IRCTC gives e-commerce websites a run for their money

  • Kalyan Subramani, Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
  • Updated: Feb 26, 2016 13:55 IST

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) can well be viewed as India’s largest e-commerce player. (PTI File Photo)

Rail minister Suresh Prabhu may have given the cue to the biggest move in the Indian e-commerce space in a throwaway line in his rail budget speech.

“The IRCTC website also offers opportunities for exploiting e-commerce activities on account of the large number of hits it receives,” Prabhu said while presenting the Railway Budget 2016 in Parliament on Thursday.

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) can well be viewed as India’s largest e-commerce player. In fact, according to IRCTC, its website gets an average 330 million hits a day, and clocks 50-million individual visits. The portal has 390-million registered users and 250-million active users.

Independent sources put these numbers lower: real-time Web data service provider Similarweb put daily hits on the IRCTC website at 1.7 to 3 million for the last three months.

The largest private Indian e-commerce player, Flipkart, gets around 10-million visits a day.

Read: Rail budget: Prabhu spares fare hike, vows better ride for passengers

IRCTC’s entry as a full-fledged e-commerce portal can take Indian e-commerce to a whole new level. In a November 2015 report, consulting firm KPMG estimated the industry at around $17.6 billion, growing at 40% a year towards $136-billion by 2020.

“Very few realise IRCTC is already the largest e-commerce company in India (by size),” said Sreedhar Prasad, partner, KPMG. “With payment gateway and physical (railway) network already in place, the potential is huge. Start offering products, and allow shopping while in train by getting good (internet) connection, and install touchscreen-based kiosks in trains.”

IRCTC’s biggest strength is its traffic, and the ideal way forward to emerge as an e-commerce player would be through partnerships with existing private e-tailers, said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder-CEO of e-commerce and digital wallet player Paytm.

IRCTC does have e-commerce tie-ups: last February it tied up with Amazon India, which operates as a link on its website. In November last year, it partnered with food-delivery marketplace Foodpanda. “IRCTC is the biggest e-commerce platform in India. It makes sense to monetise the position,” said Saurabh Kochhar, CEO and co-founder, Foodpanda.

Hyderabad-based Red Sprout Foods has a tie-up with IRCTC to deliver meals to rail passengers.

IRCTC is also in talks with Flipkart, Paytm and others to expand services, sources said.

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