"We View Our Customers as Co-Owners," Ajit Shegaonkar

Retailer Media caught up with Ajit Shegaonkar, Co-founder and CEO, Stitchwood.com to know more on the trends and challenges of the industry, and customer-and-artisan-engagement models.
Ajit Shegaonkar, Co-founder and CEO, Stitchwood.com

The furniture retail market in India is pegged at $10 Bn and is seeing a spurt of activity in the investor and start-up space. Launched in March of 2015, Stitchwood.com is a custom-made online furniture platform founded by Ajit Shegaonkar and Vikas Nair. Rising on the customisation bandwagon, Stitchwood empowers users to design their own furniture, lets them customise the available designs and provides after sales service, pushing growth in the custom eCommerce industry.
Indianretailer caught up with Ajit Shegaonkar, Co-founder and CEO, Stitchwood.com to know more on the trends and challenges of the industry, and customer-and-artisan-engagement models.

What is the significance of customising a product online?
E-commerce has witnessed a paradigm shift from viewing customers as passive receivers of value to co-owners of it. Their engagement in the product creation or product production process has become extremely critical. Customers no longer ‘buy’ online they ‘shop’ which means we have to focus on enhancing their shopping experience.

Does mass customisation look promising in the online space?
In India, getting made-to-order furniture has always been a wild goose chase. Even with the most skilful carpenter, issues such as aesthetic sense, quality, fittings or pricing always end up leaving a bitter experience to the customers. Ready-made furniture on the other hand, may not always satisfy one’s individual preferences and exact requirements.
I would say it does look promising in the online space in categories like apparels, accessories, furniture, footwear, personal computers etc. Consumers want more choice and wish to create something that expresses their own personality. Stitchwood is offering easy to use customising tools, enabling customers to very easily customise a piece of furniture for their unique needs.

Is the Indian consumer, according to you, Pro-customisation?
The eCommerce revolution in India has paved way for companies such as ours that allow consumers to customise whatever they buy. Giant horizontal portals have laid the foundation for wide popularity of online shopping where the customers are completely comfortable. This led to a spurt in the number of vertical players who all offered a great choice of products within a single category; be it furniture, clothes etc. Though, currently, at very nascent stage, customisation is a natural progression to this trend.

What were the initial challenges you faced?
Though the idea of custom furniture online was novel and not-tried-before initiative, we did face questions on business viability, costs and implementations but there was no strong opposition from the market as customisation helped us differentiate our products offering from those of our competitors  Also the fact that traditionally furniture was never mass-manufactured but was always customised to a client’s needs, which is why 85 per cent of the furniture demand market is still customised, further validated our concept.

Talk us through the latest trends the industry is witnessing today.
The1,40,000-crore Rupees Indian furniture market is highly fragmented and unorganised. Within it, the online market accounts for 750 crore Rupees. But it is growing rapidly and expected to be worth 15,000 crore Rupees in the next three years.
Research shows with growing Internet penetrations customers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities along with big metros prefer to buy furniture online, for the wider choice and after-sales service.
Though currently there are few vertical players in the online furniture namely UrbanLadder Pepperfry and Fabfurnish, giant horizontal portals like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon etc have spot huge potential in this space and have ventured into this industry recently. A lot of these players are planning to or have enabled customisation in one way or the other using smartphone technologies.
Stitchwood offers mass customisation on its in-house design catalogue of home furniture and a complete made-to-order facility where the customer can share their designs and get them made by Stitchwood. During this process, customers are assisted with a variety of superlative features that help them narrow down the subtle details such as upholstery, wood and choice of colour and finishes.

Are you witnessing large number of customisations in the apparel category? Which category is doing better than the rest?
Most of online customisation businesses in India are at its nascent stages and it’s too early to judge their fate. As for the furniture industry, since furniture is more of a long-term purchase, the desire for specifications is greater than in areas like accessories or shoes.
Stitchwood combines the potential of the highly-ripe market for online furniture in India with the growing desire for personalisation, hence is showing great potential at very early stage.

How do you onboard the designers/ artisans?
Stitchwood has a partner program for Interior designers, where in we help them scale up their business, by taking complete responsibility of their client’s customised furniture. Most of the designers that we have on board currently, have come through reference from other designers. Enrolment is simple procedure where the designer has to register himself/herself on the website and is later been given access to his/her digital profile hosted on our platform. Designer can view their order details, customisations, order status and so on on the portal itself.

How many platforms do you have on the site; what all can a customer do on the site?
For the customer, Stitchwood offers customisation in 2 ways:
Customise from the catalogue: Stitchwood offers an assortment of furniture ranging from ottomans to work sofas, from beds to recliners to futons. It has more than 200 different furniture pieces available which can be further customised in terms of material and finishes totalling to 35,000 unique combinations.
Upload your design: In case the customer has a special requirement or a unique furniture idea that is not available on our website, they can upload a picture of a design and Stitchwood will get that made.

Future (growth) plans?
We are currently delivering to 15 cities (hubs: Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi) and plan to increase this number to 30 in the next one month. We have huge clientele in Mumbai and Pune, NCR and Bengaluru also look promising in terms of volumes. We will definitely be upscaling our platform, adding vendors and expanding and strengthening our clients base as repeat purchases have been an important contributor to our business.
Additionally, since we rely very heavily on technology, our technology team will expand, and we will take on board more product and interior designers. We are a start-up, so team-building will be an ongoing exercise. Quality control, logistics management and after sales services are important areas that we will continue to focusing on as we grow.

Ajit Shegaonkar