Askme Group has been surrounded by various controversies like non-payment of dues and counterfeit products, lately. Additionally, the company is going through transition as its principal investor – Astro Holdings is exiting the company.
Ankit Jain who is the co-founder of AskMe Grocery and minority shareholder for the AskMe Group, speaks about controversies AskMe Group is facing and its plans for the future.
Q1. Firstly, there are a lot of allegations against AskMe about non-payment of funds and lack of response from management. What is your take on that?
I am glad that you have asked this question. It gives us an opportunity to present our side of the story to everyone out there. Let me tell you with conviction that these are all unfounded allegations. We are a company of repute and doing business in India for the past over three decades now. We have no reason to hide and are very much here to stay in the business.
While I acknowledge that there have been some recent instances where the seller payments and customer refunds were unfortunately delayed. These were because of reasons beyond our control. Astro Holdings, who was principal investor in the company, is exiting all major investments (AskMe included) in India because of its legal and political issues. There were problems in payments from Astro but now things are sorting out and payments are being made as well. We hope to see smooth transition of the Management Buy Out (MBO), which is settled with cut-off date of 31st July with a backer.
Q2. There are allegations of fake products sold in AskMe. How do you make sure the vendors you have tied-up with are providing the right products?
The issue is rampant across marketplaces since the onus of the genuineness of the products lies with the respective sellers. Having said that, we, at AskMe, take utmost precautions in ensuring the products our customers buy from us are genuine. In October, 2015 we waged a ‘War on Fakes’ on our marketplace platform AskmeBazaar.com and are continuing with that campaign. We have a ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ towards fakes which is clearly communicated to all the sellers during enrollment. There are stringent manual and automated Quality Control measures in place which ensure no fakes are sold on our platform. In the highly unlikely event that we find any seller indulging in selling of counterfeit products, we immediately delist (and blacklist) the seller from our marketplace platform.
Q3. If there is a delay in payment how long is the delay usually by AskMe?
The payment timelines vary across businesses within the AskMe Group. While in case of hyper local business model, the pick-up and delivery are local in nature and hence, the payout is also faster. In case of a marketplace, the delivery timelines are longer and so are the payout timelines.
We have always ensured that the payments are released within defined timelines, basis the business model that the seller has partnered with us for.
Q4. Are the issues with all the vendors resolved?
There were no existing issues with the vendors. Like I mentioned earlier, some vendor payments were delayed, due to delay from Astro’s end. I would like to reiterate that we are committed to the growth of the sellers and SMEs and would like to reassure them that the payment issues will be streamlined soon.
Q5. Has Astro Holdings exited the company? Is there a deadline given to them to pay the dues?
Yes, Astro will be exiting its investment in the AskMe Group. As per written commitment Astro is committed to pay outstanding dues till 31st July, 2016. While we were facing issues in the month of June, the same have been sorted out and Astro is paying the dues.
Q6. How has been the journey over the last one year? What are the challenges faced by the company, if any?
AskMe has been growing multi-fold over the years. We have clocked an 8x growth in the last one year. In the year 2015, the company forayed into the grocery vertical with the launch of AskMe Grocery, which has grown to become the largest online grocery player in the country (in terms of reach) in less than one year of its operations.
We acquired majority stake in Mebelkart, India’s fastest growing online furniture marketplace in August, 2015 and the company has seen incredible growth since then.
We have also diversified into new business verticals with the launch of AskMe Pay, an aggregation of e-wallets.
There are challenges that every business faces, as it grows and expands. We have faced challenges too as we have strived to be a preferred partner for the SMEs as well as focused on a memorable customer experience. We have successfully navigated all these challenges in the course of our over 30 years of existence as a company. We are confident that we will continue to do so in the future as well.
Q7.Are talks on for potential investors? What is the other option that you are looking at to raise funds?
We have already made a formal bid for a Management Buy Out which is settled with a cut-off date of 31st July, 2016 with a backer.
Q8. Any new launches in the pipeline?
Yes, we have launched the Gourmet category which will offer a wide range of products from Pasta, Sauces & Dressings, Vinegar, Olives, Cornflakes &Oats, Biscuits & Wafers, etc. in Delhi-NCR. We are now replicating the same across other cities and will be launching soon in all 35+ cities, where we are present. We will be utilising our network of tie-ups with local sellers to achieve the next day delivery of gourmet products. We believe that this category has huge potential.
Q9. Which new segments you want to set foot into?
We did a due diligence last year around the under-tapped e-commerce segments and realized that perishable grocery and pharmaceuticals were ripe for disruption. Consumers were looking to get online delivery in these categories for a wide variety of reasons. For instance, convenience of delivery of medicines at the doorstep is of paramount important for senior citizens living alone. To address similar needs we will soon be doing a nationwide launch of AskmeMeds and AskmeFresh, our online pharmacy and online perishable grocery marketplace respectively.
Q10. What are the plans for the future? Which businesses are you betting on?
I believe that both online grocery and online furniture selling markets in India has largely been untapped and offer immense possibilities of growth. Also, we are betting big on our Next Day Delivery (NDD) business under AskmeBazaar. AskMe Pay will also be a key differentiator and growth driver for us as we strengthen our position and scale new heights in the industry.