Exporting India

Published Date
01 - Apr - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Apr - 2005
Exporting India
There is currently a large worldwide market for Indian art. And the Internet is, naturally, facilitating this exchange. Indians settled abroad as well as those in India have started exporting Indian art overseas. As a case in point, we take a look at Shalini Verma, founder and director of ShalinCraft India, who returned to India from France to set up her own business.

In The Beginning
Verma's company was first named Shalin Fine Arts. ('Shalin' means 'grace' in Hindi.) In 1996, Verma established ShalinCraft, because she was "not enjoying sitting idle at home." ShalinCraft earlier sold Western art reprints in India, called European trend prints. These were imported from France. Architects and interior designers were the channels of distribution.

The clientele mostlycomprised offices and hotels that were interested in the art for their décor.

In 1998, when the rupee was devalued, the company faced problems in importing artwork. It was then that Verma decided to use the Internet as a medium of conducting business-and rather than importing, to get into exports. Verma chose to export hand crafted Indian products, since after having dealt in art products for over two years, she had developed "an eye for beautiful products."

Enter The Internet
In October 1998, ShalinCraft started with a five-page Web site called www.shalinart-india.com. There was little infrastructure at that time for online shopping; yet, their first sale-a Madhubani-style painting-was sold for $1,000 (Rs 43,500 today) over the Internet. And this cemented Verma's faith that business could indeed be conducted over the Web. 

Today, ShalinCraft deals in a wide variety of products such as apparel, furnishing, books, folk art, jewellery, sculptures, and gift items. One new addition to this list has been various flavours of tea such as 'Darjeeling', 'Assam', and 'Spice'. "We received various requests from our customers for genuine Indian tea and we thought, 'why not'," says Verma.

Customers have the option to select from a variety of products available on the site, and can even place custom orders for products such as salwar kurtas and sarees.

Business Over The Net
Most of ShalinCraft's business happens over the Net. A brief description of every product on the site helps customers understand what they are ordering. Products are shipped within 24 hours, and delivered within three to five days.

Our Internet presence has quickened our response time to customer grievances and queries. Our sales have also increased by almost 5 times"
Shalini Verma, Founder and Director, ShalinCraft

ShalinCraft does not have any brick-and-mortar presence or branches anywhere in the world, except in India. Headquartered in Gurgaon, Haryana, ShalinCraft has country representatives across different regions including the US, the UK, Europe, South-East Asia and Japan.

As a matter of fact, the US alone accounts for almost 80 to 90 per cent of ShalinCraft's business.

Capturing The Market
ShalinCraft reaches out to the right audience? Using of various marketing tools such as e-mail marketing, online advertising, search engine optimisation, affiliate programs and link partnerships, newsletters and press releases, customer profiling, targeting user databases and blogging.

ShalinCraft boasts of a customer base of more than 4,000 customers across the globe.

The Customer Is King
The products at ShalinCraft pass through three levels of quality check to ensure that the customer gets his money's worth.

First, when the product is purchased from the artist; next, when it is entered into the inventory; and finally, before it is shipped. That may explain why less than two per cent of shipped items are returned.

Marketing Methods 
Search Engine Optimisation
When you have a Web site-especially if it's a store-you need to tell a search engine that it exists. Most search engines use automated programs-known as spiders-to gather data. Spiders look for certain indicators to guide them to a site's relevancy. The more easily these indicators can be found and understood, the more accurately the spider can assess the relevance of the page.
Though spiders have limited intelligence, they are able to recognise some of the more obvious tricks, and can thus de-list 'tricky' sites.
When a page has been optimised, it is submitted to the search engines for evaluation and-hopefully-a high-level listing. This last part of the process is a question of finely judged timing-multiple submissions are necessary. But avoid overdoing as this could lead to your site being delisted.

Affiliate Programs
Suppose you have a Web site, say, xyz.com and I have a site, abc.com. We form an affiliate partnership. You place a link (banner, product image or text link) to abc.com on your site. A visitor to your site clicks on that advertisement and reaches my site and makes a purchase. In that case you stand to earn a certain percentage of commission for that sale.
There are different types of programs with different structures. The order tracking is done by cookie-based software, either developed in-house or by third party service providers.
In the case of ShalinCraft, it is a third part service provider, Kowabunga Technologies, which tracks sales, leads, and calculated commissions. ShalinCraft does all this by integrating the affiliate tracking system with their online ordering mechanism and managing the program interface. Affiliate marketing and management is done wholly by them. They invite other sites to join their program, give them incentives for joining, and based on the numbers of sales/visitors they have sent, motivate them to drive further traffic to the site.

Link Exchanges
This is similar to an affiliate program, but there is no tracking involved. Two sites exchange links (text, banners) with each other and send each other traffic. This helps in getting higher rankings in search engines-particularly Google.
Search engines have started indexing content published in blogs and showing them with other search results. Blogs are vital online marketing tools, more so for new ventures.

What about standards? "We are dealing mainly with the unorganised sector. Our suppliers are artists from remote villages all over the country. It will be extremely difficult at this stage if we were to ask them to manufacture products as per any quality standards. But we are certainly planning to apply for quality standards in the future," says Verma.

ShalinCraft ensures that the customer is at ease at all time. The various return policies with no strings attached help cement the customer's faith in the company. ShalinCraft also has a 24 x 7 call centre that answers calls from the USA.

Using the Internet as an effective marketing tool, ShalinCraft has made the transition from an import house selling European and Western art to Indian buyers to a portal selling Indian handicrafts in the global market. However, will an Internet art-shop, catering to a niche clientele, survive in the cut-throat world of Internet shopping?

With Indian art becoming a craze overseas, ShalinCraft may just be able to outdo the competition if it makes the right moves.

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