Figure this. You enter a shop and the shopkeeper tells you bluntly, “Sir, you’ve got to come in a suit. I am not selling you otherwise”.
How would that make you feel?
A few days back, I attempted buying something from Flipkart from my mobile browser. I had bought a new mobile and was a tad happy about the generous 5.5 inch screen, which I thought should be good enough to allow me to open up a site, search for a product and press the “Buy” button. That’s all. No research on products, no reading of scores of reviews, no comparisons side by side. And I naively thought the screen size is just about okay for this basic browsing activity.
To my utter shock, all I saw is the following screen:
Flipkart was forcing me to install their app while I was absolutely okay with browsing their site (even if it wasn’t a mobile friendly one). We all know that Flipkart has a website. But no, you can’t access it with your mobile, even if you want to. Because the retail biggie is not happy with you just browsing their site…they want you install their app.
They force you to install in the garb of “improved browsing experience”.
THE REAL STORY BEHIND “BETTER BROWSING EXPERIENCE”
The fact obviously is that Flipkart is no so much worried about your improved browsing experience. It needs to hide a few things and need a few more things from you.
The modus operandi to force you to install their app is doing one of the following:
- Offer discounts and deals only for app users
- Stop website users and forward them to app download site
- Create features on the app that, though questionable in their utility, can’t be offered to non-app users (e.g. Snapdeal “shake the mobile” feature)
- Deliberately remove features (or not provide the obvious features) from the mobile-friendly site so that users are forced to choose app over the site.
A few months ago Myntra.com had gone one step ahead (Flipkart is behind this is no surprise after all) and shut its web portal for good. Apparently “almost everyone” was using the mobile device to shop on Myntra and so the move was natural. Really? As if desktops and laptops have vanished from the face of earth!
The Games2Win founder and CEO Alok Kejriwal has written an interesting article on some of the reasons for this “App only” move. It talks about reducing the revenue to cut the huge losses these e-retailers are incurring on every product they sell. In an attempt to reduce revenue drastically while saving face, brands like Myntra and Flipkart have either stopped several non-smartphone users (or those who prefer to shop only from the website) access to their site or simply stopped serving a lot of pincodes.
WHY ISN’T ANYONE SPEAKING UP?
When Airtel Zero was launched, people on social media went all ballistic. We wanted to preserve our “Net Neutrality”. Isn’t this a question of “Access Neutrality”; to be able to access a web resource with the device of your choice, unless it’s illogical to do so.
Imagine this: You recently bought a 10-inch tab instead of a laptop and are trying to browse a site. What if the site isn’t accessible and asks you to switch to their App instead. How would that make you feel? As per this report, Flipkart too might be making plans to go the Myntra way and shut down its web portal. No kidding, this is the inevitable result of a bloody retail game with outside money.
Surprisingly hardly anyone is speaking up. May be most of us are too comfortable with clicking away at our 5-inch screens and installing apps by the dozens gleefully, blissfully unaware of what lies in store ahead.
BROWSER IS A WONDERFUL TOOL. APPS AREN’T.
Internet is a great thing to have happened to humankind. And browsers have always been our window to the exciting world of Information. By universalizing information resources, and therefore providing controlled access to personal data, browsers introduce a layer of anonymity (if you discount cookies, that is) so that a website can’t easily access your computer and use information stored on it the way it wants. Websites are not “installed” on your system, they come to you though the filter of a browser.
Apps on the other hand sit on your system and have practically all access to your data, your camera, GPS and other sensors, microphone, contacts, applications and everything else. This has potentially dangerous consequences.
PRIVACY IS THROWN OUT OF THE DOOR
Mobile is a highly private device staying with us all the time and attracting our undivided attention. By installing more apps we are potentially inviting more businesses to intrude into our private space and monitor and use our behavior; from tracking us with the GPS to checking our photographs, from analyzing our call pattern to making sense of our contacts. All this apparently goes into creating our unique footprint on the internet and find out the best possible way to getting money out of our pockets with pin-pointed accuracy (read it as targeted marketing on steroids)
A MARKETPLACE WHERE EVERYONE HAS A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD IS REDUCED TO A DEPARTMENTAL STORE WITH NO CHOICE
Imagine you are searching for a beautiful ethnic dress for the next marriage party and a Google search on browser throws up several sites selling such a dress. You could open all of them in multiple tabs, compare and buy the best. Even a small start up company can sell you a good deal. But through apps, you are locked to only the retailers you have installed. A smaller company, even though it offers you a better deal, will never be able to get to you because you would never install a minnow’s app. A part of App strategy is also to kill smaller competition.
YOU CAN’T ESCAPE ANYMORE
Brands do everything possible to reach you. They spend millions in TV ads so that you don’t change the channel. They cover the entire newspaper front page so that you can’t possibly miss them. They email you. They pop up while you browse. They book the buildings near crossings and put hoardings so that you can’t help but stare out of your idling car. All that costs too much money, dear!
You install the app and you make their life a thousand times easier. Just a plain notification on your oh-so-personal mobile is good enough. While you numb your little fingers pushing that miniature screen, ignoring friends around the table or teacher in the class, brands can sit back, relax and analyze every single detail about who read (or didn’t read) their myriad messages and plan their next move, something that could never do with newspaper or hoarding ads.
Think fro the perspective of these sellers. You are always making yourself available to them, 24×7. The first thing in the morning, the last thing at night.
YOU END UP BUYING MUCH MORE THAN WHAT YOU NEED
In the good old world of websites, it might be too much of a pain for you to open your browser, visit the retailers website, browse through products and buy them. If you wish to buy something on impulse (your bestfriend just got a gorgeous dress form Myntra) you might end up postponing it because it takes longer.
When the app is installed on your system and just a push away, you are far more likely to spend your time just browsing through the app. A well designed app can shorten your journey from ‘notification’ to ‘purchase’. They can make it so seamless that a purchase transaction is done in a flash. It doesn’t matter to them if you realize later that you didn’t need to buy what you just bought.
By decreasing the time between an impulse to buy and actual buying, retailers wish to keep you hooked and keep you buying.
THERE IS MORE
Your apps store passwords. Free apps might make money illegally selling your private data to others or delivering malware to your phones. You don’t read the agreements that come with the apps. You don’t care, because you need to quickly install that damn app and get on with life.
GETTING BACK TO SANITY
Remember the time when you went to the market only when you needed to buy something? Then came malls, where you went to pass time, do window shopping and bought things you didn’t really require? You know what, you are better off now. You don’t have to take so much pain as to go out and buy what you need. I know what you need; better still, I will make you buy regardless, because you don’t know what you need.
Today, probably 15 days out of 30 in a month, one of the big threes (Snapdeal, Amazon.in and Flipkart) runs a deal prompting you to buy. It’s difficult to believe that they can recoup the money spend to run these deals and the discounts they offer. Just a few years back, deals were mostly offered either during season close or major festivals. Not anymore.
When I see these over-sized ads spanning multiple full pages of a costly newspaper like Times of India, I remind myself, I will buy what I need. I don’t need to buy!
I look at the apps for the last time. I am pretty much sure in my mind that they are not coming back on my mobile for a long long time. As I delete them, I realize that Flipkart can’t hold me to ransom anymore. While reading the morning newspaper with their full page ad, I will no more open their app almost by default and check the prices of things I wish I had.
I know life would not be the same. It would be much better!
Flipkart, achha kiya jo wait nahin kiya.