What do you want to become when you grow up? Do you remember being asked this question as a child?
Well, I am one of those kids who couldn’t answer this question even into my teens! However, if the question was which subject do you like the most? I had an unwavering response. History and Literature!
I was mesmerized by the evolution of human civilization; the rise and fall of great empires like the Romans, the Ottomans, the Maurya’s, the Ming dynasty, or the Mongols fueled my undying urge to know more about the past. But what really enticed me was the thrill in joining the dots, like the migration of humans from Eastern Africa to other continents, the establishment of commerce between Indus valley and Mesopotamia, the logistics of the mammoth Silk Route from Asia to the Mediterranean Sea, the Sanskrit connection between India and Germany, and so much more. We think of globalization as a modern concept when actually its roots are old and deep! And trade in the ancient world (much like now) was the driving force in all these connections and journeys.
The crown jewel of commerce – the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with its 3,600 shops sprawled over 45000 square meters peddling everything from tea and timber to textile and tasty tidbits is today almost exactly like its centuries-old avatar.
Bazaar In The Time Of Coronavirus
As the Covid-19 pandemic forced us all indoor and online, have you wondered what happened to small traders and artisans? If your answer is that they moved online, then I would say yes, but it wasn’t a natural fit, and it took a lot of effort and ingenuity to make bazaars virtual.
Industries such as IT/ITES, Manufacturing, Education, Public Administration, Supply chain and Logistics all found ways to cope with the lockdown situation using a mix of technology and safety measures
The artisans and small niche traders suffered as they didn’t see a clear path to leveraging digital marketplaces. Thankfully concepts such as live bazaars and online trade fairs emerged and saved the day.
Online Trade fairs and Live Bazaars
The Artisanal community has conventionally banked on trade fairs for the marketing and sale of their products. A trade fair like Dilli Haat in New Delhi or an Arts Expo in any big city would attract many potential retail and bulk buyers of artisanal goods. The trade fairs gave artisans a platform to display their craft and connect with potential buyers. Much viewing of products, exchange of catalogs and samples, and negotiation happened in these forums.
This vibrant community, which infuses so much vibrancy in our houses, was one of the worst victims of the pandemic. With all trade fairs canceled, it became almost impossible for artisans to connect with buyers in the USA, the UK, Europe, Australia, and other markets with an appreciation for such goods. However, technology responded quickly to their woes, and major trade platforms launched live bazaars, or virtual trade shows to connect artisans with buyers digitally.
According to the digital magazine, digitalcommerce360, Alibaba conducted 20 online trade shows in June 2020 just to cater to the soaring demands in the United States market. In their own words, “Noting that transaction volume on Alibaba.com has grown by more than 85% during the recent months of the pandemic, the global marketplace today said it is building on that growth by launching a series of 20 online trade shows in the United States for specific industries. It also introduced new online payment and freight services.”
Similarly, Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) India has been busy facilitating digital trade shows like The Indian Handicrafts & Gifts Fair 2020 and The Indian Fashion Jewellery & Accessories Show (IFJAS 2020). EPCH describes the IFJAS 2020 as India’s first-ever virtual trade show that proved fruitful for its participants as well as global buyers. The 4-day event, with 200 exhibitors, fulfilled its most important objective of serving businesses in the right way. It was a sure-fire hit among exporters. The organizer claims that 1,200 buyers, wholesalers, and retailers from 81 countries and 500 buying agents marked their presence at the virtual event. More importantly, serious inquiries worth Rs. 150 crores were generated.
What Drives Success for These Digital Ventures?
Digital trade shows are built on two main pillars, namely, trust and flexibility.
- Trust is built when all sellers and buyers on the platform are verified for genuineness. What’s also important is that the underlying platform should be built on a very robust and scalable backend platform that flawlessly handles visitor traffic, security, validations, content management, order processing, and payments. All of this combined gives the distant buyer a sense of security while buying from a live bazaar in an online environment physically separated from their place of business.
- Flexibility comes in when buyers can get a live demo of products, along with a forum for discussion on customization and price negotiation. This ensures that buyers get the most realistic experience while the sanctity of the seller’s designs and pricing is maintained. What adds to the flexibility aspect of such shows is the support for multiple languages, currencies, and payment options. The UI should be simple to use, and the flow from product query to order placement should be very intuitive.
I have been fortunate to be engaged in building one such platform in India and have been able to observe its workings up close. It has been enormously exciting and satisfying, to say the least; we not only managed to pull a vast number of diverse small traders and artisans onto one platform in a short while, but we also managed to replicate the customer experience to a degree where sales numbers soared. People made buying decisions confidently and completed customer journeys with ease.
I would like to think my career in eCommerce evolved from an understanding of how trade has formed the backbone of all civilizations. Today I am part of a team that could recreate the Grand Bazaar of Turkey online! Today, this digitally interconnected world makes it entirely possible for me to order an exquisite Ottoman-style carpet while sipping a cup of Irish coffee and feasting upon excellent baklava from my comfy couch in India.