Flipkart’s Big Billion Day Fiasco

Wild Hogs

Flipkart’s Big Billion Day Sale yesterday, perhaps in fond memory of the apartment (#610) the company started out of, was, as some of you might know, a disaster of sorts. While the company did roll in some big bucks (try imagining $100 million worth of products in 10 hours to be specific), it left a trail of angry shoppers in its wake.

Like many of you, I got this apology email from Flipkart earlier today.

I wasn’t shopping on their site yesterday, but Twitter kept me posted on the unavoidable and perhaps avoidable goofs on their part. Now while I’d personally understand ‘site down’ issues, and ‘Out of stock’ messages I’d put in the plain silly category, what would be unforgiving is price changes.

The price change ‘sin’ that Flipkart committed was, apparently jacking up (considerably) rates of some items on sale, and then given a tempting % off on them. This is perhaps relatively new to ecommerce retail, but is commonplace during any normal sale in a multi-branded outlets, if not in smaller chains too. The hype created around the sale and the quickly vanishing shelves of stuff, leaves naive customers in a buying frenzy, little realizing that rather than buying at discounted prices, they are in fact buying at a premium.

Original price: INR 100

Sale ‘Original price’ tag: INR180

Unbelievable Discount during Sale: 40%.!!!!

Discounted price you pay: INR 108

At a sale, most people are unlikely to interrogate the store staff on original price, etc., for fear of causing a scene. And retail chains got away with the crime. But ecommerce is a different story. Here, displeasure can be expressed in anonymity, and online retail businesses would have to be wary of any such tactics to con the customer.

Is Flipkart’s apology genuine or not, only time will tell.

This reminds me of a scene from the movie Wild Hogs, where the four friends go bull-slapping. After Woody has slapped the bull, and Doug goes to slap it..

Earl: Yeah, and we never seen it done twice in a row.

Woody Stevens: What?

Earl: It’ll be interesting to see how the bull takes being slapped, now that he’s alert.

(In our context now) Flipkart: Alert?

Flipkart 2

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4 thoughts on “Flipkart’s Big Billion Day Fiasco

  1. The sensationalist Facebook posts and tweets misrepresent the issue. If Original price = MRP (as you’d imagine it would be, in India), how can you increase the Original price without changing the MRP?
    Changing MRP is fairly tricky in our country (Weights And Measures Departments get involved).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course there are no limits to people sensationalizing to unimaginable levels online. But given that this came from several random strangers, for a moment, let’s give them benefit of the doubt.
      Surely products themselves have a sticker with the MRP. But what’s stopping companies from making “unintentional errors” while feeding prices online?
      Say a product at MRP INR 100, is offered at INR 60 (40% discount). “By mistake”, the original price online shows as INR 120. Making it a mouth-watering 50% discount. And when people call your bluff, out comes the apology email.
      Surely, playing with MRP might be illegal, but is it impossible? Unintentionally or otherwise.
      Not sure if you’ve seen this one, about a physical product (accusations & defenses by the company aside) http://www.nagpurtoday.in/haldirams-chips-pack-shows-future-packing-date-owner-claims-its-tampered-by-blackmailer-nagulkar/08312125.

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  2. The big issue I see here is the ability to manage perception. That’s a big part of the “disaster”. I’d even go further and say, this probably the only significant part of this perception of a disaster.

    People expect chaos during a big SALE (Look at Jack & Jones Super Saturday https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKz6bEocypE) in a brick-and-mortar establishment. The shopping experience is sub-standard, but the deals are attractive. This expectation of chaos (including site down-time and “out of stock”) if played right, can help fuel demand and desire instead of being seen as an irritant or a disappointment.

    In India, we have the advantage of an MRP regime. That gives you a very clear benchmark price to compare against, hence taking away any ambiguity about the actual discount you have received. Repricing a product (changing the MRP) for the purposes of discount is actually a legally complicated process that I don’t believe Flipkart would’ve bothered to try. Sure the discount may not have been as attractive when compared to the discount on other day or other sites, but it isn’t exactly cheating.

    And $100 Million of GMV in a day is a lot.

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    • Attractive (and genuine) deals is what makes even the almost inhuman store sales experience tolerable for the herd. Black Fridays hold testament to that. (http://blackfridaydeathcount.com/)

      Based on what quite a few people have expressed online about Flipkart, the original prices were, apparently jacked upward. And therein lies the problem.

      Shoppers won’t mind if you say “first 30 people get 70% discount, the rest get 20%”, and then give even the first thirty a 20% discount only, as long as they don’t know they were the first (companies have exploited that for decades). But am sure even the richest person around would have a problem if the original price itself was being intentionally quoted higher, just to make the discount look bigger and more tempting.

      And while at a store, the original price is only what one might recall from having seen at another store, but online, re-checking prices is just another website away. Flipkart should have been wary of that before attempting to tease the shopaholic in the average Indian.

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