Here’s a quick exercise. Think of an e-commerce website you’re familiar with. Say, X. Now try and recall everything you’ve read about X of late. Chances are there will be a mention of wanting to “expand to tier-2, tier-3 cities”, “deep-discounting” to ensure this penetration, and all this and more leading to, well, losses. In an industry known for deep pockets and deeper discounts, e-commerce player, Tata CLiQ has chosen to stay away from it all.
Because it can. Because it’s backed by the might of one of India’s oldest conglomerates, Tata Group.
Tata CLiQ, despite being a traditional e-commerce player in terms of its various verticals—electronics, fashion, large appliances and other categories—has a slightly odd target. Profitability by 2022. Odd because profitability is far from easy for e-commerce, and CLiQ aims to get there by staying niche. In the three years since its inception in 2016, it’s stuck to its comfort cohort—urban, brand-conscious, strictly tier-1—aiming for this goal, staying shy of dipping its toes in the murky deep-discounting pool.
But, so far, it’s not gotten any closer to its profitability dream. In fact, its losses widened to Rs 208.4 crore ($29.4 million) in the year ended March 2018 from Rs 162.1 crore ($22.8 million) in the year prior, according to filings from company research platform Tofler.
CLiQ—operated by Tata Unistore, which is jointly owned by Tata Industries and its retail arm Trent Ltd—carries forward Tata’s old-school, fiscally conservative ethos, but with a thirst to participate in the growing e-commerce space. The solution? Play up its own brands, such as apparel firm Westside, jeweller Tanishq and electronics makers Croma and Voltas. With their existing offline presence, CLiQ finds itself organically pulled into the omnichannel and ‘phygital’ model—currently all the rage with e-commerce giants. While the former includes retailing both online and through physical stores, the latter includes using these stores, instead of warehouses, as fulfilment centres to reduce costs.
That it has this organic safety net, that too since 2016, is its biggest advantage. Especially since the big players are still building offline channels. Or while offline retail giants like Reliance build online. But more on that later.
Amazon tried an omnichannel play with fashion retailer Shoppers Stop. Flipkart has various such channels—it was in talks to buy grocery retailer Namdhari’s earlier this year. There’s a flipside though. The biggest draw of e-commerce, thanks to the big players, remains discounts in addition to shopping from the comfort of one’s couch, of course. Both of these were inherently only a part of CLiQ’s model. This has meant a slow start for the company.
While it’s now buckling to some of the demands of the modern e-commerce trade—plans to deliver products on the same day, for example—it’s using what it knows to get there.