2020 is to most Indian furniture companies what 2017 was to payment companies. “It was our demonetisation moment,” says a senior executive managing furniture for one of the leading e-commerce platforms.

This year, the pandemic forced Indians to buy furniture online like how having 85% of their currency invalidated overnight in November 2016 forced them to adopt digital money. The resulting tidal wave in 2017 lifted virtually every payments app to levels beyond their own rosiest predictions.

As millions of professionals were suddenly liberated from working out of offices due to a sudden lockdown, with no clear date to return, many gave up their rental apartments and went back to their respective hometowns and cities. Overnight, homes turned from places you spent half a week to where you spent every waking hour of every day.

This was the moment online furniture sellers had been waiting for. 

In the US, Wayfair, the largest online seller of furniture saw its largely languishing stock shoot up nearly 700% since hitting a low in March as the pandemic rolled in. Founded in 2002 and listed in 2014, Wayfair earned $9.1 billion in revenue last year but has yet to turn profitable. Between April and June, it added 5 million new customers, more than the number it had added in the entire previous year.

In India, with cities and stores shut, Indians were forced to overcome their reticence towards ordering furniture off a website. They gingerly started by ordering study tables and chairs, in many cases subsidised or paid for by their employers who had quickly created WFH (work from home) allowances.

Then, as the lockdowns refused to ease up, they started ordering sofas, wardrobes and bookshelves. And once they made peace with being stuck at home for possibly the next 12-18 months, the orders for beds, mattresses and dining tables started pouring in.

“The months of March and April were washouts, but we’ve done more business in the next six months than we did in all of 2019,” said the executive quoted earlier. Like most of our sources increasingly, he too declined to be quoted by name because his employer strictly forbids media interactions.

The one player you would expect to surf this pan-India wave is Urban Ladder. 

Founded in 2012, it was backed by $105 million in venture funding from respected funds like Sequoia, SAIF Partners and Steadview. It was also the largest in the space based on 2019 revenue and even declared a profit for the year, a rarity in e-commerce.

2020 should have been Urban Ladder’s year like how 2017 was payments platform PhonePe’s or 2020 edtech Byju’s. A year to reap the rewards of eight years of hard work.

Instead, Urban Ladder was forced to sell itself to Reliance Retail, the retail arm of India’s largest private conglomerate.


Rohin Dharmakumar

Rohin is co-founder and CEO at The Ken. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and an engineering degree in Computer Sciences from the R.V.C.E., Bangalore.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at support@the-ken.com detailing the error or queries.