Refurbished used to be a bad word in the online shopper’s mind until 2GUD, Flipkart’s e-commerce certified value platform, changed that perception.
A social media post that did the rounds on August 22, 2018 went: ‘We are changing the future of e-commerce. Again!’ Less subtle was an email signature that read: ‘Sent from a refurbished device. Or not! You can’t tell the difference anyway!’ In bold colors — white letters on a red field — similar tongue-in-cheek missives teased both curious Flipsters and nonplussed online shoppers.
It was building up to something.
On August 14, the curtains came down on eBay India, ending a 13-year journey for the open marketplace platform all too familiar to bargain-seeking Indian shoppers. Flipkart had taken over eBay India in August 2017 following a round of investments from the parent eBay.com, Microsoft and Tencent. Industry pundits speculated that the new stewards of eBay India might sunset the platform. They surmised that Flipkart was set to launch something new, close on the heels of the closure of a historic investment, the largest-ever in the e-commerce industry globally, from American retail giant Walmart. Few, however, had an inkling of the USP of this new brand that Flipkart was poised to unveil. In fact, even within the walls of One Flipkart, the office space in Bengaluru where the company had consolidated its operations in early 2018, it was a zealously guarded project known only by a codename that alluded to a precious stone.
On August 23, the secret was out when Flipkart launched 2GUD.com, an independent value platform for certified refurbished goods. “Unlike existing C2C platforms, 2GUD offers an organized space devoid of regular buyer-seller interactions, which simplifies the process for both parties,” announced Anil Goteti, Vice President and Head of Marketplace at Flipkart.
Flipkart, in just over a decade, had grown at a gallop to set the stage for the explosive evolution of a fecund and keenly competitive e-commerce ecosystem, encompassing supply chain and logistics, payments and financing. Yet, even as it grew through acquisitions, this was the first time that the company had unwrapped an all-new e-commerce platform built completely from scratch. The new platform offered a unique value proposition to a thus-far untapped customer base for Flipkart, and was erected on capabilities that the startup-turned-market-leader had honed over the years.
Powering the launch of the 2GUD.com m-site (mobile website) were as many as 32 diverse teams — nearly 600 Flipsters. These included specialists who had transitioned from eBay India and F1 Info Solutions, the mobile and IT products repair solutions firm that Flipkart had absorbed into Jeeves Consumer Services Pvt Ltd, India’s largest third-party after-sales service provider for large home appliances and furniture, which had been acquired in 2014.
Understanding the value-conscious customer
“When Flipkart acquired eBay.in, we had the opportunity of addressing the needs of a few million customers who were very value conscious,” says Chanakya Gupta, Senior Director at Flipkart, who heads business for 2GUD.com. Sketching the profile of the target customer for 2GUD, he adds, “We’re looking at the middle-class or lower middle-class shopper in a metro, Tier 1 or Tier 2 city. Probably a youngster, probably a homemaker, who is looking to save money but not miss out on enjoying a product.”
Chanakya, who had made a career in modern retail for over a decade and counts Cadbury’s and Unilever among his former employers, moved to Flipkart four years ago to “negotiate from the other side of the table as a retailer and not a manufacturer.” After stints in managing categories like sports, women’s and kids’ fashion, he was given charge of the new platform after the eBay.in acquisition.
Chanakya observes that Indians by tradition are value-conscious shoppers with a propensity for up-cycling and recycling. Yet, on the internet, they are wary of doing the same. Even the most adventurous bargain-hunters, he notes, shy away from unorganized peer-to-peer online marketplaces when it comes to buying or selling refurbished goods.
“Trust and convenience are the primary customer concerns — we saw that right from the stage of the first prototype,” says Vikas Bansal, Senior Director – Product Management at Flipkart and Head of Product at 2GUD.
A Flipster of almost eight years’ vintage, Vikas had early stints in supply chain. He had worked on Flipkart First — an early version of a loyalty program that Flipkart Plus replaced in 2018 — where he looked into speed and reliability metrics. Subsequently, he was the CEO of Jeeves. After setting up the company, he moved back into core product management. When the eBay.in acquisition came about, he was invited to join Chanakya at the helm.
Vikas and Chanakya wondered if there was a social stigma attached to buying second-hand or used goods. Contrary to their suspicions, data indicated that consumers were indeed inclined toward value and price, but something else deterred them.
“Simply put,” observes Chanakya, “consumers didn’t know what they were buying into.”
In unorganized online marketplaces, customer confidence had been dented by unpleasant experiences and unanswered questions about quality, value and warranty. Further, the onus fell on customers to close the deal with sellers. This heightened concerns about quality and authenticity, and compounded fears of personal safety, as well as security concerns while conducting financial transactions. Despite these shortcomings, it was clear that customers would welcome a structured marketplace for used goods if it guaranteed safe transactions and authentic products.
There was, however, a semantic barrier — the word ‘refurbished’ sent bad vibes.
‘Refurbished’ gets a reputation makeover
“Refurbishment is a promise,” stresses Vikas. “We had to educate customers on what it means and what it entails. For us, this was about addressing the customer’s common questions and pains: Will I get a charger and accessories, will I get a box, will I get an invoice, will I get warranty?”
In mature markets like the US and Europe, he points out, refurbishment is a well-established concept. Brands have taken the lead to capture this segment — Best Buy has a section for refurbished goods while Apple has a separate refurbished store on its website.
What were customers’ expectations of a marketplace for refurbished products?
Chanakya enumerates: “One: To certify used or refurbished devices for quality, and explicitly list their fair market value. Two: ensure a smooth and convenient post-purchase experience and hassle-free warranties.”
Simple as this sounds, it had never been done before at scale in the Indian market.
Most market players, Vikas observes, had shied away from the refurbishment space. “It wasn’t easy and it meant getting your hands dirty,” he says, grinning.
So why didn’t Flipkart balk at grabbing this opportunity?
“It is in our DNA to solve for the customer’s toughest problems and build a solution ground-up if required,” says Vikas. Even in its early startup days, he notes, Flipkart had addressed similar issues in the areas of payments and logistics.
Given Flipkart’s market leadership in mobile phone sales, there were no second guesses about which category the new platform would launch with. Mobile phone buyers who refresh their devices frequently were constantly looking for a market for their used phones, and this was a segment that the new platform was well placed to serve.
“The big a-ha moment for us was when we acquired F1 Info Solutions and discovered that we have a complete back-to-back value chain in place,” says Karthik Rajeshwaran, Director, who oversees sell-side and onsite merchandising, pricing and consumer experience, in addition to the post-purchase experience. “There are players in the second-hand goods market who operate from a low-touch and hence low-trust space. We wanted to bring in a high-touch and hence high-trust experience. Besides, our end-to-end supply chain helps us solve for trust.”
“We have the top 35 refurbishers in India on-boarded on 2GUD.com because we need the lion’s share of supplies,” says Nitesh Maheshwari, who was part of the eBay India team for seven years and transited to Flipkart with the acquisition. He now leads business development on the supply side. “Besides Flipkart’s returns inventory, supplies are sourced from brands, distributors, and even the return inventories of Flipkart’s competitors,” he adds.
The 2GUD team devised grades for various categories of refurbished products, along with videos and supporting material to nudge the skeptical consumer along the purchase path. Customer education became the foundation of the 2GUD experience, seamlessly addressing the twin concerns of trust and convenience.
Starting something new
“At Flipkart, when you start something new, the organization encourages it,” says Chanakya. The challenge, he admits, is in how to prioritize the new venture against “a hundred other things that are going on.”
He is referring to the dizzying pace of work at Flipkart, where there’s no such thing as a slow day. The startup-within-a-startup culture mandates that new ideas are swiftly followed up with blueprints for rapid execution. Product launch dashboards are buzzing week on week and something is always cooking — if it’s not prep for The Big Billion Days, there are sale events and promotions. Product launches and feature enrichment drives loop in multiple teams and keep them on their toes. All of this is business as usual — or BAU in Flipster lingo. It was in this climate that the 2GUD team carved out time to work on the new platform.
The team deliberated another pressing question: Would the new initiative be part of Flipkart, or would it be a standalone platform?
“We put a lot of thought into that,” says Chanakya. Once they tabled the pros and cons, it emerged clearly that the new initiative had to be an independent brand. “This appeals to a customer segment with a different need altogether, and the brand should communicate that value proposition strongly and clearly,” he adds.
Still, it was going to be no small feat, and the platform was going to be nothing short of massive in scope. Chanakya and Vikas assembled a core team and spent the first five months getting the right leadership and the right skills on board, and making space in their packed schedules to build this platform.
There was also another significant change in the team’s chosen approach to building the new platform.
“We didn’t set a deadline and work backwards,” says Vikas. “We took a bottoms-up approach.”
There was a lurking discomfort with this decision, though, as it broke the time-honored Flipkart credo of hurtling towards a milestone burning rubber at light-speed. “We felt that it’s too big a project to be risked like that,” adds Vikas. “But there was a concern: Am I being a little less aggressive?”
Brushing aside initial jitters, the team rolled up its sleeves and got to work.
“We were clear that we wanted to leverage all the platform strength that Flipkart has built over time,” says Vikas. “We also didn’t want to rebuild anything. But having said that, you can’t just build another brand on top of the Flipkart platform because, quite simply, everything has been built for Flipkart. We had to go through the entire life-cycle and figure out piece by piece, product by product, platform by platform, what needed to change, and what needed to evolve to meet the needs of the consumers on this new platform.”
Tapping into the mothership
Multiple moving parts were required to whir in unison to get 2GUD.com off the ground. The core team reached into Flipkart’s humongous talent base (what Vikas and Chanakya called the “mothership”) and tapped every extant system from login and search to checkout and payments.
“The plan was to reuse and customize everything for 2GUD,” says Chanakya. “And though that sounds easy in principle, in practice it was tedious.”
“If Flipkart as a marketplace took ten years to build, 2GUD in comparison was built in just 10 months,” says Indroneel Das, Principal Architect for 2GUD. “We were determined that we would not come up with any additional set of systems. We built on the same stack, but modified the stack to have complete business isolation from the Flipkart marketplace.”
It was a humongous effort getting together product managers, operations teams and engineering teams to buy into the thought process, Vikas recalls. “Once that was done, the teams went deeper into their respective areas and came up with their solves,” he says.
“I was probably the third or fourth person to join the team,” says Anusha Jayanti, who had been with Flipkart’s Merchandising and Monetization team for three years. “There were four or five projects of this scale going on simultaneously at Flipkart, and here we had to stack-rank ourselves within the organizational priorities!”
Anusha had been away on maternity leave when the eBay.in acquisition took place. Curious, she called her then-manager to find out what was happening. The scent of something new was in the air and, for Anusha, who had been looking for a role change, this seemed the perfect opportunity to make what she calls “a clean break.” She joined the team, taking charge of the demand path for the new project.
“Very few companies would be able to launch a new business within 7-8 months,” observes Akhilesh Dubey, who came on board as the program manager for the launch. Akhilesh has spent four years at Flipkart, with stints in eKart where he charted roadmaps for Alternate Delivery Models and Experience Centres, as well as the Customer Safety program. Nothing had prepared him for the deep experience he would gain from his intense involvement in 2GUD.
The inherent strengths of the Flipkart platform helped the 2GUD team get off the blocks quickly. From login to payments, the synergy with the Flipkart experience was very strong. Customers could log in with their Flipkart credentials and use their saved cards and addresses from their Flipkart profiles.
“If you already use Flipkart on your device, you can just continue your journey on 2GUD,” summarizes Vikas.
How the building blocks fell in place
For days at a stretch the 2GUD team was immersed in a Design Sprint. Product managers are familiar with this Google methodology — an intensive 5-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with final users.
“During a sprint, we get all the key stakeholders in a room to answer the toughest questions,” explains Anusha. “It helps in two ways — you get everybody’s point of view then and there, and everyone is aligned.”
“Last September, we started on bits of paper, on whiteboards and Post-Its, all the way to building a fully functional and scalable website,” says Sidhartha Guru, smiling as he recollects the excitement. A Flipster for about two years now, Sidhartha has been part of the repair and refurbishment business for some time. He moved into the 2GUD project from Jeeves, where he had been part of the team that evaluated the acquisition of F1 Info Solutions. At 2GUD, he looks after the user experience journey, including catalog, search and product discovery and fulfillment. The high point of the last year for him has been “working with more than 150 engineers across the organization and stitching it all together to make everything functional.”
“Getting the supply right is my core role,” says Nitesh, adding that F1 Info Solutions alone could not meet the foreseeable demand on the new platform. eBay India was an open marketplace where quality standards were a challenge to enforce. For 2GUD, however, Nitesh and the team whittled down and handpicked a tenth of the existing marketplace sellers, standardized operating procedures, and replicated them across the marketplace. All sellers were subject to a third-party audit to eliminate bias.
“Over the last 5-6 months, we groomed these sellers to ensure that the experience they offer is similar to what we want — and what we want is what F1 Info Solutions drives,” says Nitesh.
“Warranty is one of the biggest trust factors,” he says, adding that getting buy-in from brands was a big challenge, as they had never considered providing warranty for refurbished products. “We convinced some of the top mobile and laptop brands to offer warranty. And we are confident that the long-tail will follow,” he adds.
For Karthik, driving consumer education was a key priority. “We are laser-focused on consumer education,” he says. “We strongly believe that consumers need to be aware that they’re buying refurbished products, and not mistake what they buy to be new products. That’s been a very challenging aspect.”
“Connecting the dots was a big achievement for me,” admits Akhilesh, adding that getting work done from multiple teams in a short time span was both stressful and exhilarating. “The end-to-end testing was tedious — it was a mammoth effort,” he adds, emphasizing the thoroughness with which the team executed this phase. “Each day, we discovered new issues. But then, closer to launch, everything fell in place.”
Inside Brand 2GUD
Interestingly, 2GUD wasn’t the first name that the team settled upon. During the nomenclature exercise, the branding team deliberated a list of more than 500 candidates, of which ten made the short-list.
“We set clear filters,” says Jerry John, Associate Director – Brand Marketing, who came on board following the eBay India acquisition. “One: We wanted the brand to connote hyper-value. Simultaneously, we wanted the brand to have sheen, and to pitch it high so that the customer perceives it as a premium brand. Third, we wanted the brand name to be colloquial and become part of daily parlance… something that becomes lingo.”
“We took the options to our customers to determine what emotions they evoked,” recalls Chanakya. “To our surprise, 2GUD is what clicked with them!”
Initially, not everyone took to the name.
“Frankly speaking, none of us could relate to it,” says Akhilesh.
“When the name — with this peculiar spelling — came up, our instinct was to reject it,” says Vikas, who was so agitated that he threw a tantrum and threatened to walk out of the project.
“Over time, it has grown on me,” says Chanakya with a chuckle. “We use it so much in casual conversation. You play a good tennis shot — and it’s 2GUD, yaar! You crack a joke — and it’s 2GUD! The imagery comes alive in our heads!”
The journey towards locking the brand identity was, in Jerry’s words, one of “planned serendipity.”
“There are days when a spark lights up everything, and everyone knows this is it!” he says of the moment when the numeric 2 with the thumbs-up sign embedded in it was unanimously chosen as the logo. “We found a sweet spot with the color red. We wanted this brand to be distinct from Flipkart. It had to be an independent brand — like PhonePe or Myntra,” he adds.
“The brand and logo represent the value proposition very well,” agrees Vikas. “Now I love it!”
Learning on the go
The 10-month journey from drawing board to launch was all about taming the learning curve, even for the more experienced members of the team.
For Jerry, the brand manager who had joined the team from eBay India, building a category from the very foundation was a new experience. But a more pleasant surprise was his initiation into Flipkart culture. “Given Flipkart’s size, I didn’t expect this level of agility,” he says. “The obsession with customers is very real — it’s not just a value written down somewhere. There’s an immense hunger to get things done and the level of collaboration is very high.”
For Nitesh, who had transited to the Flipkart way of working, the experience turned out to be intense but fulfilling. “In most companies the business model is set and your role is completely defined — you know what you are hired for, and there is only a segment that you will control, manage or lead,” he observes. “While working on 2GUD, you are actually working in a startup with the umbrella of the Flipkart brand. Over a period of six months, I have learned how a startup functions!”
Akhilesh nods in agreement. “Before this project, I didn’t have breadth and depth in these systems,” he says. “I learned a lot about how Flipkart works, end to end, and how to launch a business.”
“Every system is a world of its own, so the biggest learning, apart from technology, was in stakeholder management,” says Indroneel, who took a hard call to defend the team’s decision to reuse existing Flipkart systems for 2GUD.
Karthik, who joined Flipkart over a year ago to manage the eBay India integration, worked in parallel on the 2GUD launch. Although his journey has been full of learning, he singles out a key tenet. “Since we are the market leader — or rather, the ones creating the market — the onus is on us to drive category development,” he says. “That’s the biggest challenge and it keeps us awake.”
For Anusha, who joined the core team at an early stage, learning on the go was as exciting as it was demanding. “We were talking about a part of the world that I’ve no idea about,” she says, describing the baptism into her new role. “It’s beyond transact, and my part of the world usually ends at transact!”
Her experience with the maternity policy deepened her respect for Flipkart’s empowering culture. “I thought the first few months were going to be with this squealing baby by my side, but clearly it wasn’t like that,” she says. “I had a lot of flexibility and the mother’s room was a great help.”
Chanakya puts it down to following your conviction. “If you believe in something, don’t take any half measures,” he says. “Make sure everyone else believes in it. That learning will stay with me.”
A launch that beat expectations
As the countdown to launch began, the team was on tenterhooks.
“This was the first time that Flipkart was going to launch a standalone brand,” says Vikas, recalling his nervousness. “We’d acquired platforms — like Myntra — but this was the first time we were launching a platform brand ground up. What if we missed out something big that would blow up in our faces on launch day?”
“Just before launch, the tension peaked,” recalls Sidhartha. “But once 2GUD.com went live, there was no looking back!”
“There were no escalations. There was minimal fire-fighting. And after launch, there were no bugs,” gushes Akhilesh, for whom the launch was smoother than expected. “Customer First is a Flipkart value that I saw in action right through the project.”
“The first consumer purchased a product off 2GUD within a few hours after the site went live,” says Karthik.
For Nitesh, the pull of the Flipkart brand was an eye-opener. “The day we launched 2GUD.com, we almost had similar numbers as we were doing on eBay India every day!”
“We wondered if we would be able to sell 20 phones on launch day, but we sold over 150!” beams Chanakya. “When someone said we’d get 50,000 visits on Day One, we had laughed and told him he’s crazy. We almost doubled that on launch day! The number of unique visitors was staggering — well into six figures. We realized we were onto something big.”
Putting the GUD in 2GUD
When 2GUD.com launched, it was available solely as an m-site. Plans are underway to launch a mobile app, and to expand the number of categories from the current selection of mobiles, laptops, tablets, smartwatches, audio and entertainment and accessories. But having taken an idea from the drawing board to launch in under 12 months, no goal seems too much of a stretch for this team. The 2GUD war-rooms are buzzing with strategy.
“Over the last year, we were not very confident about how fast — or how big — we should scale up,” says Chanakya. “The targets we’d set for December 2019 — now we want to meet those in December 2018!”
“Our core will always be about solving consumer problems from the perspectives of trust and convenience,” says Vikas. “Tomorrow, it might be consumers selling to consumers… the best is yet to come!”
Photographs: Arjun Paul
ALSO READ: How 2GUD works