Religion e-commerce on the rise as ventures like 'Online Prasad', 'Proud Ummah' take off
Growing surge in Internet commerce that is pushing young entrepreneurs to vie for a share in India’s massive market for religious products and services.
BANGALORE: Stuckin a long queue to receive prasadat the Karni Mata Temple, or the Temple of Rats, inRajasthan, 24-year-old Goonjan Mall suddenly thought how much more convenient it would be to have the religious offering delivered home.
Mall soon left his job as a senior analyst at consulting firm Bain& Co and signed up for a startup accelerator programme at The Morpheus, a Chandigarh-based incubator. Last year, he launched Online Prasad, an online site offering prasad from various temples, such as Jagannath Puri, Mata Vaishno Devi, Shirdi Sai Temple and Sri Venkateshwara temple, at prices starting from Rs 501. It is such divine inspiration and the growing surge in Internet commerce that is pushing young entrepreneurs to vie for a share in India's massive market for religious products and services.
Over half-a-dozen new ventures offering online 'prasad', customised kits for Haj and Umrah pilgrimages as well as religious art work and personal accessories have sprung up. "That was my eureka moment," said Mall, an engineer from the Birla Institute of Technology, Pilani. While certain large temples across the country offer online 'darshan' and accept donations, none deliver prasad. Such gaps are what Mall and his peers in the sector are plugging as they chart the second coming of an industry that waxed and waned in tandem with the dotcom revolution nearly a decade ago.
About 15 ventures that came up in that period, which mostly allowed customers to book poojas online, have since died out.
"The dotcom bust of the early 2000s affected many online businesses," said Siddharth S Singh of Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.
"There were fewer consumers transacting online (then). That has now changed," said the associate professor of marketing. "Now, the potential to grow is good". It is the prospect of such growth that led Abid Khan to give up his job at Google and launch Proud Ummah. The Hyderabad-based venture provides products related to the Islamic pilgrimages of Haj and Umrah.
A kit, priced from Rs 3,299, has around 25 products, including items like the unstitched cloth used for covering the body called Ihram, prayer beads and maps of the pilgrimage site. Apart from online retail, the portal is also a one-stop source of information related to the pilgrimages, including details of how the pilgrimage needs to be done, how and when each product sold on the site should be used and even a list of travel agents across the world.
"I found the information I needed and also saw the kit, now I don't have to go to multiple shops to get everything," said Ayesha Fathima, a homemaker who is embarking on the pilgrimage with her family in two weeks. As more Indians like Fathima grow confident about buying online, it is providing fresh impetus to young companies, such as Online Prasad, Proud Ummah and Delhi's Transformative Learning Solutions, which are using the internet to grab a share of the humungous market for religious products and services. The 'hundi' offerings of the Sri Venkateswara temple in Andhra Pradesh's Tirupati alone stand at about Rs 600 crore annually. "If you take the most successful brands of incense sticks, they've all been built around religion. Religion has a mass appeal. It makes for good business sense provided it is executed well," said Nandini H, cofounder of The Morpheus.