You can discover the most exquisite things at a flea market. Hand-painted glass bottles that don’t just store water but instantly prettify your kitchen; lemongrass natural soap that leaves you smelling sweet; or a chance to strike up the best conversation you’ve had in weeks. Who knows!

I’ve seen men and women like me (I mean similar age and social profile) exchanging addresses, phone numbers, and laughter at these carnival-like spaces within minutes of meeting each other for the first time.

Which ecommerce website lets you do that in India? I mean, come on, you know how sanitized Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal are.

The answer lies in online flea market app Yappily, which lets a buyer and seller interact and transact in 10 seconds literally. Over 17,000 users are doing that already.

“Talk, chat, discuss, debate, love, like, hate, review, learn, rejoice, make friends who shop, find experts, find opinionators, choose to agree or disagree with what is being sold, how it is being sold, how it is made, delivered, paid for or serviced. Ask for personalization, bargain.” That is how young co-founder Kamonasish Aayush Mazumdar describes his app.

The Yappily founders.

The Yappily founders.

The management graduate has co-founders in technology graduates Rohit Kumar and Rashmi Ranjan Padhy. When they came up with Yappily this year, they had a clear idea in mind. Their Bangalore-based startup would have to help in the discovery and curation of products which are otherwise difficult to find, provide a platform for new as well as pre-loved products, build a social network of “good” people, and make it work both offline and online.

That may sound a bit like consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace Carousell, but the Singapore-based startup is yet to set foot in India. It recently raised US$35 million in funding from marquee investors, including Sequoia India. But so far, apart from saying that it is looking at new markets that are mobile-first and internet savvy, it hasn’t announced any move India-ward.

Yappily has confidently seized the space with over 1,200 unique sellers – both online and offline – and more than 500,000 products on board.

Amazon versus emotions

Photo credit: Prayitno

Photo credit: Prayitno

The founders like to call it ‘India’s first social aided ecommerce startup’ – a concept they say is staring at a US$100 billion market in five years in India alone. You could say it’s a social network for shopping.

An online flea market showcases non-mass produced products. The buyers and sellers of Yappily thus seem to value the ‘difference’ more than the ‘sameness’ of just another ecommerce portal.

“As Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal et al, you are not selling product X, but you are selling price and delivery. We believe price and delivery are very important, but product categories, product history, product difference, and social elements are way more important,” Aayush tells Tech in Asia.

“We are a mini-economy within ourselves,” says Aayush. “Our sellers and buyers are not just sellers and buyers, they are people first who also sell and buy. In many instances, a seller is also a buyer in our app – something that no one else in the country can claim today. Those are the hallmarks of a true C2C product.”

You will know just how strong their focus on ‘people’ is when I tell you about Yappily’s offline flea market and declutter sale in Bangalore every month.

Indian rock band Parikrama is part of the Yappily concert in Bangalore.

Indian rock band Parikrama is part of the Yappily concert in Bangalore.

The one coming up this weekend is expected to have upwards of 250,000 products and a footfall of 20,000 people. Besides food stalls and contests, the startup has drawn some of the biggest names on the Indian music scene for the event. Who can resist a line-up of Arijit Singh, Raghu Dixit, Euphoria, Parikrama, and Indian Ocean please?

The founders know that only too well.

“It is one of the largest marriages of offline with online, and we will continue to do so in future. We not only believe that this marriage is important but we also believe it is necessary if you want to really reach a billion people in a country like ours,” says Aayush.

For their offline flea markets, they either charge a fixed price for every stall or a percentage of the actual sales at a stall – so that side of the business is actually profitable. Online, they don’t monetize yet. The average transaction value on the app is around US$7.

A community doesn’t cheat people

The things people unearth on Yappily range from clothes to accessories to home décor to artisanal and handcrafted products. A user could wake up to something new everyday – this will show up under Feed.

I am curious. With over 500,000 products to choose from, how much of the stuff on display really translates into a sale? “Assume 2 percent,” says Aayush adding, “This is a very difficult data point because of the way the product works currently.”

Handcrafted products at the Yappily sale.

Handcrafted products at the Yappily sale.

But being a flea market has its own challenges. I point to the problem of verification of sellers and wonder what the startup does in case of returns. After all, one of the best ways to succeed in ecommerce is an easy returns policy.

“Why is return important?” asks Aayush. “Assuming everything else is right, because things are 1) shipped wrong 2) wrong fit 3) violated by middlemen. We are ensuring none of those three things happen because, remember, we are not ecommerce, but social aided commerce.”

“It’s a community where things get discussed and debated, between buyer and seller, between buyer and buyer, between seller and seller. A community doesn’t cheat people, a community builds itself because of people.”

But I needle him. What if a wrong fit does happen? A buyer has the right to return a product, doesn’t she?

“They can return it between themselves where we will enable a very smooth return, but at a cost to either the seller and buyer – whosoever is at fault. Beyond that, we can take corrective action against the buyer or seller – including banning them from the community, if need be.”

As far as verification goes, “we know the details of users who register with us both as buyers and sellers. We will also be building algorithms to ensure you can have a ‘trust score’ plus ‘social validation’ in sometime.”

Given that there is virtually no one operating in this space in India yet, Yappily is happily planning to expand to cities like Delhi and Mumbai, as well as towns, in the next three to six months.

Countries other than India are on the radar too, especially developing ones where a combination of online and offline can be the key to success. Says Aayush, “Social aided commerce is initially going to be way more fruitful in India, South Asia – in developing countries rather than the US, Western Europe, and developed countries.”

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