When India's Flipkart turned into 'flopkart'

A man browses the Flipkart catalogue in a showroom Image copyright AFP
Image caption Flipkart is India's biggest online retailer

Hopes were high when India's biggest online retailer, Flipkart, announced a day of massive discounts - but it didn't go exactly to plan, writes the BBC's Shilpa Kannan in Delhi.

Logging on at 07:58 on my tablet, I was hoping to buy mobile phones at 1 rupee ($0.02; £0.01).

Along with me, were hundreds of thousands of other online shoppers across India.

This was supposed to be India's version of Black Friday - the start of the Christmas shopping season in the US - and the country's largest online retailer, Flipkart, was offering massive discounts across a whole range of items.

The mega sale started at 08:00 and within minutes most of the products appeared as "out of stock".

There were many good offers - like Karbonn cellphone at 1 rupee (original price 2,499 rupees), the Samsung Tab2 at 1,390 rupees (original price 13,900 rupees), hand blenders at 1 rupee (original price 1,995 rupees) and JBL headphones at 99 rupees (original price 5,490 rupees).

The sale was advertised as the "Big Billion Day" and Flipkart founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal (who are not related) wrote personalised emails to customers inviting them to shop.

"To celebrate Flipkart's journey, we are going to have a sale to end all sales. The Big Billion Day Sale is on 6-10-2014... and the date is no coincidence. The day 6-10 marks the number of the flat we started out from," they wrote.

Crashed servers, errors

It was a battle to win customers in a highly competitive market with rivals like Snapdeal and Amazon rapidly increasing their market share.

But it didn't exactly go to plan.

The big rush of customers online crashed Flipkart's servers. The company denied it but several shoppers put up screen grabs of errors and the payment page freezing on Twitter and Facebook.

Image caption Flipkart and rival Snapdeal put out huge newspapers to announce their sales
Image caption Flipkart promised some 'crazy deals'

Then there were angry customers putting up links to prove that supposedly discounted items on Flipkart were actually being sold at prices higher than other websites.

For example, a MacBookAir 13-inch was priced at 56,490 rupees on Flipkart but Snapdeal was selling it for 49,999 rupees.

Or, as pointed out by customers on Twitter, some items were marked up before the sale and then offered at discounts.

By the end of the day, #flopkart and #failkart were trending as disgruntled customers took to making fun of the sales.

Despite all the negative publicity, the sale day saw many, including me, download the website app on our mobile phones and register new accounts.

Flipkart announced that they "got a billion hits" and achieved "sales of $100m (6bn rupees; £60m)".

The company registered sales of $1bn last year, so to achieve $100m in a day seems extraordinary.

But media reports suggest that the frustrating shopping experience has actually pushed a lot of Flipkart's customers to rivals Amazon and Snapdeal.

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