The e-commerce sector has been one of the most significant beneficiaries of the digital and technology transformations that India is witnessing. In turn, the e-commerce sector has ushered in a new era of conducting business in India by transforming the way customers and sellers interact with the marketplace. As per industry estimates, the e-commerce market in India is growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32% and is expected to grow to a market of $1.2 trillion by 2021 from the current $200 billion. This would make India the third largest consumer market in the world.
The opportunity is evident. Thousands of small players are establishing their own niche and the online retail B2C market is thriving and poised to grow at a phenomenal rate. However, what remains largely untapped, and what could present an unprecedented growth opportunity, is the online B2B marketplace.
The opportunity for B2B online platforms
According to estimates, the online B2B market is set to become six times than B2C e-commerce. Given that there are about 42.5 million micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in India which have 95% of the industrial units and employ 40% of the country’s workforce, it is safe to say that MSMEs will be the driving force that facilitate this rise. MSMEs are crucial for India’s economic development given their tremendous contributions to domestic production and export earnings and their comparatively low investment requirements. The need of the hour, then, is to give impetus to online networking platforms catering exclusively to MSMEs that allow a B2B exchange of goods.
SME Empower: ICICI Bank’s online marketplace for SMEs
Tapping into this burgeoning industry, ICICI Bank in partnership with First Hive, a cross-channel marketing platform, has launched SME Empower, an online marketplace catering exclusively to small and medium enterprises. The marketplace is open to all SMEs, including non-ICICI Bank customers.
Speaking about the initiative, Mr. Ajay Gupta, Head- Commercial Banking and SME, ICICI Bank said, “At ICICI Bank, we are committed to offer innovative products and services to our customers at speed and high level of convenience. We have constantly strived to grow our offerings and services for the small and medium enterprises by providing solutions which keep them to scale. The SME Empower platform further underscores our commitment to be a partner in growth to the SMEs by providing access to a large ecosystem of customers and suppliers.”
Aditya Bhamidipaty, Founder & CEO, First Hive said, “SMEs are the growth engines for India and we are excited to partner with ICICI Bank in helping the SMEs in acquiring, engaging and retaining customers. This helps them to not only gain a new series of customers but using ‘First Hive’ – a cross channel marketing platform they can also equip their business to go digital and create a sustainable value add to enabling their success”.
The key features of SME Empower are:
- A platform for showcasing and listing products: A first-of-its-kind offering by a commercial bank, SME Empower offers an online community of registered SMEs to market their products to buy and sell amongst each other.
- An online marketplace: This online marketplace will offer access to over 750 products in diverse categories from electronics and appliances to office equipment. Through a simple registration and verification process, entrepreneurs can create their own e-store free of cost, opening up for them a lucrative avenue to expand their reach and scale their operations. As buyers, SMEs on this platform get access to exclusive deals from other members of the marketplace on purchases for their business.
- Verified buyers: The sign-up process ensures that only verified buyers become part of this online community, guaranteeing a wider reach for sellers.
- Inventory management: The platform’s practical organisational framework allows SMEs to efficiently manage inventory through a dashboard, that displays a real-time snapshot of their inventory and presents the option to auto-enable or disable products from the e-store.
- Online data analytics: SMEs will also have access to a detailed online analytics report of their activities in the marketplace.
- Secure transactions: Security of transactions on the SME Empower platform are done through an integrated ICICI Bank payment gateway.
- Integrated Cross Channel Marketing : Through First Hive, sellers on SME Empower have access to a cross-channel marketing platform. Through this platform, SMEs can run marketing and outreach campaigns across a variety of channels such as emails, SMS and social media. This is targeted towards helping SMEs acquire, engage and retain customers, with the larger goal of helping them increase their business footprint across the country.
SME Empower is an initiative that recognises the role SMEs play in the business landscape of the country. With millions of Indians employed in millions of enterprises, SMEs are the backbone of industry in India, and therefore powerful engines of growth for India’s economy. Not only do they fuel large industries and create new avenues for employment, they are also crucial in facilitating the industrialisation of rural areas. This means that SMEs are helping to transfer the advancements and facilities of urbanisation to backward and remote areas of the country, slowly bridging the stark regional inequalities that characterise India. SMEs are therefore critical not only for India’s economic growth, but also its social development.