Northeast entrepreneurs devise own e-commerce mantras

Rana Pratap Saikia

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A clutch of young north-eastern entrepreneurs are persisting to make a mark in e-commerce

Guwahati: For Nagaland entrepreneur Lipokjungla Ozukum, the buzzwords are “swift, customer-friendly, efficient“.

The Dimapur-based entrepreneur uses these words to describe the process of courting potential customers through e-commerce platforms.

Ozukum, 37, found herself at the forefront of the huge e-commerce boom that swept Northeast India after she co-founded ilandlo, arguably the biggest online platform for indigenously produced goods from Nagaland, in 2014.

“Our journey began when my partner Imtisunup Longchar and I decided to start our own venture after returning from big cities as we saw the opportunity to harness the booming power of the internet,” Ozukum recently told Business Northeast over the phone. While Ozukum returned to Nagaland from Hyderabad, Longchar returned from New Delhi.

In the cities in rest of India, Ozukum and her partner discovered that since traditional food items, handloom, and handicrafts from Nagaland were not readily available, they often had “to depend on friends and family who would bring them back from Nagaland.”

“Recognizing the need for a platform that could make these treasures easily accessible all over India, we were inspired to launch focusing on products exclusively from the Northeast region,” says Ozukum, adding that the platform now hosts over 500 vendors from the region who sell their wares through the site.

“E-commerce platforms provide a significant advantage over conventional platforms by offering a broader reach and accessibility,” she said. This allows the platform to connect with a national audience interested in niche products, added Ozukum.

There are others who use buzzwords like “persistence and patience” if one wants to succeed in e-commerce.

The secret to establishing a brand in e-commerce, says Guwahati-based Prarthana Majumdar, also 37, is about seven years of consistent hard work, delivery, and good customer care. Prarthana is the founder and CEO of the lifestyle brand ‘Dzukou’ named after the verdant Dzukou valley. Dzukou is inspired by local handicrafts to produce top-tier accessories and eco-friendly utilities.

“During the initial years, young companies have to take the help of established e-commerce players like Amazon and Flipkart. After 7-8 years, once you have earned the trust, they (consumers) will switch to your own website. This is more beneficial for us, as we tend to save a lot on commissions and are able to offer better prices to customers,” explains Prarthana.

“To build trust, a company has to invest in ads, deliver good products, introduce new products from time to time, and provide first-class customer care,” she says.

Dzukou has its own website and like many e-commerce platforms in the region, caters mostly to an international audience.

The past few months have been challenging for Swati Thounaojam a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur from Imphal, Manipur. Thounaojam opened her platform, which she named to “promote the diversity of Manipur” after returning from Pune a few years back. “Things were going well”, says Swati, before business took a huge hit following ethnic clashes and the subsequent internet ban in the state in May.

“However, things cannot stay like this forever,” Thounaojam tells Business Northeast with optimism. “We aim to introduce Manipur to the world through its very talented entrepreneurs and we hope to be able to continue with that vision soon. I am still in touch with many of our craftsmen and manufacturers and we are working on an upgraded version of our website.”

Rajib Bonia, 28, says he found a winning combination when he started using Instagram to promote his company, ‘Konmani Store,’ in addition to running a store in Dibrugarh, Assam. Bonia’s company specializes in traditional Assamese jewellery crafted by indigenous artisans in villages in the Nagaon and Dibrugarh districts with the utmost "care and precision.":

“We have photoshoots to promote our products and keep updating our social media platforms constantly with pictures, reels, and videos of our latest items, usually to great response. We have shipped out products across India and even overseas,” Bonia told Business North East.” Online business, reveals Bonia, makes up a huge chunk of Konmani’s annual turnover. “Annually, we are able to move products worth around Rs 45 lakh through online business alone,” he says.

“The importance of bigger platforms – especially Instagram, where we have almost 20,000 followers – cannot be understated,” said Bonia. The entrepreneur also feels that e-commerce has “levelled the playing field” as businesses from second and third-tier cities now have access to a more global audience.”

Close to 100 percent of pin codes in India have seen e-commerce adoption and more than 60 percent of transactions and orders in India come from tier-two cities and smaller towns, as per Invest India data.

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Rana Pratap Saikia