Rajat Bansal is the serial entrepreneur and is currently the founder of Proquo. Launched in July 2021, Proquo is India’s first B2B tech platform redefining procurement of products and materials for interior projects. It delivers the widest range of product choices and leverages technology to plan and execute procurement for the entire project lifecycle in a transparent and hassle-free manner. Proquo is introducing technology such as the maker-checker principle, multiple modes of payment, setting up delivery dates and times, multiple discount and coupons, account statement, buying preferences, dashboards for buyers to analyze their project-wise purchases, immediate GST billing, and the option to pay directly to their vendors from the app itself with an automatically generated ledger account.
COVID-19 has fast forwarded many sectors and businesses. The fundamentals of businesses have completely transformed and as now the seller is intensely engaged in digitizing the business and is directly connecting with the customers.
According to IBEF, the real estate and construction industry, with a market capitalization of USD 200 billion, is India’s third largest industry, accounting for more than 10% of the country’s GDP. As India aspires to achieve a USD 5 trillion market in the coming years, it hopes to grow to roughly USD 1 trillion and contribute around 20% more. The interiors industry is inextricably linked to real estate, both residential and commercial, and accounts for a significant portion of the cost of completing the building and finishing of various asset types.
Interior business like many others is progressively digitised; the sector being very large is scattered and highly fragmented, at the same time is now witnessing a sea of change. From conception and rendering to project administration to how designers communicate with their teams and clients, basic processes and procedures are shifting to digital space. One of the areas which are most affected by this transformation is the sourcing and purchasing, amidst the increasing consumer aspiration over the years.
The real estate construction and interior business has been historically slow in adopting new age technologies. A decade ago, the industry was plagued by lethargy and faced a dilemma to go digital. The gradual shift towards e-commerce has resulted in making the last mile difference, thus exploding into a robust online world of interior design products and services. India accounts for merely 1% of global furniture trade despite being home to finest craftsmanship. Digitization will provide Indian artisans and craftsmen a huge platform to reach the global customers. E-commerce is here to stay and for many decades to come as digitization will give birth and provide opportunities to young and budding entrepreneurs from tier 2 and tier 3 cities.
Many manufacturers whose products were once available only now sell part of their inventory directly to consumers. Many more vendors have entered the space to broker products or promote cheaper duplicate goods. Most of these products can be ordered online— and their prices — can easily be found and ordered using online platforms. This trend is gaining momentum, and I feel it will only get stronger with time.
As the commercial shop space is getting high-priced, and the whole approach to furniture and design is changing post pandemic. More and more clients are choosing a mix of traditional and retail manufactured goods. Millennials are now exposed to various products displayed on e-commerce websites, which helps in quick decision making and closure of orders. The Atma Nirbhar Bharat campaign too has pushed sales in India. Furthermore, designer customer services have become more commoditized. Born out of the post-recession industry slowdown, and now the pandemic the new design-online firms keep sticking out all the time, offering everything from low-cost turnkey design packages to full-scale bespoke services that include sourcing and purchasing. Some clients want the product, others the expertise, some both.
These days, the client often seeks consultation from the designer but prefers to purchase the goods themselves. That creates a challenge for interior designers, architects, showrooms that cater to professional purchasers. Both need to rethink their business model to survive in a digital economy and be a part of change.
There were times when designers could sell their services at a low rate and make the difference on mark-ups and custom designs. Now the customer is empowered and knows how the market functions. Consumers can go to a retailer and purchase the product themselves and can ask for an on the spot discount. Certainly, there are pros and cons for every aspect of buying and implementing. Serious clients are looking for an experienced advisor or platform which will help them make the right decision. Even the B2B connect needs to be established to make it efficacious for the market.
The consumers know the result they want, but not how to get it is a big question mark. Designers and architects need to set clear probabilities, develop a collective working relationship with their consumers, understand what makes them happy, and provide value added service for the money they charge.
Showrooms are now being converted into experience centers and design houses are becoming design research centers. They cannot just have the product in a space and hope designers (and consumers) will show. As a substitute, they should have outside reps to call on design firms and develop relationships with the designers. Then, they need to help with the selling procedure to make sure the value of their product is well defined.
We conducted a survey where we discovered that showrooms have poor customer service thus making designers move from one showroom to another. Some designers have multiple vendors but they still feel the need to explore the range from across the market. Showrooms need to step up their customer service to retain the designer’s business, but they just lack the energy to do so.
I strongly believe digitising and automating the business will make it easier for everyone in the business. The seamless integration and offerings for designers, manufacturers and buyers will help flourish the industry and take the customer experience to the next level.