When Ishita Swarup, Anchal Jain and Ankur Prakash decided to launch an online fashion retail venture, they decided to launch it with a business model – members-only online sales – that was completely new in the Indian market. Essentially, what they wanted to create was discount-sales for members of the portal where members could buy fashion labels and lifestyle brands at a discount of anywhere between 30 per cent and 70 per cent. Swarup, who currently is the chief-executive of the venture, says, “We decided on the event-based model because it is something that has worked in over 70 countries. 99Labels addresses a very important business need. Brands, especially premium ones, do have excess stock, and we offer a channel for them to liquidate this stock.”
While several e-commerce ideas that worked in the mature markets have not taken off in India, Swarup is confident that this model will certainly work for both the brand owner as well as the customer. She says, “ In general, the Indian consumer loves a bargain. The other advantage of selling these fashion labels online is that consumers from across India have access to these products.”
Prior to starting 99Labels, Swarup worked at Cadburys in a sales and marketing role and then started up her first entrepreneurial venture Orion Dialogue, an information technology-enabled services company. She sold the company to Aegis BPO, part of the Essar Group, worked with them as the chief operating officer of their India operations and then decided to take the entrepreneurial route for the second time. She roped in Jain and Prakash as co-founders. Both Jain and Prakash had prior experience in the lifestyle space, as the founders of the young girl lifestyle brand NUN. The early-stage team brought in complementary work experiences and they launched 99Labels in December 2009.
Initially the company had to overcome several challenges. “Our biggest challenge was that we were an e-commerce venture that was primarily targeting women. Some women consumers did not have access to credit cards and they were generally not used to buying online,” says Swarup. Of course, the other key aspect was to plan out delivery and establish partnerships with fashion labels.
Currently, 99Labels advertises primarily through social media, member-invitations to specific target groups and advertisements on women-centric portals and websites. It also has a referral program where a member is given gift vouchers for bringing in other new members. Within ten months of launching operations, it has already attracted around one lakh registered members.
Going forward, Swarup believes that the online-sales model will work for lifestyle products as well. 99Labels plans to expand its product offerings to include all kinds of lifestyle products – spa coupons, kitchen products, toys for children and furniture. When asked what her goal for 99Labels was three years from now, she says, “Three years is a fairly long time. In the e-commerce industry, we need to stay alert to newer developments and act accordingly. At a broad level, our focus is on increasing the number of members, expanding our product offerings and actively serve tier-2 cities as well.”