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ShopAtPlaces.com – Replacing The Middleman In India’s Retail Scene

E-commerce is getting huge in India - according to industry watchers, the industry is expected to grow a compound annual growth rate of 57 per cent and is likely to reach US$34.2 billion by 2015. This trend is spurred by the surge in the use of mobile devices across the country (the number of mobile users in the country is expected to hit over 1 billion by 2015), and as consumers choose to bypass various middlemen and go directly to producers. These are the trends that online retail sites such as New Delhi-based ShopAtPlaces.com are riding on. Founded by two young intrepid entrepreneurs, Zuhaib Khan and Sherfur Rehman, ShopAtPlaces aggregates popular regional products all over India such as Pashmina shawls, Filigree jewelry from Orissa, Brass jewelry from Uttar Pradesh, Tussar silk stoles from Jharkhand, Chikankari apparel from Lucknow and other products that showcase India's colorful culture and lifestyle. The site offers three product categories – accessories, apparels and bags, and offers free shipping with plastic cards and Cash-on-Delivery (COD) as payment options. It used to be that many Indians would ask friends or family to buy and bring back goods when they visit certain places. Both traveled extensively in their previous jobs, and would be inundated with such requests. "During my last visit to Jaipur, I had to lug a Bandhej Suit and Mojri for a friend whose request I couldn’t decline," shares Khan, 26, who used to be in private equity and investment banking. They also found that the prices at which those products were manufactured and sold at the places famous for them was nothing as compared to the prices at which customers could buy them in other parts of the country. "(There) was too much flab and leakage in the whole supply chain," he explains. These reasons would be the catalyst for ShopAtPlaces - to offer authentic products from places famous for them to the customers' doorstep at the best price. Khan asserts that in most cases, the artisans and small enterprises who create such highly desirable products make only very little, with most of the profit going to middle-men. "As a result, creators don't get wealthy and customers also pay a hefty price for the same products." A site like ShopAtPlaces - although not set up as a non-profit - that cuts out that middle layer helps both the producers, while keeping prices lower for consumers. To ensure smooth sourcing and a responsive supply chain, founders left their jobs and traveled across the country for six months to establish ShopAtPlaces' supply chain and vendor base. "It was a great learning phase for us, being on the ground and meeting the people who actually create all this great quality stuff," shares Khan.

Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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