UPDATE: June 2010. Now I have shopped some 350 books from flipkart. Flipkart rocks! Flipkart now also sells CDs, DVDs, Music and games and have raised $8 to $10 million dollar VC funding (source); so expect more!
I had a very bad experience with online shopping (I was cheated by Rediff Shopping and then had no time to drag them to consumer court though I had sent angry mails) some 5 years ago. And had thereafter become skeptical of online shopping thanks to those T-shirts that Rediff had sent.
This post is a review of the flipkart.com, India’s largest online bookstore, and how I found it a wonderful service having bought more than 120 books at the time of writing this post (my friends have bought some 70 books after my recommendation). This post is also a quick review of Infibeam and Rediff books, two other options to buy books online and how they disappointed or delighted me. The following photo is of some of the books delivered by flipkart.com (venue is my bed in the hostel room; I loved looking at my books!).
My maiden encounter with Flipkart.com: 1st book delivered in just 18 hours!
Recently at the Delhi Book Fair (see my photos of Delhi book fair), I had passed by the swanky Flipkart counter. The beautiful girl distributing the flipkart discount coupon did not hand me one thanks to my unenthusiastic mood and poker-faced disposition. So it was me who had ventured near their counter and took the discount coupon, flyer and flipkart bookmark from her. I had heard of flipkart.com but had never tried the service.
I thought of using the said discount coupon and ordered White Mughals (author William Dalrymple) on 22 February 5.05 PM (it had 20 per cent discount by default; presently the discount is 22 per cent) through net banking. The book reached my address ( hostel, JNU, New Delhi) before lunch time on February 23, 2010 through FirstFlight couriers packed in the Flipkart carton! I was amazed and hooked, needless to say! Since then I have bought more than 120 books and my friends some 60-70 books from Flipkart.com and there is no reason why we will not use Flipkart.com to buy books online in future.
Why I recommend Flipkart.com to buy books online
Here is a list of quick reasons why I recommend Flipkart.com to buy books online (list not in order of importance):
1. Quick delivery, Free Shipping ( the delivery time is sometimes less than one day if you are in a city like Delhi; shipping is free for all orders of 100 Rupees or more). For me quick delivery really matters and Flipkart does not disappoint. They use all the premier couriers like FirstFlight, Overnite, BlueDart etc. (books are delivered by registered post if you not fall in the courier zone). The promise of delivery is 3 business days for most books and they really fulfil that promise. The flipkart carton (see photos here) in which your books are packed and delivered is a great cover for delivering your books (see comparison below on how Rediff and Infibeam send your books).
2. Small Company, Big Heart, Nice people: With companies like Rediff Shopping or Infibeam with too many irons in fire you feel like you are dealing with some invisible entity who just don’t care because they are so busy if not arrogant. But with Flipkart.com you will always feel that they care immensely for you and the books you have ordered. You will get books on time, delivery mails, apology mails, favourable responses to your angry mails (had a few unforeseen errors with my 120 books), phone calls, book credits or refunds in case of non-availability of books/wrong books (without any fuss). You will always feel that there are people at the other end who care about you almost as much as you would want them to care about you (some feedback mails do not get a reply but urgent ones always get the reply and grievance redressal).
You are special whether you buy just one book or 100 books like me; there are no loyalty points/discounts, all customers are treated equally! Try flipkart.com and you will never regret it. They are certainly doing better than everyone else in terms of service and are eyeing a revenue of 100 crore in the next fiscal (read the story in Business Line). Read this post on the Flipkart blog on how they addressed the matter when a retired management professional took offence when not addressed formally.
3. Over 4 Million books, discounts and a great user interface: There are more than 4 million titles (so it’s real comfort compared to a physical bookstore) that you can shop online using net banking, credit card, ATM/debit card or cheque/DD (all my online payments have been smooth without any glitches; read more about their payment gateways on the flipkart blog). They are constantly updating book details and ironing out creases.
There are discounts on most books and they keep offering discount from time to time (follow them on Twitter or Facebook for discount and other announcements). If you are willing to do your research, you can always find discounts from other sources! And yes, the site loads fast and is user friendly.
4. They know their job: Flipkart.com is run by competent people (IITians Sachin and Binny Bansal with a staff of some 120 people; Sachin has worked with Amazon India for some 18 months before starting Flipkart.com in 2007 with his classmate Binny). The human angle in transactions is always present unlike with other online shopping sites. They sell a book a minute now and have plans to diversify by the end of the year. Watch this video on YouTube (Flipkart’s Sachin Bansal in CNBC Young Turks; you will also get a view of the Flipkart office, assembly line packing, back end operations etc.).
5. They have Humour, they blog, they tweet, they facebook: In today’s world, you can tell a lot about the companies by following their online activities on their social networking profile like facebook or Twitter. Also life and transactions are very boring if you have to deal with people who lack a sense of humour. The Flipkart blog is regularly updated by Tapas and informs on all major activities and issues related to Flipkart and buying books online. They honestly inform, accept mistakes, seek opinion and keep you updated. They also have Google AdSense ads on their site (and any expert will tell you not to sport competing ads on your site!)
The following is the first tweet by Flipkart.com.
This list is only indicative and not exhaustive thanks to lack of time. You will find more reasons to praise their service.
The photo on the right is of Flipkart bookmarks that get shipped with the books. The quote (by Anatole France) on it reads: “Never lend books, for no one ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are books that other folks have lent me.”
Experience with Rediff books Not Recommended
I will be brutally frank: I hate Rediff shopping. They have cheated me in the past but I will be honest in my review and not let that colour my opinion. I did buy a book (BPO Sutra; order id 5826647) from them and the experience was okay and nothing great.
The book was delivered in a thin polythene (see photo below; I felt like I got some scooter part delivered to me!) and it is a surprise it was not damaged. I wrote them an email on why they can’t pack it in special cartons like Flipkart.com and they said their vendors pack it (Landmark Ltd. in my case) and they do not have a say in it! The full relevant text of their reply is: “ the products are packed and sealed by the vendors as per their convenience and are then handed over to their logistics partners for the final delivery. Hence, the packaging condition of a shipment differs from one vendor to another.”
The book was ordered on 14th March and it reached me on 19th March. Rediff books is severely lacking in terms of book details. Also for some books they offer to ship it in less time if you are willing to pay more. In some cases, you will find that the prices of books on the actual page are not as indicated in the search index results! I will not recommend Rediff books (you will be irritated if you deal with them). They also send you emails (“vikas, your personal helpline,” huh!) suggesting you to buy books (Infibeam also does that) if you leave items in your wishlist/cart unlike flipkart (and you get the feeling they are after your money!).
Update: 3 April 2010 I had ordered another book with Rediff on 26 March 2010. The delivery time was 7 days and now they updated it and say the delivery time is 45 days! I told them it is unethical but they did not give any logical and sensible reply to it.
Experience with Infibeam.com Not recommended
The experience was again okay but not like the wonderful flipkart.com. They in fact disappointed me on some counts. Read the details.
Infibeam has nice user interface, book details and discounts. I ordered 2 books (order Id 7517392) on 17 March 2010 and the delivery promise was 2-4 days. They had shipped nothing by the evening of the third day! I shot them an email on the third day on how they will fulfil this promise and then they shipped it and sent me a mail confirming it. I got the shipment on 22 March! Promise was of 2-4 days delivery time!
One of the two books was a wrong book (I had paid for and ordered Rupa classics but they mailed me Wordsworth edition which was more expensive and less good looking; wrong book details are still there on the site; book is by Rupa priced MRP 80 Rupees only, ISBN 8171674216 but they have given the Wordsworth price! Update: they have corrected it now). I asked them this in an email and they did not reply to it! I shot them another mail informing them that I will publish a review and then I got a phone call the next day from them. They (it was a girl on the phone who talked politely) told me after some time that the said book is out of print in Rupa and may be published later. I asked them to take this book back (just to examine their response). They asked ‘me’ to courier it to them (at their expense) and I obviously declined it. Then they said they will arrange for the pick up and I said it’s okay and they don’t need to do it and I will keep the book.
Their packing (see photo) is okay but not as great as flipkart. They use carton but not a fully boxed one (it’s more like wrapper). Flipkart.com has no competition here!
Update 3 April 2010: I know somebody here who some ten days ago ordered some six books on Infibeam. The delivery time was 4-7 days. He wrote a mail some 3 days ago about why they were not shipping it and they said it is because some kind of stock taking going on in all publishing houses and they will not ship the books for some 20-22 days! So stay away from Infibeam if you want fast and quick delivery.
Some tips for buying books (classics) online/from Flipkart.com
- Find various editions of different publishers for the same book in search results (not applicable for new/recent books where one publisher has the copyright). You usually have similar results for some book in search results (especially for old books/classics). Try finding a book by a reputed publisher at an amenable price and do not just jump to the first result you get.
- Buy a book from a reputed publisher and a book with enough details (such as page number).
- If you are buying classics (English literature) take books by Rupa Classics, Wordsworth Editions, Pocket Books, Peacock classics, Penguin Classics. If you are buying works by Premchand (Hindi), Manoj publications has some great quality prints.
- Compare prices and find the cheapest price. Visit isbn.net.in to find the cheapest prices of a book on various online shopping sites. I recommend go for Flipkart in any case.
- Go to amazon.com, find the book you want to see the details of by ISBN code and preview it and read the details if it is there (amazon usually has best book details). Amazon is very expensive, needless to say.
See the list of books I bought
Want to see the list of classics I bought from flipkart.com until 27 March 2010. Click here to view the list (doc file). Some of them can be seen on the rack in my room in the pic below. I have a great movie collection and will soon have a great book library too.
- Now go ahead and buy books from Flipkart.com and enjoy the exciting way of buying books! You will soon get emails from flipkart like this in your mailbox!