Why Ecommerce in India Sucks!


If there is one word that describes Ecommerce experience about Indian websites it is this..


The exclamation is a mark of my sheer disgust at failed transactions time and again. It’s a sign of hopelessness when all permutations and combinations of options provided on the website fail to capture my details in such a way so as to complete the trade.

Ecommerce on Indian sites particularly for NRI’s, i.e., Indians living abroad (need to spell that otherwise the website developers/ owners do NOT GET IT) is like peeling an onion. The frustration and tears only get worse as you are hitting one wall after another. There is also a total lack of help resources let alone an online chat facility with live support staff to get the transaction done.

Address fields and Pin codes

The websites expect NRI’s to use the website and transact with them but the technical design fails to accept my international address correctly. Well, the address I provide should match my postal address similar to my credit card billing address, right? But hell. When I do give the correct postal address the websites don’t accept it. They simply reject my input saying “Incorrect address” as though they are the immigration officers and do not believe such an address exists where I live. Data input fields do not expect you to use special characters like hyphens and comma, or they do not accept international pin codes or worse, both!

Telephone numbers

You are a NRI – Then why would you have an Indian number on which you would want people to call you? But hey, if you want to transact on online Indian portals they expect you to have them, else, your classified post or online purchase won’t go through. So should I go get myself an Indian land line or a mobile number (most likely expected input) for ecommerce purpose?

Payment options

Hmmm. This is almost impossible. Paypal as it was difficult from before but now has been banned if I am not wrong. So you have to choose from Indian bank cheque payment services or credit cards. I chose the credit card option of Visa/ Master. After providing my credit card number, name, expiry and CVV (very confidential stuff), my transaction was turned down as below.

failed transaction

As dog-headed as I am, without giving hope of making my transaction, I hit the ‘Pay Now’ button a second time in the hope of making any corrections to my transaction. Drums roll. Lo and behold the next screen!

failed transaction session expired

So they take all MY PERSONAL information and now my transaction does not go through. So what happens to MY PERSONAL information? Could it be potentially misused by somebody? Who knows?

So what if one website is not designed properly. I will go try the next one. This website lost my business… but hey, who knows if the next site is able to get my order or not.

Related: Here is another article talking about how plight of Indian E-Commerce – The reason why E-Commerce does not grow in India !

  1. […] the potential of e-commerce in India cannot be under-mined, though the newer initiatives should be well backed-up with enough resources […]

  2. Arjun Dhar says

    Am a professional Web Developer (among other things); I hear you. There are also more things that have frustrated me as a user but I'll hope to correct them. For instance, the worst of all… you are in the middle of a Transaction and your browser blows. Now you are wondering if the payment went or not. This can be fixed, but the lack of skill to fix these things is apparent.

    I have to add that businesses are to blame for their greed and scrounge. They forget E-Commerce is not a "web-site" but it is Business Online. They would be willing to spend Rs 1,50,000 as rent (pure cost) in some upscale mall but have an issue investing that amount in a space where the potential growth is tremendous… and if you feel there is no potential growth online for your business, then don't do it.

    Last issue and very important one is of supply chain. This unfortunately also needs a lot to be desired in the indian market.

    Guys can contact me via my company site @ http://neurosys.biz.

    1. Sidharth Madan says

      Wow, so its not just me trying to find a solution to the Indian eCommerce problem. I am actually working on my final year paper on Indian eCommerce. I would highly appreciate if filled out a survey I have created-http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Z5ZXJMM
      Contact me if we can work together on something, I have been doing a lot of research on Indian eCommerce lately

  3. Satyabrat says

    Hi,Madhav.I am a mechanical engg. And I want to start a ecommerce bussiness ralated to mechanical mechinery.Can it work in India or world market.And I also want to know how much Capital required to start a e-commerce business.

  4. Amitabh Saxena says

    Apparantly, the post has launched an "amazing" service where you can send a softcopy of a document to be printed and a hardcopy mailed to an address you choose. (ePost). I thought amazing! Now I can send a mail to my parents without leaving my house to take a printout and go to a postoffice.
    Guess what.. to register you need to go to a postoffice physically to buy a prepaid card. Apparantly they could not figure out a way to make us pay by credit cards. Looks like they really need a course on ecommerce. I agree. India post is way way behing in the Internet thing.

  5. mayavi says

    I agree with Sachin to a great extent in that most of the major website like IRCTC, makemytrip, yatra, flipcart, etc..etc are really really good. I also agree there are a quite a few site out there which do not have good cust experiences..but there are equally as bad websites in the west as well.!!

    Have you ever used Bank of America website bankofamerica.com (US version)? Banking Experience cannot suck more!! the pages go from https to http when I click the “contact us” or “customer service” links after being logged-in and viewing my account balanaces!!. It was like this for more than 4yrs until they changed just last year!!

    I am not trying to justify that Indian website can keep providing this bad customer experience. But please understand that providing a truly secure transactions on the internet is not a child’s play and require a loot of work!

    This post just reinforces the ever self-critical, ever faultfinding, sadly Indian, mentality. I don’t meant to be harsh or anything..but there are centainly many good websites out there.

    This Incessant comparison with rest of the world (US) is just damning and I am not sure if this does any good at all.

    I agree that we must try to improve.. but plz plz stop comparing with the world (US)…. (pun intended!!)

    BTW – Sachin i am sorry that you got a bad experience with Amazon (I work @Amazon – but Amazon as such has a good fool proof site which is highly rated for customer experience)

    1. Madhav Shivpuri says

      Hi Mayavi and Sachin

      Thanks for sharing postive reviews on Cleartrip and IRCTC etc. I haven’t used them so don’t know. Yes, when one is routinely experiencing bad service it is difficult to see the positive side. Hope some companies will learn from businesses who are doing a good job.


  6. Mustafa says

    Hi Madhav,

    That was a nice post on a subject that interests me.

    I will totally agree with you on this. I am a seller on eBay and the kind of queries that I recieve from my would be buyers amazes me that a site like eBay India does not have technical expertise to make their site compatible for multiple browsers. eBay India Customer Service very proudly asks users (both buyers and sellers) to use only Internet Explorer 6.0 whereas the whole world is using either Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. In my case, I have a Window 7 Laptop, they even ask me to downgrade from IE 8 to IE 6. This issue alone has costed me dearly in terms of new customers. I recieve calls daily on payments process not going forward… then I have to inform my customers to please open the good old Internet Explorer to try again. That also is not a lasting solution most of the times.

    Apart from technical issues which leads to issues like payments being rejected, there are other issues like lack of understanding as to how e-commerce should work fundamentally. For me its an extension of my regular wholesale business. I believe as a wholesale business owner I should charge my e-commerce customers at a lesser price and give them a genuine good deal. But these so called e-commerce leaders in India are opening charging the customers prices way above the offline prices by charging commisions of minimum 20% to 25% of the sale amount. Thats one of the reasons I have rejected lot of offers from such sites and it is evident that a wide variety and assortment of items are rarely found except of the tech category in these sites.

    Regarding the payment issue mentioned by you, to open a private e-commerce site is also an issue as there are no good Payment Gateway services except of a few big players who charge a hefty amount while giving services that you have experienced.



    1. Madhav Shivpuri says

      Hi Mustafa,

      Thanks for sharing your story. However, my observation of traffic to my website http://www.Opteasy.com coming from India is thru IE 6. So there may be some truth to eBay’s version about using IE6. However I would believe that IE7 would be backwardly compatible with IE6, so I would see no reason why eBay has not upgraded.

      20-25% commission to payment gateways is ridiculous. How about using online banking gateways or asking people to do an online transfer from their online banking portal without using a payment gateway on your site. Could you education to your customer that you charge less because you don’t have to pay exhorbitant online transaction fees. So the minor inconvenience results in cheaper products to customers.

      Could you use something like this? http://www.atomtech.in/

      Entrepreneurs – do you smell a business opportunity here?

  7. Viral says

    @ Madhav…

    I feel we have had too much pessimism revolving around online shopping and e-commerce. No doubt, most of the views and comments placed are genuine in nature of the operational issues, we also need to have a broader view on the over-all evolution and development of Online shopping (as compared to the traditional form of shopping and even the recent Mall culture).

    Hopefully, let me contemplate writing a small post on it very soon.
    So, lets carry forward the discussion on this issue with altogether different perspective in one another related article, some time soon :)

  8. Viral says

    @ Altaf

    I agree that you may have experienced a number of obstacles in operational issues regarding trading transactions. But, you need to paint a thin line that provides distinction between transactional hassles and safety net provided by the companies involved in online transactions, especially, share trading.

    Point 1 – You said that you forgot your password. And, since you tried 2 or 3 other choises to test whether you could click on to your actual password, did not succeed and your account got locked. Your account getting locked is, in fact, a ‘SAFETY’ feature provided by your broking firm.

    Take, for example, suppose someone wants to log-in to your account with your username. And, the hacker tries out entering passwords to get into your account for 2 or 3 attempts. Your account will get locked for good reasons.

    Now, suppose, if this feature wouldn’t have been available, hackers can use endless number of attempts to break into your accoutnt while using various different permutations and combinations. Its a safety feature, no doubt – even though it may not be completely hassle-free if one forgets the all-important password. But, the safety net is designed for a crisis situation such as forgetting passwords.

    Point 2 – You mentioned that the bank agreed to send you the new password at your postal (or correspondence) address at Kuwait. Again, this is a safety feature.

    Just imagine, in case some unknown or ingenuine person applies for new password on your behalf, you can rest assured that the newly-generated password would be well-received at an address none other than your own postal one.

    Though, it was cumbersome for you to get hold of the new password from various different locations, the HDFC Bank abided by the security measures and played as per their rules – ultimately favouring safety standards.

    Point 3 – Connection Problems is related to your internet/broadband service provider. It may sound a bit rude but…

    Your share broker needs to provide with the formalities of various different windows including log-in window, Market Watch window, Buy/Sell window, provision for stock, qty, price, cash transfers, Order confirmation windows, among other all mandatory windows required to ensure absolute safety while transacting.

    I’ve personally realized the importance of most of these seperate windows while I used to do active trading in stock markets. Once I had put a wrong quantity for a trade (instead of 100 I had entered 1000) and clicked on ‘OK’ to let the order g othrough. However, on entering the order, I got a confirmation window to ask me ‘Whether I want to enter a Buy order for 1000 shares?” (if yes, again, click OK).

    For once, I was spared by my destiny, as I got an alert of sorts that I have entered a wrong quantity of 1000, instead of 100. It clearly is a safety feature, though cumbersome.

    Altaf… don’t take this as a negative comment. Such safety features are deisgned at most brokerage houses as they are quite significant fro msafety purposes and cannot be wished away for being a bit too cumbersome.

    1. Altaf Rahman says

      May be my presentation might be wrong. I am not complaining about the problem faced by me (account locked). I am highlighting the aftermath. If I am an resifent Indian, I can simply walk into the bank and get the issue sorted out in 2 min flat. But as NRI, how I expect my problem to be solved? I can not give a particular address to bank, nor I can give Indian address. There is no way out for me. Now I am strictly noting down the latest passwords on a paper. If I loose the paper, I an out.

      Now coming to safety features (irrespective of indian or NRI)
      I know all teh features are for safety. But safety should not hinder me.
      I will give you an humarous example. Suppose we hired a security to gaurd our house and instruct himstrictly, with out proper identity, dont let any one in. We thought our safety is guarenteed now.
      Suppose u urself forget ur ID some where and if the security guy u r paying is refusing ur entry to ur own house? Isnt the matter streched too far?
      Same way my security should not hinder my freedom too

  9. Sachin says

    No dude. I dont agree with whatever you are saying. I am not denying your experience and it may be one odd case. For last 5 years I am using sites such as IRCTC, Cleartrip etc and had never had any wrong incident. I also bought books on firstandsecond, flicmart etc and it alwayes worked. One of your experience may be an exception than the rule. I have always used my Singapore CC and even a few times a Debit Card as well. In fact the only bad experience i had so far was from amazon.

    1. Madhav Shivpuri says

      Hi Sachin,

      Glad to know you have had positive experiences. So its sporadic incidents which some people seem to share the view both on the comments here and on Twitter have been agreeing to. So I think will should give credit where it is due, to certain websites and hope other websites too take a hint from the success of such sites.

  10. Madhav says

    Hi Viral,

    Of course we are NRI – ‘Not Required Indians’. Businesses want our money. Government wants our taxes. Customs wants to grab our stuff including chocolates, CD players and alcohol. Yet, we are ‘Not Required Indians’.

    By the way, an update on my above transaction. (Still being pig-headed) When Itried a third time to make a payment I used Icici bank option instead of the credit card choices. This time, the website transferred me to the bank’s page, asked me for the password, I entered. Next confirm the amount screen. I confirmed. Next enter transaction password, I entered. All this process took 15 minutes, and then I get a screen – Lo and behold – “Your session has expired”. Hey, every time they trick me into entering the password and the session expires only after that. Fantastic. Should really congratulate the brains behind the website on successfully accomplishing their mission.

    And to add insult to injury, the website (Quikr.com) sent me an automated email to say that my payment process was not completed so my classified would not appear. If I need help I should email their support! Thanks…now I know whom to contact.

    1. ICICI Bank Care says

      Hi Madhav,

      We have upgraded our Retail Banking platform, the functions have stabilized. you can view your balances, transfer money, pay bills and shop online. You may experience fluctuations in certain functions like service requests, we are working on it, please contact Phone Banking or branches for anything urgent.

      ICICI Bank Customer Service Team

      1. Arun Prabhudesai says

        I am extremely glad to see ICICI representatives taking note of the issue.

      2. Madhav Shivpuri says


        Thanks for checking this out blog and your suggestion. Its good to see you are also doing reputation management.

        The above situation that I have blogged about, I am not sure whether it was a problem at the banking end or that of Quikr.com (or even any other 3rd party payment solution) because pages would not change faster. So I am not pointing fingers at you.

        However since you mention your support mechanisms I would like to give some feedback regarding the same.

        Phone banking takes a long time to reach an agent through tonnes of options. Agents keep asking for personal identification (Name, date of birth etc.) every time they say “Please hold Sir” (which is at least 5 times in a call of 5 minutes) and get back on the call. And at the end of the day, they tell me “Please email [email protected]“. I surely feel enlightened to hear that.

        Email support is quick… 2 to 4 days turn around. To put it mildly, I would request your customer service to write in simple English that a commoner can understand and act upon.

        May be the above problems are not limited to your bank. (If it is any consolation, I have had worse experience with insurance companies.)

        E-commerce and online banking businesses could potentially improve their customer support by adding online chat with support staff because people want real-time solutions to their problems. If customer service in India could be improved, I am sure businesses could double their customer base and revenues. I wish I could pass this message to all CEOs.

        All said and done, looks like you are interested in your firm’s reputation and customer service. So hope you take the feedback in the right light.

  11. Viral says

    Hello Madhav,

    Excellent post on the constraints related with the operational issues of the portal of company involved in online business. And, from the informative article that you’ve published it seems NRIs are facing larger problems in placing their online orders.

    We need to determine whether same is the same at home (India) too? As such, I am not much involved in online shopping, so can’t say much about domestic constraints. All-in-all, a nice article.

    Drums Rolling…. :) that left me laughing out loud.

  12. Altaf Rahman says

    I totally agree with Madhav.
    In fact I would add that NRIs are treated as second class citizens.
    Most of the above cases mentioned by Madhav may be his personal sufferings.
    I would like to give my sufferings here to strongly justify that NRIs are treated as second class citizens.
    1) I have opened a NRE SB account with HDFC while working in Kuwait. As the nature of my job requires changing companies and countries altogether, I do not stay in one place. Later while working in Thailand, once I forgot my password (we have to frequently mandetorily change password and i forgot the most recent password) I tried 2 or 3 choices and the account is locked!!. The I sent a mail to the bank explaining the situation and wanted a new password. They agreed but said they will only send it to my postal address (which is in Kuwait). You can imagine my emberassment. I have to call my friends in Kuwait office from Thailand and got the envelop reposted to me to Thailand. When I asked HDFC to change my address, they asked me to bring so many documents. For me its not possible to get new documents. Even if I provide documents, if they change the address to Thailand, by then I moved to Vietnam, then on to Qatar. As NRI I can not provide Indian address (which is easier for me). So the only way I keep surviving is by not forgetting my password. If I do, I will die.
    2) I have demat account for trading. However as NRI, I can not day trade. I can only take delivery which is 2 days. And after I sell I get money after 2 more days. So I do not have the option of day trading, though it is rude I must admit that people in India with a margin money get more options than me. I can not trade in commodities. I can not trade in F&O. I can not trade in mutual funds. Why just coz I am a NRI?
    3) As NRI I am refused a credit card, though I am sure my financial credentials are 100 times better than that of most of the RIs. More over it pains to see bank staff running around RIs to give them credit cards while I am refused.
    4) I can not forget the time in 2007 when I bought HDIL at 900 online. I know it was going down. I wanted to sell but can not as the internet connectivity is slow. As HDFC Demat account holders may know how many windows we have to pass before we can place a order. First we sign in. Then mark the stock, qty, price then click OK. Then we confirm the trade, click OK. Then another window opens reserving cash, click, OK. Then again reconfirm order, click, OK. Same fo rchanging price or qty. If the net connectivity in a forign land is slow, as HDFC is a secure site, the window says, your session expired. Then start from so many Click, OKs. Finally I sold HDIL at 85 loosing 90% of money.

    With the above experiances, I loath to do online shopping. I never know who will steal my money. If I loose it, I have to take leave from company, travel to India to follow up which will be more than what I loose. Always live with fear. Thats what I call second class life.

    1. Madhav says

      Dear Altaf,

      This post seems to have given you an opportunity to vent some of the problems you face as an NRI. Only an NRI can understand the pain of an NRI.

      Placing a classified ad with the paid option to highlight the ad is a problem, which was what drove me to write the above post. Online shopping is a problem. Online trading is a problem. Oh well, don’t even get me started on Online trading and password problems with Icici direct! I will have to save that for another post. Or better still… why don’t you do a post on that?

      1. Altaf Rahman says

        A post!! And me? No way :-) Its not my cuppa. Anyway thanks for asking :-)

        However I suggest that when you make another post, please mention not only trading problems, some of the exclusions we face.
        (For e.g., we can not vote, we can not buy agricultural land, and many other second class treatments)

        1. Madhav Shivpuri says

          Altaf, looks like there are a long list of NRI problems we face but are not highlighted anywhere. Thanks for bringing it up. May be we should have an open post and invite lots of comments from fellow NRI’s.

  13. Annkur says

    Its been the trend in all online fields. Take email, search or even OS. The international biggies have swept away the market in India. Accept it!

    1. Madhav says

      Hi Annkur,

      Yes. If our IT driven country cannot put together a decent website and support, there is no business for them.

      Can you give some names of the biggies are you referring to?

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