Direct selling sounds like an idea ill-suited to the pandemic climate: It usually means meeting people, socialising, conducting meetings, guest seminars, training et al. Yet, the idea has found traction, says Netsurf Communications CMD Sujit Jain. In an interview to Jyotika Sood, he talks of how direct selling is emerging as a new entrepreneurship opportunity for people amid the pandemic and what Netsurf did to meet the unique challenges of social distancing.
With the pandemic well into its second year, how is the direct selling industry doing?
The direct selling industry has actually been performing much better compared to other industries during the pandemic. Some players could launch the ‘online direct selling’ model on time. Two, there was a rising demand for healthcare products. And three, it offered an income opportunity to thousands of unemployed, migrant people in India. The industry’s turnover was Rs 18,144 crore in 2019—that’s expected to grow to Rs 65,000 crore by 2025. India is ranked sixth in terms of the number of direct sellers. Netsurf Network added 3.5 lakh new direct sellers to its business in the last financial year, growing by 55 per cent. The company offers products across categories such as organic farming, health and wellness, home care, personal care, and colour cosmetics.
Which categories are witnessing growth in direct selling?
I think people have realised the importance of nutrition and well-being during this pandemic. Immunity was never taken very seriously before 2020. The health and wellness category has seen consistent growth in demand. With the rising number of health-seekers across India, healthcare remains one of the strongest categories sold in the industry. Our healthcare range has witnessed a YOY growth in turnover at 23 per cent, while the turnover in our organic farming range of products grew by 91 per cent during the last financial year.
What kind of investments is the direct selling industry getting?
Netsurf Network is a fully self-funded entity. However, considering the growth of the industry, I think private equity funding, banks and even IPOs would be within our reach.
What is the overall Indian market scenario for direct selling?
According to the Washington-based WFDSA’s global report, India recorded the highest year-on-year growth rate of 12.1 per cent and the highest CAGR of 16.3 per cent over the last three years, amongst the top 20 direct selling markets across the globe. Moreover, in terms of the number of direct sellers, India has 57.50 lakh of people involved.
What was Netsurf’s performance strategy during the pandemic and which products did well and why?
We did several things to meet the pandemic challenge. We introduced timely products like ‘Naturamore Immune Plus’ nutraceuticals that would help our direct sellers meet ready demand in the market. We shifted our entire business system from a door-to-door to a screen-to-screen model. We developed our captive e-commerce portal which allowed people to retail online by merely sharing a link using our app. We have recently introduced a new entity of retailers called ‘e-tailers’ and we are aiming to create a minimum of 1 lakh e-tailers in 2021-22. We updated the mobile app and the web-based application for online business dependability. Today, we have crossed 6.5 lakh users for the mobile app. Around 45 per cent of our turnover in the last financial year came through the mobile app. We conducted all our training online and covered over 1,00,000 direct seller trainees in the last year through our online training platform, Netsurf Live.