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Pehele app: How programs are keeping a close watch over you

Events over the past week show how Big Brother may watch you more and more as you shop online in India. And whether that is a good thing or not depends on you.

columns Updated: May 10, 2015 17:01 IST

Events over the past week show how Big Brother may watch you more and more as you shop online in India. And whether that is a good thing or not depends on you.

Myntra, the fashion goods portal owned by Flipkart, announced that from May 15, it will become an 'app only' site. Which means you have to download the Myntra app and shop through that and cannot do it on its website. Now, picture this like a cooperative society store or army canteen of the old-world shopping. You get nice discounts and deals, but only if you are a member of the club. Walk-in customers are not exactly encouraged.

It is being said that it is only a question of time before Flipkart follows the Myntra route -- you will need to download its app and not be a casual site visitor to shop.

"The best fashion experience is truly personalised and engaging -- one that is only possible through the device that is closest to you. A device that understands you -- your mobile," the company said.

Why is this so? My guess is that intelligence of the device will be able to display fashion goods in a more alluring fashion.

The back-end explanation is (they say) that venture capitalists funding e-tailers want loyal customers and downloaded apps are a way to measure the degree of loyalty. The more complex answer would be that once you download an app, it is easier for the e-commerce companies to keep track of you -- and so you may get special offers based increasingly on your purchase patterns and tastes. Your loyalty is easier to nurture.

The game is increasingly shifting from market-share to wallet-share. Since these companies sell you a whole lot of stuff -- or at least, want you to-- the more they know you, and the more they pull you towards their side, the more likely you are to buy from them and not someone else. The implication is also that they want to have fewer deep-pocketed, more frequent on-the-go impulse shoppers than zillions of fly-by-discount smart consumers.

In a separate development last week, the Future Group, which owns the Big Bazaar retail chain, announced a partnership with Manthan, a Bangalore-based analytics firm whose launch I remember covering a decade ago. Manthan specialises in slicing and dicing customer data to find patterns. Its analytics are said to track 10 million customer transactions a month, and use powerful software to help brands and suppliers get instant intelligence (the way they show a batsman's shots across a field in a cricket telecast these days). These also track loyalty programmes.

You know how, in old-world shopping, the shopkeeper is likely to recognise a wealthier frequent shopper in a crowd and make him or her feel good. In e-commerce, the software does it for you. From the back-end, stores are able to know better what is selling more and what is selling less and under what circumstances.

It is vital to know that even brick-and-mortar retail at the back-end is increasingly becoming e-commerce as data analytics drives strategy.

E-commerce, you could say, is not rocket science. It is data science.