Thursday, July 31, 2008

India Online Photo Service - iTasveer.com





iTasveer.com is another popular Indian online photo service portal. Founded in the year 2006 by four IITians, this portal offers its users the facility of placing orders for printing their photos or photo based products like mugs, calendars, mouse pads etc. You will be required to register with iTasveer before uploading photos and placing orders for prints. Upon registration you get 10 prints free of cost. While most of the features are quite similar to picsquare, it does offer some photo editing features like cropping. The overall navigation and usability of the web site is questionable though it is fast and easy for an average person to use. However, the overall flow from uploading photos to placing an order does not appear to be very well laid out. The site definitely requires a usability lift. On the whole, I did not find anything exclusive or different which caught my attention to highlight here. In a nut shell, it is an average online photo service web site in the growing online personalized photo products market. The company should try to build a USP for itself by innovating itself. Also, I feel that it can bring in some elements of web2.0 collaborative platform to make it more lively and interactive.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Online Photo Printing in India - Picsquare



Picsquare, a brain child of two young IITians, Manish and Kartik is one of the leading online photo printing web sites in India. Founded in December 2005, the web site offers online photo management and photo based gift creation services to Indian consumers. Though the online photo printing concept is not new but is definitely a fresh concept for rapidly growing internet savvy Indian consumer market. Though the real target market is the millions of NRI's staying abroad but I think there is a big potential for catering to domestic market needs. PicSquare works on a very simple philosophy - Allow the users to upload and manage photos free of cost, manage them using online albums or tags, and help them deliver prints or photo based products like Mugs, T-shirts, calendars etc to their door steps or to friends and family as gifts. The web site is very intuitive and easy to use. The web site allows you to import photos from your flickr or picassa accounts and store it with Picquare and order prints or other photo products. You can make payment online using credit cards or through internet banking. It also offers interesting promotional schemes like you get 10 free prints for every registered user that you refer plus free 10 prints on self registration. I have so far not tried its service but would definitely give it a try and will update this post with my experiences

Saturday, July 26, 2008

DVD Online Rental market - Business Models


India is a virgin market for online DVD rental companies. The concept of movies on rent has been in India from late 80's but was largely dominated by local video parlors most of whom had pirated movie versions. With Internet spreading reaching out to tier II and tier III cities, this space is slowly turning into a big market opportunity. To be an early entrant and establish itself, the companies are trying different business models to make this a profitable venture. Some of the business models that are currently in play include:

1. Subscription Model: The core business model across all the players in this space is the subscription model. Companies are offering monthly, quarterly, half-yearly and annual membership plans to woo consumers based on their preferences. The subscription plan include following components :
a)subscription fees (monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or annually)
b)refundable deposit
c)number of movies that you can rent at a time within a plan(Limited, unlimited)
d)Time-Limit for rental period (new titles need to be returned earlier while old titles may not have any time limit)

2. Brick and Mortar Model: A number of companies started off with an online store and have slowly expanded its presence into retail outlets. The web sites are now acting as store fronts rather than the core revenue generation machine. This has allowed the companies to widen their customer reach

3. Advertising: Many companies are also offering their real estate on their web sites for advertisers to advertise their products and services. The major source of revenue is from the entertainment industry.

4. Franchisee Model: In order to scale up, companies are also looking at opening new outlets through the franchisee route. The investment for a franchisee is to the tune of 13 -14 lakhs. In addition to this their is going to be franchisee fee and revenue sharing.

5. Online Movie Sales: Some of the companies also offer DVDs/CDs on its web site for sale. Bigflix in fact allows the users to download movies from its web site over a broadband connection(Not available in India though).

I have focused only on the revenue generation aspects of the business model here. It would be interesting to see the cost centers in this model given the fact that the companies may need to pay royalties to production houses.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Business models - Online Bus Reservation Sites

The bus reservation sites in India differ from each other in two ways - one the features and facilities that they provide over internet, second the business model. Here is a list of business models which I could see in practice across different online bus reservation sites:

1. Broker/Commission based revenue model: The online bus reservation sites make money by charging commissions on bus bookings from various registered partner bus operators.

2. Revenue from value added services: These sites charge small amount of money from consumers for value added services like home delivery of tickets.

3. Revenue from advertisements: Some of the web sites offer on site advertisements which are used to generate revenue.

4. Revenue from Franchisee: Some sites also offer franchisees for providing online reservation services. The franchisees are offered at a fee with additional income on shares on commissions.

5. Revenue from other travel ancillaries: Some sites have tied up with Taxi operators, Rail (IRCTC) as well as hotels and provide online booking facilities to availing these services. These partners are being charged a commission for every closed deal through their web sites.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Marketing Strategies in Online Bus Reservation Sites

The online bus reservation sites are using a combination of traditional and innovative market strategies to expand its business. Some of the interesting marketing strategies are captured here:

1. Growth using m-Commerce: Some of the sites have tied up with mobile commerce service providers like ngpay. This allows the company to increase its market reach with the exponentially growing Indian mobile subscriber base. Further, this helps the companies to leverage the customer base of m-commerce companies like ngpay thereby reducing the cost of customer acquisition.

2. Multiple customer interaction points: The leading market service providers have gone ahead and provided multiple customer interaction points like phone, web, retail outlets, SMS and m-commerce to expand its customer base.

3. Franchisee based market growth strategy: Many sites have adopted the franchisee model to scale up its businesses.

4. Market Promotion through alliances like Visa, auction and gaming sites: Many sites are offering promotional schemes by rewarding the partner's existing customer base with discounts and promotional offers. For example redbus.in is offering 10% discount to all the visa card holders who book ticket through their visa card.

5. Promotion through special travel packages: Some of the sites also offer special travel packages on behalf of its registered travel partners like devotional tour, winter package etc.

6. Discounted prices on week days: Some players offer discounted prices on various routes in alliance with registered travel agent on week days to drive the traffic.

Monday, July 21, 2008

RupeeX - Online personal investment management solution







RupeeX is an online investment management solution targeted towards Indian consumer's personal financial management needs. With RupeeX you can manage your investments in various areas like equity, IPO, mutual funds, derivatives, fixed income, real estate etc. You can create a portfolio for each of these investment categories online or can upload an existing excel sheet to import data automatically. In addition it also provides you with an online Tax filing module. The details can be submitted online and you can take a print out of forms ITR1 or ITR2. This feature is currently free as part of introductory offering. RupeeX also provides a number of utilities which makes it a powerful online collaborative tool. You can create accounts for other users like your family members who can mange their finances. In turn you can monitor the overall accounts of each user. Also, you can give access to your CA or Tax Consultant to review your investments online without creating a separate document. There is a provision for setting up alerts and reminders which come handy in tracking the progress of your investments. RupeeX finds its place in Economic Times online tax filing feature. A very cool marketing strategy!. You also have RupeeX toolbar which can be used to avail its features on the fly. Though this tool does not provides features to track of the overall cash flows for an average consumer. In that sense, i would say it is a half-baked solution. Today the need of the consumer market is to provide a single view of overall personal financial management which can help him manage his finances better. Companies like Intuit are a good example of what needs to be done to fill such gaps !

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Event: Using online professional networking to get ahead at work




NASSCOM is organizing a day long seminar on 8th August 2008 in New Delhi on the growing importance of network communities in professional world titled: "Using online professional networking to get ahead at work ". Here is the excerpt from its web site on the event details:

As part of NASSCOM Friday's 2.0 (Emerging Companies Forum - Marketing), we take pleasure in inviting you to attend the 38th session of NCR companies on 13th June 2008(Second Friday of the month). The session is Using online professional networking to get ahead at work and the speaker is Ajay Jain Senior Journalist.

Sites like LinkedIn.com (call it the Facebook of professionals) have changed the way professionals interact with one another at a global level, and many are using such platforms to their advantage in many different ways. Not only to find jobs and recruit people as many believe is the most useful application of these networks, but in many ways including: sales and marketing, seeking partners and investors, building a personal brand equity, opening new markets, tapping the collective wisdom of the crowd and more.

This presentation will thus cover all these many ways one can use sites like LinkedIn (with 23 million members globally, and one million in India) to get ahead at work.

NASSCOM Friday's 2.0 - Access the previous 36 Insightful Marketing Sessions at http://www.nasscom.in/fridays2.0

We organise these marketing sessions on the second Fridays of the month. We would greatly appreciate your presence and participation for this session. We looking forward to receiving your confirmation & seeing you on 8th August 2008.

Friday, July 18, 2008

paisawaisa - a personal financial services web site







paisawaisa.com claims to be a one stop shop for meeting all your financial needs. It offers consumers with the option to compare products from different financial companies related to loans, credit cards, banking, insurance, real estate and e-tax filing. assistance is provided through video or chat text which makes interaction easier and fast. In this blog I would specifically like to cover e-Tax filing. The site offers this facility to individuals, corporates and tax consultants with different features and price points. For a consumer the package is priced at Rs199, for employers 50 returns can be filed at Rs2499/ while tax consultants can avail it at Rs2999. As part of ongoing promotion you can file your tax returns free of cost till 31st July 2008. As compared to other sites like TaxShax and Taxsmile, it is lagging behind in features as well as usability. However, the overall look and feel of the web site is quite appealing and has the required stickiness to attract customers. The process offers two options: Complete your forms online, take a print out and file it manually at your Income Tax office. The second one allows you to submit your return online. However, there is no direct integration of this web site with income tax official site. You will be required to fill the form, generate XML through web site. Download the generated XML and visit Income Tax web site where you need to upload the XML and get the receipt(its called FORM V). You will be required to submit the receipt to the income tax office in your jurisdiction. Overall the site is an aid to income tax filing but does not completely eliminate the hassles of dealing with Income Tax manual processes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Taxspanner.com - file your tax returns online



Taxspanner is an online income tax filing web site which offers its services in two basic forms - Self Service and Advanced assisted Service. The process of filing returns is simple and straightforward. You have the option to start off without registering with the web site to begin with. The self-driven wizard guides you through the entire flow. You are required to fill your personal details and income related information. The Site provides you an online Form 16 which needs to be filled and submitted. Once you have completed all your details the web site requires you to make an online payment. Once you have made your payment you can download and print your return and deposit it to your nearest Income Tax office or you can use the e-filing service offered by Taxspanner via MTNL to submit your returns directly to IT department. The pricing varies based on the type of service you want to avail. For self service option you are charged with 249 while advanced assisted service costs you Rs449. For e-filing it offers digital certificate signing service for Rs749 which may save you an extra visit to IT office. To promote itself it has tied up with icicibank and offers discounts to icici netbaking users. In addition it offers paid referrals schemes which allows a user to ear Rs50 per signed up paying referred user. The services are directed to consumers and has an extension for corporates too. Unlike other sites in this space, it does not have value added features for corporates or have any separate support for tax consultants which in itself constitutes a big market.

On the pricing front, I believe it is a pretty reasonable offering. However, it still needs to improve upon its usability as compared to other sites like taxshax.com. In order to be competitive and to scale up business it should definitely consider going retail through a franchisee network which should not be an expensive arrangement. This would definitely increase its reach and would give an edge over its competitors in this space.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Taxsmile - Your online tax consultant





Taxsmile is an online tax filing initiative from 3i Infotech, a global player in the BFSI space. It offers e-filing services to individuals, corporates, tax consultants and NRIs. For consumers it is a boon since they do not have to go through the hassle of filling paper documents without any knowledge on the tax laws. Taxsmile offers services in three modes:
1. File Yourself: Allows the user to fill the application online without any assistance. Tariff is Rs250/-
2. File with an expert: Allows the user to submit the data online and request for review by a tax expert. Tariff is Rs 400/-
3. File through taxsmile: Drop your documents to a Taxsmile retail outlet and allow it to file return on its behalf. Tariff is Rs 750/-

Taxsmile gives you the flexibility to e-file the return through them rather than uploading the document to government income tax site all by yourself.
It offers a host of services to corporate employees like automated generation of Form16, online processing of PAN cards, tax preparation consultancy etc. It offers similar features to Tax consultants but is geared towards increasing their overall efficiency by automating various tasks.
I believe the biggest advantage is to NRIs staying outside India. The web site offers cool features to help them file their return from a distant country.

Overall I must say its a great web site offering services at an affordable price in a price sensitive Indian market.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Taxshax - online income tax returns

Taxshax is one amongst the various online tax filing sites that is making its presence felt in the Indian consumer market. I took the opportunity to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised to see how simple it was to go through the entire process of creating a tax return document. The process is wizard driven which can be easily followed by an average user without the usage of any financial technical terms. Here is a summary of the steps needed to create your tax returns:
1. Register yourself on the taxshax.com
2. Follow the tax return creation wizard. The wizard asks simple questions in plain english which are a no brainer and can be answered very easily if you have all the information available with you.
3. Complete the wizard with all the relevant details. Towards the end the wizard will prompt you to enter your PAN number.
4. Enter the PAN number and buy the appropriate package for filing return. It currently offers three choices - Basic (Rs181), Silver(Rs 4) and Gold(Rs524) depending upon your income filing requirements.
5. Once you buy the package, you have the choice to either print the prepared return form which can be submitted to Income Tax Department or you can download the XML and upload it directly to income tax web site.
Taxshax also offers services to Tax Consultants and Employers who can use its online features to service its customers / employees to make life easier for everyone. I would strongly recommend readers to have an online experience of filing your tax returns. It is really cool!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

customerneedz - Another bus ticket reservation site






customerneeds.com is a Bangalore based outfit which provides online bus ticket reservation service to people traveling to southern part of India. The web site claims to have a coverage of around 300 cities with online return ticket coverage for over 100 cities. You can get your tickets delivered at your door steps or you can choose to print it online. Payment can be made online using your credit, debit cards or through online bank transfers. If you book tickets between Monday and Thursday you can get some discounts or will have lower fares than the premium charged during weekend rush. Usability is a major issue here. For example, it does not allow me to select the pickup points, nor does it gives me flexibility to specify my travel time preference upfront. I do not get a visual bus layout map to select seats. By and large I find it far behind other bus reservation sites in terms of features and functionality. However, a network comprising of 300 cities is still an encouraging sign but it would be help for the company to focus its energies in uplifting the web site from usability perspective to make it more user friendly. In this fiercely competitive marketplace the only way to get customers on your side is by delivering a world class service delivery experience offline as well as online. I hope the founders of customerneedz take these feedback positively and live up to its name which is truly to understand and fulfill customer's needs :) !!

Monday, July 7, 2008

abhibus - Online bus ticket reservation company







Abhibus is a Hyderabad based online bus ticket reservation company which offers travelers to book their tickets through web. The company appears to be quite young and has limited coverage as far as travel routes are concerned. The coverage is largely restricted to southern India with point coverage to cities like Pune, Kolkata and Mumbai. The booking can be only made through web site unlike other portals where you have the advantage of talking to a customer representative or use mobile for booking. The overall process is quite simple. Select a bus based on your requirement, select a seat from the seat map, give traveler details and make online payment. Though I found the overall process easy but it definitely lacks a lot of functionalities as compared to other major players in this segment like ticketvala.com or redbus.in. From the usability aspects, I would rate it as good but it should definitely look at providing some of the basic features like giving flexibility to select a bus type, select departure time, option to call a customer support number, home delivery of tickets, payment during delivery etc. This will help it to expand its target customer base which is currently restricted to only people who have access to Internet. Though the market appears to be quite big right now for different players to grow but in order to scale up it is important to expand your offerings and establish yourself at the earliest before the competition catches you or the place gets crowded!




rajtravels is a well known name in Indian Tours and Travel industry. Founded in 1976 this group has given a new dimension to the travel and tourism industry with its constantly evolving and innovative services. The latest contribution is the launch of www.raj.travel. It is a fully integrated portal offering reservation services around flights, hotels and buses. While the overall vision of the website appears to be moving into the direction of building a single one-stop solution for all your travel needs, but what caught my attention was the bus reservation service. It has presence in 16 states, covering 49 cities and operates a fleet of luxury coaches. The online reservation allows you to plan single or round trip journey. You can select a seat of your choice through the seat map functionality. Payment can be made online through credit or debit cards. Overall, it's a simple, easy to use web site. The overall process appears to be similar to other sites that I have covered in past. The only difference being that while redbus.in and ticketvala.com are intermediaries and offer you services from various travel agents while rajtravels is itself a service provider. An interesting strategy would be for it to grow its business in untapped territories by establishing alliances with various other operators with the use of its e-booking platform.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

redbus.in - Online Bus Tickets Booking Service

redbus.in is online bus tickets booking service with a difference. It allows a great deal of flexibility and convenience in making reservations online. It claims to have a network of over 300 operators and a coverage of over 4000+ routes. For people in Bangalore for whom traveling to new International Airport is a major pain, it provides online reservation facility for comfortable Volvo buses run by state government! Here is how it works:
1. You can search for buses online based on your itinerary by giving details like source-destination, no. of passengers, bus type etc.
2. The search results provide you with options containing various operators. You can narrow down the search by selecting the point of boarding.
3. You can book the ticket online or in some cases will be required to submit the request for booking and a customer rep will get back to you once he is able to arrange tickets for you.
4. As part of booking process, you can online select the seat which you want to book. The system offers you a visual layout of bus and gives you availability in real time.
5. You can make payment online through credit card, debit card, through your existing net banking account or even through your mobile phone.

The company appears to have set up offices in various cities all around India and is in a major mode of expansion. The web site still need to improve from usability perspective. For example, it should allow user to book round trip reservations, there should be flexibility in terms of selecting the travel time in order to retrieve the relevant result in one click. Another important feature would be to allow commuters to rate each travel operator. This will allow the consumers to drive quality awareness within this sector which is the need of the hour.

Friday, July 4, 2008

ticketvala.com - Online bus reservation site

ticketvala.com is an online bus reservation portal promoted by Travis Internet Pvt. Ltd. The web site offers bus reservation facility across various cities in western and southern parts of India. The process is quite similar to online travel portals focused on air travelers. The ticketvala.com provides you with an option to specify your itinerary details like departure/arrival date, time, bus type(volvo, ac, non-ac), number of passengers, seat type (sleeper, sitting) etc. Once you specify your itinerary details, the web site provides you a number of options with details like pick up points, operator name, fare details, departure/arrival time etc. You can review and select a bus of your choice and request for booking. The booking can be confirmed online or in some cases you need to place your request and the customer support executive from ticketvala.com will call and confirm your booking request. You can either make the payment online or choose to pay at the time of delivery. The tickets can either be delivered at your home or you can print it online. At the time of travel you will be required to produce a valid ID Card to validate your date of birth and your e-ticket. The tickets can also be booked by directly calling 1-800-209-222.

It appears to be a very novel idea and I think will lead to some level of organization in this sector. We definitely need more of these kind of services to enable an average non-Internet savvy traveler to benefit from the technology.
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