Ahead of festive season, e-tailers launch apps that go easy on data

Both Flipkart and Amazon India now claim to have the ‘lightest e-commerce app in the market’

Firms are launching apps for phones low on storage and take longer to run apps. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Firms are launching apps for phones low on storage and take longer to run apps. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Bengaluru: India’s top e-commerce firms are introducing apps that consume less data and light mobile websites to make online shopping a smoother experience for customers with low-end smartphones that have low storage space and take longer to run apps.

Amazon has launched a new lighter version of its main app for Indian online shoppers, ahead of the festival season as it prepares to take on rival Flipkart next week in what is widely being seen as the biggest sales showdown in Indian e-commerce.

Amazon India chief Amit Agarwal said the new app has been launched to target customers in remote parts of the country that do not have access to 3G or 4G networks.

“If you take a low-spec feature phone and try to download the Amazon app from the app store, it actually downloads a different app which is less than 2Mbs. It’s the lightest e-commerce app out there. And that’s pretty amazing because we talked about the mobile part of it—that’s one way to see that you can strip out a lot of the parts that people don’t use, but still provide a very compelling experience,” Agarwal said in an interview.

Meanwhile, Flipkart is fine-tuning its “progressive web app” known as Flipkart Lite and over the past nine months has been working with companies that run web browsers including Google Chrome, UCWeb and Opera to customise the site.

“We reached out to Google Chrome -- and then went to other browsers. What has happened in the last nine months...in order to reach out to as many customers as possible, we worked with browsers like UCWeb and Opera Mini,” said Amar Nagaram, vice-president of engineering at Flipkart, in an interview.

Flipkart had re-launched the mobile web business in November by introducing web-based apps that were aimed to improve the user experience and convenience to shop on mobile phone browsers.

“What we’ve seen is also a pickup in engagement time. On our previous mobile site, people used to spend 70 seconds -- now people are spending close to four minutes. People are engaging with the mobile site more,” Nagaram said.

“Before we launched Flipkart Lite, we realized that our mobile site was actually not converting as much as our app. The amount of effort we were putting in on both the website and the app and the returns on the respective channels were not even comparable,” added Nagaram.

Flipkart has since also attempted to blur the lines between its main mobile app and Flipkart Lite and has attempted to shrink the size of the main app as well, Nagaram said.

Both Flipkart and Amazon India now claim to have the “lightest e-commerce app in the market.”

These steps are aimed to address the core problem facing online retailers: the e-commerce market, in terms of the number of users, is facing stagnation and hasn’t grown so far this year.

The number of transacting users, those who buy things online on a fairly regular basis, has stagnated at 50-60 million since the start of 2016, according to industry executives.

“The bigger question is what will they (the growing number of Internet users) do once they are online? When it comes to purchasing power, only about 50-100 million Indians have that luxury. Unless the GDP of the country grows at 10% over the next 5-10 years, it’ll be tough to see India matching the kind of (e-commerce and other digital business) numbers that you saw in China,” said Rutvik Doshi, director, Inventus (India) Advisors, a venture capital firm.

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