Whatnot’s Ankit And Rohan On Gadget Retailing And Their Presence In It

Whatnot’s Ankit And Rohan On Gadget Retailing And Their Presence In It

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, January 25, 2024, 06:03 PM IST
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Hyderabad (Telangana) [India], January 25: Whatnot India has marked a significant milestone in its expansion strategy through the acquisition of a stake in Gadget Studio, an airport e-commerce store. This collaboration represents a strategic move for Whatnot, aligning with the evolving retail landscape. Gadget Studio's presence in airport terminals provides Whatnot with a unique channel to reach a diverse and global audience. The partnership is poised to enhance Whatnot's market penetration, offering travelers an opportunity to explore and purchase cutting-edge gadgets and tech accessories conveniently during their journeys. This collaboration not only expands Whatnot's footprint but also reinforces its commitment to providing tech enthusiasts with seamless access to the latest innovations across various retail environments.

We talked to the Co-Founders Ankit & Rohan, who shared their insights about the evolving retail landscape, how technology can speed up processes, and what the future looks like with the latest technology trends.

Q) The very first one is, what inspired you to establish Whatnot? And how did they identify the untapped potential in the gadget retailing sector? 

So, I mean the main idea was again that thought wherein we would travel abroad, see many brands products that you know are available quickly, which was not available here in India. And then that made us think that you know, why should we not make it more accessible over here? And that's how we decided to start our company and you know bring these products. here in India and make it more accessible. They were available, and some products were available, but they were not reaching the right audience. So, the thought was to make it match the end customers in a much easier way. And that was the primary thing that we did, and the potential that we felt was there. During that time, mobiles were mainly the key product that everyone was focusing on because that was the growing industry. But we kind of decided to stay in gadgets and tech, which is every product related to a mobile device, tablet, or laptop. So, anything linked to the main device is what we have always sold. And now that has become like an industry in itself, which we are catering to.

Just to add, Rohan and I went to college together, right? That is when I want to repeat the thought process of starting something like Whatnot and conceptualize it in 2014. 

Q) Were there any specific challenges or opportunities in the market that motivated them to venture into this space? 

Yeah, so when we entered the mobile accessories market, as it was called at that time, people did not see this as a whole different category or a subtype in the industry of telecommunication. It was just attached to something that people would buy along with a mobile. So, we identified that this space needs a different approach to what traditionally happens in mobile phones and laptops. These are just box devices that are just pushed in the end quantity. This required a special kind of specialization wherein the right product for the right price point was identified and delivered to the right consumer. And then this entire landscape was not organized. There were a lot of players. small players who were not even selling good brands, selling stuff without bills, or some random local vendors. Then what we did is we got in all the brands that were doing well at that time with JBLs and Azure and such brands and we gave them a platform wherein we could represent these brands to the correct set of retailers and the customers. So that was an opportunity because no one else was doing it. and that helped us scale to this level. And then we have seen almost a 2x growth year on year. And then, even now, we are compounding at around 40-50% growth per year. 

Q) So, in the ever-evolving tech landscape, how does Whatnot navigate the challenges of staying abreast of the latest tech trends? 

So, I mean that we kind of have a now I mean, we now have an internal research team, and both me and Ankit are passionate about this category. We keep going through a lot of, you know, a lot of stuff on the internet and read a lot of things and probably go through a lot of things to kind of keep ourselves updated and probably a step ahead in terms of what is going on in terms of tech. So, I mean, whatever is coming in the category, we are probably much ahead, and we know that you know, this product probably would be a hit here in India and try to get it in a much earlier way than anyone else. So that's something that we are doing. I think that the change here is that many people are dependent on other's research, but having the interest and passion in this category, we tend to take up the role ourselves and try to stay ahead of the competition in terms of getting the right technology here. 

Q) Can you shed light on any unique strategies or partnerships that have enabled Whatnot to offer cutting-edge gadgets to its customers consistently? 

So firstly, being our distribution network, we are kind of the pioneers in terms of modern trade distribution wherein we supply to most of the large retail chains in India. That was a key focus for us when we started the company. That is one. Second is selling products through our online platform which was making it more accessible. That is one thing that we run. And the third thing is that we have recently acquired a stake in a retail chain based on airports. So it's basically an airport retail chain where we have invested in water state. Through that, we are trying to make the experience even more premium because accessories or, you know, we need these gadgets. So, the customer needs to have that connection and feel. We felt that could only be done through a good retail presence. And that's why we have partnered through retail with the brand Gadget Studio. We are trying to give the experience that we had actually, you know, at the nascent stage when we started the company, that's what the desire was to give the customer the best experience towards all the products that we want to sell, and they can touch and feel the product and then buy the product at the same price of any Amazon or any Flipkart. So that's what we are doing. I mean, we are trying to cover it in these three dimensions. 

Q) So, Ankit, beyond the product offering, what key factors such as customer service, marketing, or partnership have played a vital role in the success in this highly competitive gadget retailing market? 

In terms of marketing and strategies, we do a lot of brand collaborations. For example, we have one running right now, wherein any customer of L&T Finance who buys a two-wheeler gets a boat watch free. It is delivered to their doorstep. This is a very big order. There have been 3 lakh customers who have been served. This is just one example of a collaboration that we have done. between both, for which we are the distributors and TV, L&T finance. And we do similar kinds of things. We have done one with US Polo wherein any customer buying merchandise worth 7000 or so gets a smartwatch free. We do a lot of similar things with a lot of apparel brands, such as Beats, Lifestyle, or Max. So that is one kind of. which helps marketing for all three parties involved: the brand, the retailer, and us. But that is one part of the collaborations that we do. Other than that, what we do, even for these customers and a lot of our customers is that we give them the right set of product curation, which no other distributor or working in a similar landscape is doing. And all of this is data-backed. and we use a lot of tools, and everything flows through a very data-centric kind of a thing and then we curate all those products, and that then goes to our customers we filter out because if you see even in one brand, they have been like 300 SKUs so we filter out what is the right product at the right price point for the right region and that is something we also do. 

Q) So, how do Ankit and Rohan foresee the future of gadget retailing? And what strategic step is Whatnot taking to align itself with these trends? 

So what we have seen is, you know, when we started off, there used to be only the larger brands like JBL, Sony, Beats, and IZER. Only these products would sell and the accessibility and then, you know, we internally use this term, pocket money buying, and the salaried buying, right? So, with pocket money buying, there were not many products that someone could buy. Someone could only probably. someone buying a new phone would only use the earphone that was given free with that handset, which does not come anymore right there's no phone there's no earphone, or a charger that comes in a box, so that changed, and then eventually, you know all the budget brands came in us ourselves would only sell a lot of budget brands that's what gave us this momentum because we have picked the right category at the right time so the budget brands came in like or I am or board Firebolt, Noise, all of these brands came in. They have been able to give access to smartwatches, true wireless buds, neckbands, all these Bluetooth products, and speakers, that access to even pocket-money buyers. So those customers will eventually become salaried buyers, and they will eventually go out and buy higher-end products, right? So what we see now is that most of the people have experienced the basic products and the economic range which is there. Now, the future will again go towards more quality products, more brands focusing on quality, and larger international brands as well that people will start buying because someone who has already used a base product would not want to buy that product again; they would like to upgrade. So what we are also doing at our end is we are trying to pick. more high-end brands as we work with brands like Dyson, Bose, Sennheiser, JVL, this, and Sony as well, which we were not doing probably a year back. We have only added these brands so that we are able to cover the transition wherein our customers are moving from economical products to buying premium products, and we are there with that range for them. 

Q) Does Whatnot have plans to diversify its product range or explore emerging technologies in the retail space? 

Yes, absolutely. So, we are looking for a lot of different categories that we can move across. The only thing is we've always been more gadget-driven and not just box movers. So there are a lot of large distribution companies that probably just sell a box from one place to another and don't even care what they are selling. We have never been about that. We've been very focused. Our focus has been quite pinpointed. I mean, we wanted to sell good products and gadgets that kind of help enhance the experience of a user. So the categories that we are looking at is, you know, probably compact projectors, which is one thing that we are exploring. We are also studying it, building our own brand wherein there are specific categories that we can bring in and cater to our customers. There are smart TVs; we are exploring smart TVs as well. If anything unique comes up in that space, we want to cover it. And also, there are a lot of IoT devices, right? Security systems are one thing we have our eyes on. That is someplace. which we will try to explore. Another category is the charging category. So because there's a lot of products or a lot of devices that everyone's using, we feel that charging needs to be made more straightforward and more kind of, how do I say, more organic. And it has to go with an ecosystem. So charging, towards charging also, we are trying to look at different categories and different products. 

Q) What online strategies have Whatnot employed to build and sustain a robust digital presence in the gadget retailing sector? 

Yeah, so to establish and maintain the digital presence, what we've done is revamp our website, Whatnot.in. Earlier, it was a portal just for showcasing the products. But now what we have done is we have developed. entirely new portal wherein we have curated a lot of products and made it very simple for the customer to, you know, shop what they need right, and so ONCE joined us a couple of months back, and ONCE is the one who's heading this project. I think ONCE can give you a little more for this. What we've done is, previously, our website wasn't, you know, curated for the end customer. So what we've done is, Ankit and Rohan have been gathering data for the past four or five years now. So what I did was I used that data and started, you know, exploring the different product offerings that Whatnot has. Based on that, like I've created a website wherein we have only focused on products. that the user would want to buy from Whatnot, as well as the products that are high-selling. For example, there might be thousands of different headphones and stuff, but out of those 1000 headphones, we've kind of just, on our website, we've put up like, I think, about 15 to 20 headphones, which are the top-selling headphones over the past few years. And other than that, we've also made sure that there are many different brand offerings available on our website. For a customer, it's always good to go through a lot of options but not too many options. And it's more like a very SEO-friendly website, as in, like, if a user is searching for a certain kind of product. He will find our website on Google searches as well. So we also look into it; we also go through a lot of reviews and stuff on Amazon and Flipkart. Based on those reviews, we only showcase the products that have some of the best reviews available. 

Q) How does the company leverage social media, e-commerce platforms, and digital marketing to connect with its target audience? Do you want me to answer? Ankit and Rohan? 

Yes. Okay so lately, we've also tied up with another company, which is WingKong. So previously, Ankit and Rohan had a lot of presence, and their names were known all across the offline sector. I'd say if you ask any retailer or distributor across South India, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and all of that. If you wondered about Ankit and Rohan, they knew who they were and basically, but like when it comes to the online side of it, there wasn't much presence of Whatnot or Ankit and Rohan over the last few years. So what we planned was to increase the marketing on the online side of it, like LinkedIn as well as Facebook and Instagram. So now, through a lot of publications and articles, as well as lots of different e-commerce platforms, such as our website and all, as well. The name of Whatnot is quite prominent in the distribution and supply chain sectors. And we are actively trying to push our brand across LinkedIn through many publications. We're trying to get the name of Whatnot as well as Ankit and Rohan out there so that we can build an online company presence and make it easier for the brand to get into the online sector. We are also trying to get into a lot of collaborations and stuff with many different agencies and publications so that we have a great reach as well as the credibility and the name of Whatnot is out there. We plan to ensure that if a user or customer is trying to buy from us online, he doesn't stop at the last level, which is the payment gateway, because he doesn't know much about the brand, and he might. Because this happens a lot in India wherein the user, even though he finds the price, if the price is pretty cheap, till he goes to the last step, he's like, oh, this brand might not be that credible, I'd instead buy it from Amazon or Flipkart. So our goal, our end goal over the next year or so, is to make sure that we also get to a level of something like a retail chain like Chroma and Reliance Trends. And hopefully, we can get there over the next year. 

Q) Given the rise of e-commerce, how does Whatnot balance online and offline retail operations to ensure a seamless and holistic customer experience? 

So, you know, retail has been our core business catering to retail customers. That's something that we have, over time built a large team across. So we have a decent size, about 30 odd sales team that is working to cater to the 5,000 plus retail stores that we work with. That is done through a separate team and a sales head. who is reporting to me? Then, online a bit, as Banshees has joined us as our CTO, we kind of felt that you know, the best way is to scale this front of our business as well. So, online has been our key focus this year, and we have expanded our business on Amazon as well. We have partnered with brands like Orimo and Boat, wherein we are their exclusive sellers and online partners, and also with the D2C part, wherein we are trying to capture the market with the right product portfolio by selling the products on our platform whatnot.in. So that's how we are kind of, you know, maintaining the different things and retail. I mean gadgets over there as well, we are trying to come up with a way wherein our customers, if they find any item they do not want to carry or probably want us to ship it directly to their destination. So we are building a platform for those customers wherein any customer who picks in a brand, for example if there is a JBL product and there's a soundbar in JBL, which they cannot carry. If they want to buy that product, we can directly ship it to them at their address in 24 hours. So that is another thing that we are adding to our retail business. 

Q) Are there any innovative approaches or technologies that Whatnot has adopted to integrate these two aspects effectively?

Also, one more thing that I would like to add is that we're also planning to launch our own app, which will help in terms of our distribution business wherein retailers can directly access our app, and you know; there will be less dependency on a human resource to take an order or probably follow up on payment or any other such day to day activity. So a retailer can directly access the app, buy whatever product they want, make the payment there and then, and sell and avail of whatever offer is available on that day. So that is again something that we are working on. Another thing that we are doing is to enhance the retail experience, developing an app for rollout so, as you know, I mean, at a store level, the sales only happen if you kind of give the sales boy a specific incentive, so currently, the process for giving an incentive is quite tedious it needs to go through the leading company and then the brand and then they kind of eventually give or don't give the incentive to the shop boy so we are trying to build an app wherein the shop boy can directly download our app. and any product he sells, he can just report in our app, and he or she will get the incentive directly. So this is another thing that we are doing.

Q) Reflecting on the journey, can you share specific challenges that Ankit and Rohan encountered in the gadget retailing business and the innovative solutions or strategies they employed to overcome them? 

So, I mean if I have to compile this kind of or consolidate this, it's been a 10-year, close to a ten year journey, starting with technology products or gadgets. As such, there was no category. Then there came a time when gadgets used to be like specific products, like only audio products or something that you could attach to your computer that could probably be a webcam or a mouse or an excellent keyboard. And now, it's become a category in itself. So we had to upgrade in time and pick the right products. We have come across many such distributors or retailers whom we used to work with before, but they could not upgrade or keep themselves updated with the ongoing trends. Then they eventually had to shut down their business. So the industry as such looks quite lucrative out in the open, but internally, lots is going on because when you're dealing with technology, you have to make sure that you know any inventory that you're carrying and then the current date, if you are not able to sell it in a specific time I mean we have to understand that you know there's a new product or a new feature that will launch and then these products will become obsolete so keeping up with the trend understanding what kind of inventories to maintain and you know understanding by when we need to clear this and then move on to the next product or category. That's been the biggest challenge, and that is one thing wherein our passion and interest in the industry helped us because if we had been someone who had just started this business because this category was cool, I don't think we would have even gone past three to four years in this business. But only because we have the knowledge and the interest in this category. We've been able to contribute and, in fact, stay ahead of the game until now.

Q) What sets Whatnot apart from other players in the gadget retailing industry, and how does the company infuse a personalized touch into customer interaction? 

So, the major differentiator is our interest in this category and our passion. Most of the partners that we know and are aware of, I mean, we don't see anyone who is that keen and interested in this category. They are probably just selling the product because it's a business, and they must sell and make some money. And, you know, we are kind of... The way we deliver the experiences through our solid supply chain, be it any order or whatever quantity or complexity, we are always ready to cater to that. We have always tried to adapt to any challenge or any new engagement that we have had to join hands with. So, as Ankit had mentioned, a corporate order where we have to ship 3 lakh units to 3 lakh addresses in India, and that includes some tier 2 and tier 3 locations wherein no courier can reach. So we have partnered with about eight logistics partners so that every product reaches the customer in time and the customer experience stays intact. That's what we are doing. And then, with the offering that we give. the kind of products that we choose, we make sure that it's kind of customer-oriented and it's not just because you know we would just sell it and you know it's only because there's this high margins and we are only selling this product for margins. It's never been that we only sell the products that we feel the customer would be happy with and would kind of make their lives easier and much more accessible in terms of usage. 

Q) Are there any unique customer engagement initiatives or after-sales services contributing to Whatnot’s distinct identity in the market? 

So yeah, being a major distribution company, we are probably the only ones who have a 24-hour customer care service team, where any service queries or requests that come across are catered to, which no one has been doing. We try to keep the shortest tag time, as any complaint that comes to us needs to be resolved within 24 to 48 hours, or the customer gets a new product. That is something that we have followed very religiously. So that's the reason why customers. They tend to come back to us and only want to work with us because we've made sure that eventually, their experience if it is a retailer is good. Eventually, they can give a better experience to their end customer. And then I mean, another thing that I want to add is the efficient service that we provide in rural areas as well. We cover a lot of districts and smaller towns in terms of coverage wherein we are working central, working with all the major cities plus all the rural towns where we are trying to reach the grassroots as well in terms of reaching because people want to upgrade in those regions as well, but probably no one is focusing, and we are trying to tap in good partners over there with whom we can work, and you know to get these products across and make them more accessible. Would you like to add anything from your side? So the latest engagement that I've been talking about is Gadget Studio, which is a retail front, where we are planning to roll out franchises. So next year onwards, I mean, we'll probably roll out our franchise model for Gadget Studio. For anyone who is looking to open a store of gadgets in a mall or a high street, we would be willing to give out a franchise where we will take care of the back end, the product supply, and everything. Then, the partner needs to focus on selling the products. Then, this category is very tough to build by you. So we are making it much, much easier to open up. Retail front through Gadget Studio. Also, as we expand into our airport stores, we will probably plan to do our first round of raising funds in Gadget Studio. So that is something that we plan to do next year. Okay. Yeah. So, one should know one in case.

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