Ishita Swarup, Co-Founder & CEO, 99labels.com, holds a degree in Economics from Delhi University and an MBA from IMT. She began her career with Cadburys. Later, she created and managed Orion Dialog, a pioneer in the ITES sector in India. She exited by selling the company to Aegis BPO part of the Essar Group, where she continued as COO-India. Thereafter she helped set up a social venture -Sakha Consulting Wings Pvt. Ltd. Sakha is a unique social enterprise, launched to provide safe transport solutions for women, by women in urban India.
99labels.com was started in December 2009 and has been synonymous with affordable, guilt-free splurging, offering premium and well known fashion and lifestyle brands at up to 90% off. The sales, the deep discounts, and the bouquet of labels offered have continuously delighted the members, and have seen memberships growing by leaps and bounds. 99labels has managed the incredible feat of playing host to sales of more than 800 international and Indian brands since its inception The number of sales breaking every day has gone up to 7-9 as compared to 3-4 at the earlier stages, and the orders have shot up to 2000 per day compared to 300-400 in the initial year. In two rapid years of its exponential expansion, 99labels has established its presence across the globe and today boasts of offices in five major cities, including a vibrant presence in Paris and New York as well. Hundreds of fashion and lifestyle brands such as Diesel, Pierre Cardin, Calvin Klein, Gucci, Versace, Ritu Kumar, Tarun Tahiliani have found immense exposure and success by being featured on the 99labels platform, and newer names like Terra, Bansri Joaillerie have found a unique, cost-effective and highly visible avenue to market their products very effectively
Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Ishita Swarup says, “Discount offerings are still the best attraction because people are always looking for high value brands and ‘perceived’ high value brands at affordable prices.”
Briefly explain to us your business model.
99labels is an online event-based flash sales, members-only portal where members can buy a wide selection of Indian and international brands at deep discounts. The portal offers members a host of international brands which are often not available in India at up to 90% off. The limited time event brings a sense of urgency to the sale, and members can log into and look forward to a clutch of new and exciting sales every day.
We offer a discrete environment, wherein we can help liquidate their excess stocks in a quick and easy way, amongst a discerning audience.
We have, in the two years of our existence, been able to bring up names like Ed Hardy, L’occitaine, Diesel, Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci and so many more.
What are the trends being seen in online shopping. Is discount offering still the best attraction?
Discount offerings are still the best attraction because people are always looking for high value brands and ‘perceived’ high value brands at affordable prices. The ‘treasure hunt’ feeling is a great pull towards this model, as has been proven internationally as well.
The unique development of the last couple of years is the comfort level people have begun to feel on the internet and with its related technology. This has led to a more secure feeling in our member base where it comes to sharing credit card details and such information. We have seen a surge in the number of women shopping online, and their net savvy is ramping up fast. As of now 60% of our buyer base is women & hence majority of our sales cater to them. There is a growing awareness of how much time, effort and money can be saved while shopping online, and women are taking full advantage of this delightful new opportunity.
Why the name 99labels? How many brands do you offer?
The number ‘99’ has an interesting personality because it represents both a never-ending array of labels and sales as well as a sense of a discount, being one less than a hundred. In the world of retail, ‘99’ as a number has a deeply positive psychological effect on consumers and has been shown across the globe as a number which spurs the decision making process where purchases are concerned. We have 9 new brands going live daily and so far we have brought more than 2000 brands to our members.
What is the USP of 99labels?
Our USP undoubtedly would be international premium brands at upto 90% discount. Plus launching 9 new brands daily which are available for 3 days only and only members can shop, creates a sense of exclusivity and urgency that add to it
Roughly how many orders are placed in a day and what would be the approximate transaction value?
Not at liberty to share exact transaction figures, but it is above industry average. We receive up to 2000 orders each day.
How large is your customer base? Comment on the stickiness in your business?
We have a customer base of 10 lakh members. We have 9 new sales going live everyday and we make sure to pro-actively keep our members informed about daily sales with the help of social media like Facebook and Twitter, e-mailers, messages and other communication channels. This ensures full information flow, which creates a bank of repeat buyers. We also try and innovate with different seasonal and topical promotions to make the sales more exciting for our customers. We have also introduced Club99, a loyalty program that lets us give added perks and benefits to our loyal customer base. Moreover, we have lately rolled out a new more user-friendly interface which we are sure will increase stickiness.
What is Club99 all about?
Club99 is our unique loyalty club program where customers are given special perquisites and benefits like free shipping, early access to sales as well as being given preferred treatment like customized sales and promotions. This initiative has been hugely successful in driving up the shopping frequency and spends by members, as the exclusivity and privileges offered are perceptible. Recently, we also started launching certain sales which are exclusive only for Club99.
What kind of infrastructure do you have in place?
We have a very strong team in place and are growing steadily each month. Our assets include a highly specialized team from different backgrounds with varied experiences as well as five offices across the globe with a total of 120 very ‘switched-on’ team members.
You sold your earlier company to Aegis BPO. What are your plans with 99labels?
With e-commerce the nascent industry that it is, we are at the beginning of a boom period in a sunrise sector. We are scaling up quickly and have ambitious expansion plans for the next few years. 99labels has 10 lakh subscribers registered and an industry major like Info Edge has come aboard this year with an investment of US$ 3.5 million. This in itself says that we are here for the long haul.
What are your expansion plans? How would they be funded?
We have been expanding quickly. 99labels currently has 5 offices across the globe and will be coming up with more offices soon. Our hiring is steady and aggressive, and our employees are motivated to grow along with the company. We are getting a great bouquet of good brands on board with many more eager enquiries daily. As a policy, we are concentrating more on international brands that are not available in India and on providing the same to our member base at deep discounts. Also, we have plans to speed up our delivery, we have started express delivery on select merchandise, where we deliver in 7 days time and have already got a positive response for it. We would like to make customer service more prompt, and generally improve all facets of the customer experience to make it unmatched in all respects.
How are the margins compared with a traditional retailer?
While we can’t disclose exact margins, our business operates on margins which allow us to cover our overheads and be profitable. In any e-commerce the operational costs are significantly lower than that of an offline retailer.
What kind of technology leverage do you have?
We have a strong team of technology experts who have hands on web domain expertise. This helps us in maintaining a robust website with easy to use interface and thereby imparts a seamless web experience to our users.
We employ dedicated web infrastructure to delivery fast load time and have adequate measures in place to safeguard user information.
It is our constant endeavour to bring the best of technology to our members to provide a “wow” online shopping experience.
What would be the growth drivers in this business?
Getting to pick and buy the best brands at the best possible discounts, quick delivery and personalised customer service are high on the list of drivers in e-tail ventures. As an industry, e-commerce is on an upswing and we plan on riding the crest of this wave in the fullest way.
Having said that, I will only add that our biggest growth driver is word of mouth publicity, which really means scaling up through superior customer service and offering a quality product which brings members to talk about and recommend us to others. Also, Mobile commerce is catching up quickly and will prove to be a major growth driver.
How are you handling the logistics?
We have partnered with a few courier companies for delivery of merchandise. In cases where any damage or mishandling of the product occurs, depending on the quality check done at our Warehouse, our logistics providers are made accountable. We’re also working on speeding up our delivery process and making it more seamless.
What is the shareholding pattern of the company?
I can’t share details of the shareholding pattern due to confidentiality issues, but can reveal that Infoedge has a stake in 99labels which is significant.
Any plans to sell further stake? Any IPO plans?
How was your experience with Cadbury? Any anecdotes?
It was a very memorable spell at Delhi University majoring in Economics, followed by my MBA at IMT and then at Cadburys in Mumbai and around the country. There were several iconic moments during my years with Cadburys, one memorable point was launching the highly successful ice-cream brand ‘Dollops.’ That was an exciting three years with such a major player in the field, and I learnt many lessons that stay with me even today.
Your advice to entrepreneurs?
My advice to entrepreneurs is to seek out what excites and inspires you, and then go at it with zeal and full energy. Some of the best stories in the business have been made by people who followed their dreams and dared to take chances.
What is your staff strength? Do you hire from Bschools/ Your message to B-School students.
We are a team of 120 at this point, and growing steadily each month. We have a lot of post graduates from well known B-schools in our team as well as a lot of Fashion institute grads who bring a good sense of fashion and management to the table. My message to all students B-school and otherwise, who are starting their professional careers is to keep focus on goals and not sweat the small stuff.
Your message to anyone wishing to join your firm?
We want people who are ready to take ownership and work as a cohesive team. Essentially, you have to be passionate about what you do and everything else will just fall in place on its own. We have been very fortunate to get on board very like-minded people with a goal-oriented work ethic, and we hope to continue this trend.
What do you do in your spare time?
In my line of work, spare time is a rare commodity! However I am a hiking, mountaineering and travel enthusiast and the holidays that I manage to take are always centered around these pursuits.