First – A Little Walk Down History Lane
I started an Internet based gift delivery service in 1994/95 and ran it until about 2000 (Pacific Gift Service) it was making a profit from day one because e-commerce, GMV, and the unicorn business had not yet been invented. I had great ideas much before any of these guys and you can check the Wayback Engine – Pacific Gift Service.
Amazon, the bookstore was born. Rediff was hot property and a young entrepreneur named Bhaven Turakhia was hyperactively selling Directi Web hosting while trying to get an equally young and dispersed team to build a control panel (if I remember well). Amazon doesn’t need the Unicorn tag, it is profit making. Directi is a behemoth in the domain and hosting space while rediff is still discovering it’s raison de etre.
It was around then that the Internet bust happened. And the bust was actually the balloon of inflated valuations that got pricked (or bitten) by the reality of zero profits max hype. And I am waiting for it to happen again, except that the money riding it too big for the moneybags to allow it to fall.
It was before the bust that Microsoft bought Hotmail for $500m and Satyam Infoway bought indiaworld for Rs 125 cr. Since I knew IndiaWorld closely (they were my hosts), it was a shock to learn that Satyam had valued it at Rs 500 cr. The buyers justified the purchase saying this is the value of “eyeballs” and I remember saying … “BALLS” while reading the news in the papers. Anyway I had no claim or share on the money made by IW and my only thought was that big money companies have dirty laundry to clean and this is a good way. A few years later Satyam made history again, helped by PwC, but that’s another story.
What I can bet is that the Satyam guys didn’t know dick about the Internet business but needed to do some shit. Whatever it was… go figure! These deals made many moneybags run to make money on “eyeballs” and many startups were launched. Unfortunately I was kicked out by a couple of VCs who said I had small eyeballs and a few lakhs turnover at 100% profit was chicken-shit. I understood that the VCs did not know anything about what they were talking but then who can argue with a sack of money – I understand the same mindset exists today too.
Enough of history…. to come back to present day business on the internet, a.k.a. e-commerce.
eCommerce is supposed to mean electronic commerce but the business run by many of these online travel companies in India can be calledExtortion Commerce.
I feel that I am qualified enough to pass judgment on these Unicorns and wannabe Unicorns by virtue of my personal experience in running this business (see my history) and my frequent online buying experiences. The scale of my internet business venture was a zillion times smaller but business fundamentals remain unchanged since time immemorial – to elaborate :
- buy (or produce) a product or service
- sell and deliver the product / service
- ensuring a good delivery and provide proactive support
- the sale MUST be at a price higher than the cost
- make a profit (reasonable or unreasonable)
- etc etc
The #1 difference between the present and the past:
- Today they say WTF is profit ??
- I used to say WTF no profit!!
The # 2 difference
- I wanted more sales to grow my profit and add to the capital I had to increase my business operations
- Today they want more transactions to go and ask for more money from the VCs who have put in money! So is this throwing good money after bad or you have to throw money back because you do not have a choice (else you will lose what you have already put in to the black hole)
The # 3 difference
- I was not intelligent as I wanted my business to make money
- Today who wants to make profits – the lenders, borrowers, managers et al have money from someone or the other – balle balle!
So let’s now look at the “E for EXTORTION” part of the business (this post is more about the travel portals and I shall talk about others some other time):
- Travel portals charge a convenience fee when u book a ticket. Why? This is a shop that is buying tickets and selling them so you are making your profit in the ticket sale why is there this fee that is being charged to me.
- If I go to a travel agent he doesn’t charge me a fee. He charges me the same cost as the ticket.
- The BIGGER EXTORTIONISTS are the airlines themselves. Jet Airways, Air India, Indigo, Spicejet and others in India and overseas – all charge a convenience fee. Pray, why do they need to charge a goddam “convenience” fee to sell me their own ticket. There is no convenience fee charged if the ticket is purchased at their office.
Everybody talks about the how the Internet is bridging the gap between the buyer and seller providing a platform to sell at low cost and all these guys said they will cut the cost of brick and mortar which is expensive to set up and maintain. They said the internet will ..
- make service delivery convenient
- reduce costs of service
- remove middlemen and bring product direct to buyer
- Etc etc…
BUT none of this is evident, except extortion!
- When you select a ticket the site will revert with a new cost for the ticket !! dynamic pricing- hahaha gotcha!
- When you search for the same flight on two or more sites and you see the price changes!
- The airline website will sell you the same ticket at a higher price.
- As well as many other issues..
When you want to cancel or modify your booking – God help you because you are gonna get fu***** for sure!
- Be ready to pay a fee for cancellation (or modification) to 1. travel website, and 2. to the airlines. Why to both and why should BOTH charge a STEEP fee. The seat that falls vacant due to a cancellation is resold (I am yet to see empty seats on all flights) so WTF
- And for modification.. holy shit. And their shit stinks so bad you can die. I have allowed a number of tickets to lapse instead of paying a cancellation or modification fee. It was cheaper to let donate the money to these beggars.
- Oh yea…. (Lest I forget Jet Airways does us a favour by not charging a cancellation fee if you take action within 24 hours of the booking)
- And if you think you bought a ticket and allowed the ticket to lapse and did not show up for the flight they will not give you the miles for the same no-show. Hahahaha.. you bought a ticket and you should have flown in the flight then you are entitled else forget it. Your money is now my money and no miles. ………..F.O.
Big question – if the transaction is online without any human interaction what is being charged for ?? Infrastructure? No shopkeeper charges you over and above the MRP telling you that you have to pay the rent and cost of electricity, water etc
- the air ticket has no MRP but the fuel they buy has an MRP so they can charge anything they want.
- God forbid you are stuck in a disaster zone and want to get out by air – these vultures are sitting waiting for such an opportunity. They will not care about national disaster or anything and we recently saw prices shooting up through the roof and all these guys swooped to make obscene profits. The biggest disgrace was Air India who also double or triple their prices at the cost of national disasters.
Customer Support <hahha> more like Screwing the Customer
Now lets talk about human interaction – the call centers: EVERY Extortionist Commerce company, Airline etc outsources or insources a Support or Help Desk and will set up an IVR – and they call it Customer Service <LMAO> You can die trying to navigate the IVR. And you can die again listening to the shitty advertisements they will run ad nauseam when you are on hold. Then die a third time on-hold if the music and advertisement shit goes dead – this is a panic death because you don’t know whether to hang up or continue to hold…. It’s been 15 mins and your ear is aching and wet with sweat!
Of course there is also the suicide route by self-throttling or self-electrocution – this option is available when the line drops while you are talking to the agent.
- They will never call back. Pucking shit
- First you make me crawl your crappy IVR,
- You make choices which don’t work and have to call again and again
- Then you make me hold for 20 mins,
- Then you torture me with a crappy cheery advertisement over that runs over and over
- All this while I am in your “on-hold” black hole
Oh yes then you go to check with your “other department” or “manager” or “someone” and when I feel I was getting my job done the line gets disconnected
Yaaaaagggggggggggghhhhhhhh ! Now I have to go through the shitty routine again.
BECAUSE you nincompoops have NO respect for me as a human being. I am not your “most important person” I am your mark, your bakra who has to be slaughtered at every interaction.
WHY can’t you call me – why ! Do you think I was just having some masochistic fun at my expense by calling you and screwing around on your system for 20 mins. It would be so customer friendly for you to call back immediately and say you can carry on from where we got disconnected.
HIGH HOPES Dinesh – this is the Extortionist Commerce business and these guys have no empathy for a customer. They have empathy for the VC who will pump another 100 million for them to spend on “eyeballs” and “GMV” and such perfumed shit.
In contrast.. try this – go through the actions of making a booking on the website of makemytrip and abort at the time of payment.
BOOM you will get a mail and follow up asking whether you want to continue with the booking.
And if you are lucky they will also offer a discount on the same…. Pukking shit!
Why can’t you call back and do the same shit. The losers don’t even send an email asking if you need help.
That’s the same case with all the Extortionist Commerce sites – whether they sell air tickets, or whatever – and it’s called Customer (is) Screwing
I have had many experiences with these travel portals and am happy to quote this facebook post of my friend Gagan Jawa:
Another frustrating experience with MakeMyTrip @makemytripcare can’t use the coupons they gave for making bookings.. the shitty wallet can be used only under certain conditions.. There are so called free nights which are earned after 4 bookings worth (Rs. 3500) cannot be clubbed with a hotel on sale .. so you can either get a sale price or use your loyalty bonus/points… CHEATS… this is called daylight dacoity…. the police is happy holding small time criminals .. what about these cheats whose business is full of shit load of malpractices
More about the loyalty points, wallets, discount fares, coupons, airmiles etc issued left right and center by these airlines and travel portals some other time. Until then, buy tickets safely (use your browser’s ingonito mode when searching on two or more travel websites for fares at the same time), travel safe and don’t believe in the BS ladled out in plenty by these Extortionist Commerce business houses.
Make your own practical decision(s).