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A primer on basic decision science using the Indian online marketplace for SDHC cards

The market for electronics products, especially in India, is still quite fragmented to say the least. Apart from the fact that every dollar price is inflated, it becomes all the more important, to not only compare published prices across brands but also look at which of the brands are available in India, and at what prices.

In this post, we are not going to talk about cameras where one has to primarily compare features across models (for which, let’s be honest, there is no dearth of information – my personal favourite being snapsort.com) and then look online to find the cheapest available dollar price for the model you want. If you’re a discerning urban Indian buyer, chances are, you would want to find a way to get a friend or family member abroad to purchase it for you and bring it over in a few months.

Instead, this article will focus on electronics accessories, which in our perspective, will need to be treated as commodities. There is no specific value for a given brand, as the functionality of a USB drive or an SDHC card, does not change across manufacturers. Also since these are commodities, their requirement is usually more frequent and sudden, and prices are cheaper, and thus, finding an option within India is the best bet.

Now as personalities go, I am a person who does not like to pay anything more than the fair market price for any purchase I make. It does mean that I spend more time in researching my products before I buy them, but over the years, the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve bought the best products I could buy at the best possible price, is well worth the effort I’ve had to put in.

So after I bought the Nikon D5100 last year for a 12.5% discount on Indian MRP, I’ve been facing an issue with it, which is that video recording is usually cut short at the 10-20 second mark. Online research makes me believe that it has to do with the speed of the SDHC card, which in my case, is Class 4.

I did a bit of research on the available SDHC cards in India and these are my observations –

The online retailers I am fairly confident about are Flipkart, Letsbuy, Yebhi, Snapdeal and the recently launched Junglee (which is Amazon’s presence in India).

The brands for SD, SDHC and SDXC cards that are available on these sites include Adata, Kingston, Moserbaer, SanDisk, SiliconPower, Sony, Strontium, Transcend, Verbatim and Wise.

Since we are looking at electronics accessories that are essentially commodities, there isn’t much information to capture, except Capacity (GB), Class (Speed in MB/s) and Price.

None of these online retailers have a proper way of segmenting, presenting or comparing the prices that they have on their own sites, let alone letting you compare their prices across other sites using plug-ins like Invisible Hand. Forget proper model numbers, we’re talking a lack of structure that would allow a customer to select a particular Brand, or Capacity, or Class. Also, since most retailers don’t realize the differences between SD, SDHC and SDXC cards, we will (as they do) refer to all these cards as SDHC cards for the purpose of this discussion.

I also realized late that Junglee, even after you had selected “Ships from Within India”, showcased the Dollar-Price-Converted-to-INR price Without Shipping, which was obviously not the correct price. It was only after you went to the individual product page that you realized that the Indian vendor prices are not only much higher, but that they are also often listed Without Shipping Charges.

Anyway, once the missing pieces on information were either plugged or ignored, we proceeded to find the lowest price for each Capacity and Speed of SDHC card that was available.

One should note that although most SDHC cards do come with a certain Maximum Retail Price (INR), the marketplace almost always discounts this by a huge factor. This is reminiscent of the difference between MRP and market pricing for blank media like CDs and DVDs in the early 2000s. The only places that charge the actual MRP for CDs, DVDs and SDHC cards for that matter, are organized electronics retail chains like Croma, which one should never really visit if one wants to buy the products mentioned above.

We found the cheapest prices (across brands, across retailers) as follows –

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Now, that doesn’t really help us figure out which is the best deal, since these prices are not normalized.

Side Note: By the best deal, I am only looking at Value For Money – not ‘budget’ or ‘capacity’ as a constraint. Those who feel that buying 2 cards of a certain capacity is better than buying 1 card of double that capacity, due to reasons of carelessness (at least they will still have one card if they lose the other) or convenience (keeping them at different locations) have their own valid reasons and would not necessarily agree with the sole importance I place on Value For Money.

So when we look at the Price per GB, you find that the best Value is available for the 8 GB Class 4 card for INR 49/GB.

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In my case, the technical specifications for the Nikon D5100 mention that one should use an SDHC card which has a minimum rating of Class 6. However, since I’m not keen on limiting our search to the minimum requirement, we should look at all available options and normalize prices across all Classes and not only for Class 6.

So, as we are also looking at the speed of the card, we normalize this further.

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A cleaner way to see Value For Money at this point would be to rank these Effective Prices (/GB/Speed) and see that the best Value For Money is available for the 32 GB Class 10 card followed by the 16 GB Class 10 card.

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However, we know that Rank doesn’t necessarily showcase the actual differences between values, for which a simple way would be to look at Incremental Price (/GB/Speed) for every other card over the one with the best Value For Money.

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We could look at the above information in different ways, look at what should be the ideal pricing strategy, whether Value For Money should move primarily along Class and across Capacity, or along Capacity but across Class. However, at this point, let’s not delve any further and take a step back to understand the Indian online marketplace.

When we map the best available prices to understand which retailers are competitive, strangely enough, we find a bit of a demarcation in the segments across retailers –

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We can see that –
– Flipkart has the best Value For Money in the Class 10 cards for 4 and 8 GB,
– Junglee has the best Value For Money in the Class 2 category, and
– Yebhi has the best Value For Money in the Class 10 cards for 64 GB.
– Snapdeal and Letsbuy operate between these ranges and there is no overlap here either.

This begets the question whether this is by chance or a result of available tie-ups with distributors/manufacturers.

Overall, the fact that such an unstructured market exists is clearly a disadvantage to the Indian online buyer.

However, now that we’ve understood how one should look at products like these, and know what are the approximate prices that these products should demand, readers will know when they are actually getting a good deal on purchases.

Also, the silver lining in this cloud is the opportunity for a player to enter this market and undercut these prices to become the Indian one-stop shop for SDHC cards.

The advantages of SDHC cards as a category are –
– little overhead costs as they hardly require any space for inventory management
– weight is only a few grams, so couriering costs can be controlled
– demand is only going up (for every camera sold, there is a requirement of 1 or more SDHC cards)

The downsides however are –
– depending on margins available, one might realize that capital investment requirements are large (10000 hits/day with even a 1% conversion with an average order size of 1000 would mean having daily stock replenishment worth INR 1 lakh)
– traffic (since there is no exclusive player in this field, creating sizable traffic volume from scratch will require investments of time and money)
– counterfeiting (I’m not sure but I have heard that this particular market does have issues with counterfeit cards)

However, that being said, I’m still a little intrigued as to why there aren’t more online players looking at consolidating this market by offering strong Value For Money products in this category, a market which clearly has high demand, low complexity, negligible overheads, minimal delivery costs and a wide range of pricing opportunities.

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