The Financial Express

'The singer, not the song'

'The singer, not the song'

At times, there are books, publications, articles and films that don't make headlines. Creatives, ahead of their time, going against the then current thoughts in vogue come, go and are forgotten. Then as the brilliant divine creation-the human mind, ponders over an in-vogue perplexity, a breeze of reflection lifts the dust of a memory tucked away. 'The singer, not the song' was one of those wild-west movies that touched on a side aspect of life in those turbulent times. Dirk Bogarde played the role of a lawless gun wielder who somehow retained vestiges of humanity. Grudgingly befriending a new, young priest trying desperately to preach the gospel, Bogarde gives his life defending him against the fiercest of odds. He does so because of the difference the priest makes in the era when principles gave way to the gun. His last words, the title of the movie, reaffirmed that gospel or social norms only really make sense when the preacher lives up to what he says. In a world where convenience has become the hallmark, the Jeff Bezos', JackMasrise from unknowns to become pioneers of innovation are cases in example. Once they prove their point and can no longer take the caricature ignominy that business brings with it, they stand back to pursue that which they had kept hidden. Their thirst for making a real difference.

Amazon and Ali Baba shattered the traditional incremental concepts of business. Their newness was using technology to feed convenience; their business models were a combination of volume vs value cleverly juxtaposing renowned brands and newbies. Their platforms are today a concourse that can make or break any brand simply through the benefit of consumer satisfaction. Gradually, the platforms attracted the finer brands as a quicker disposal pot for overstock and inventory control. Discounting was a feature, carefully managed so as not to let profits slip too far.

If anything sounds, looks or feels to be too good to be true, it probably isn't. That was lost on the countless consumers that were taken in by glitzy advertising, celebrity endorsements and high-profile sponsorship of government occasions and sports byeVally, eOrange and some others. Desperate for opportunities, especially to make it big overnight, unemployed or laid-off persons paid in advance for unbelievable 'deals'. Most haven't got the products ordered. They are unlikely to do so. Inadequate laws and an almost absence of accountability in regulatory approval means the perpetrators can't be forced to payback the ill-begotten proceeds, most of which have likely been siphoned off and carted out of the country.

eCommerce has been dealt a savage blow in its infancy with an erosion of consumer confidence. The relevant business associations are back-pedalling in trying to brave-face the calamity. Their argument that the relevant ministry has drag-footed the proposed eCommerce guidelines holds merit. Then again, why their members began business in the absence of such guidelines hasn't been explained. No one wants to take ownership of the debacle though the Finance Minister puts the blame on the Commerce Ministry. But when the Minister, Tipu Munshi wryly admits at having ordered and not got cattle for the sacrificial Eid occasion it's not too hard to guess where it's all heading. While all this goes on FoodPanda, conceived as a quick delivery online food channel has begun branching out into 'other products' ranging from masks to cosmetics and no doubt further. That commercial banks are encouraging sales of consumer goods against usage of plastic cards at discounts is another phenomenon in the unravelling saga. That's part of a negotiation between the bank and the selling entity. Chances are, any large purchase at shopping malls using cards puts an added 2.5% on the price. Another indicator that no one sells at a loss; they at best, take cuts in profit to enable roll-over of capital.

The biggest puzzler is how established companies and importers allowed their products to be sold on credit, that too at huge embedded cost. As it is, they provide commissions to established retail outlets. Yet, they have accepted bulk purchases of their products at massive discounts that have to be eating into costs thereby undermining the brand value. They too are red, both in face and bottom-line. The eValleys and eOranges of the world owe them plenty of money and don't have the cash. A lawyer has suggested the beneficiaries of the unholy operation cough up consumer and company dues. There's one small problem. No one seems to know where the money is.


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