So, I have not seen many successful examples of community driven group buying in India but recently, we did a low-tech group buying experiment with about 700 odd people and it worked very well.

You can watch the background of this in the following video:

To sum up the background in a few lines: 3-4 years back, we bought a flat in one of the under-construction properties in Mulund, Mumbai. We created a WhatsApp group for the buyers, and over the years, it ended up becoming a large community of 700-odd buyers. As the possession date was approaching, we formed a team of 5-6 people and started talking to appliance brands to understand if there is any scope for group discounts. Following is our journey from the idea to execution.

Step 1:

Our approach was completely data-driven and we used technology wherever possible. Before approaching any brands, we wanted to understand the needs of the flat owners. We floated a Google form asking them about their preferences. The form looked like this:

You can refer to and copy the template from here

We then got the data like this:

We then picked the top 2 brands from each category. But at this point, we did not know whom to speak to. But a couple of architects in our core team suggested we talk to the project teams of each brand. We got the contacts via references, and WhatsApp groups created between brands and our team.

Brands didn’t take this seriously at all but they appreciated the data-driven approach, still, we had to keep pushing them for the rates. It was an uphill task to crack initial brands but to make this whole process professional and organised, we decided to start with the education seminar.

Step 2:

We booked a venue, invited top brands to be present there, charged them to cover the venue charges. The goal was to invite brands to present their products, educate members and answer their questions. At this point, not all brands revealed their discounts as they were not confident about our buying capacity.

We wanted to gather data of people who are going to attend and keep the members & brands updated on the progress. This was more like a confidence building exercise for both members as well as brands, so we introduced ticket booking system using Eventbrite. It’s a fantastic and very professional tool for events. It’s free as long as you don’t charge for the tickets.

300+ members turned up, asked questions, clicked photographs, and made a video of the event to share with the members who could not attend. (This is an important part, these photos/videos etc.. should be used while approaching other brands, so they know, you mean business)

Step 3:

Once the event was complete, we met the brands again (multiple times), and got their rates down. The only criterion was, no one should be able to get these rates in the open market to individuals. This was a tricky task as we had to cross-verify quotes from various sources, prepare various sheets to compare the rates etc…

After this, we realised, there is no point in giving a huge list of models to members as it will end up confusing them in decision-making and will be difficult to drive orders in bulk volume. So we started studying the models and shortlisting with brands’ help.

For example, with Mitsubishi Electric, we picked only 5 Star GR series split ACs and for Bosch / Siemens, we picked a handful of home appliances with 1 or 2 in each category. The picked models were the best keeping ROI and features in mind.

Step 4:

After the models were shortlisted, we started a campaign where members can visit the experience centres of the brands and experience all the shortlisted products. We again introduced a ticketing system so brands know the number of people who are going to attend it. These experience centre demos were extensive where they would cook regular food items in appliances, wash / dry clothes etc…

This worked wonders for the brands as well as for members. Everyone loved it.

Step 5:

Since the discounted rates were based on volumes, we had to find a way to route orders via our system. We used Jotform ($39 a month) along with a shopping cart widget, so members have a familiar user interface. Once the form is filled, the data would get pushed to a Google Sheet shared with the brands.

Brands would then call those members and collect the payment. For payments too, we conducted various drives so members can walk into a single location nearby and make payments over the weekend.

This process went on for a month or two.

The result? The brands and dealers were pleasantly surprised, their phones never stopped ringing. We placed orders of 500 ACs and around Rs. 2.25 Crore worth of home appliances in less than 2 months. These were not the leads, but actual paid orders, members paid the money.

So what next?

We realised, after getting the possession, members would need things to get started with interior work. So we started working on shortlisting items which would be required when they start the work.

But this time, we did not want to do something on a small scale and the success of the first event gave us the confidence to pull off even bigger events.

So after extensive research and planning for 3 months, we arranged a 2-day grand exhibition with 30 brands and named it Interior & Appliance Mela. This was a grand event. We hired a professional agency to set up stalls etc…

Again, for this too, we used technology to streamline a lot of things. For exhibitors, we used a service called ExpoFP (7 days Free) where they could see the floor plan, view their stall allotment etc…

We again had our ticketing system. This event was attended by 1000+ members and their interior designers. Some photos in the tweet below and the video of the event can be viewed here

At this point, we are working on Phase 3 which will be way bigger than Phase 2.

Some important points to keep in mind for a smooth group buying experience:

  • Create a WhatsApp group (I would recommend creating a community on WhatsApp, create a few groups in the community for members to interact)
  • Arrange meets so members can meet each other, and know each other. That’s how trust is built.
  • To start any such event, it’s important to gain the trust of members and ensure they understand that, you are not doing it for personal gains and it’s for the larger good.
  • Form a core team of 5-6 members with a good mixture of professions, in case of home appliance-related bulk buy, I recommend 1-2 Architects / interior designers as part of the core team. Someone close to the field of bulk buy products should be in the core team.
  • You will have to create exciting WhatsApp messages with regular updates to create momentum
  • Keep sharing photos of meetings with brands and share with members. Don’t do any work in the background quietly, let everyone know the progress, take their input etc…
  • Create professional-looking promotional materials (Invites, Banners, standees etc..)
  • Use technology wherever possible and think about how you can minimise operational headache and reduce time taken in decision-making.
  • Do not approach the dealers first, talk to the brand’s project teams directly. Dealers buy at the rates given by distributors, we should go top of the ladder instead of climbing up from the bottom.
  • Don’t get into items that do not have fixed MRP. This will drain you out.

That’s all. If you need any help, ping me on Twitter. Hope this helps.

Featured image by Fabian Blank on Unsplash