Apr 26, 2012

Learning Python

Before I get into the "how" part of learning Python, let me first list down the reasons on why I am learning Python:

  1. First and foremost, my resolution for 2012 was to focus more on Create rather than Consume. Learning a new programming language was one of the list of action items I had listed earlier
  2. Being a stay-at-home mum, the thinking time periods are more these days, during the times I feed my daughter or rock her to sleep. Random ideas pop up now and then, and I want to be able to quickly create something. Of course, the time to focus on such ideas and spend some quality time on execution is really rare, given the circumstances
  3. I want my brain cells to remain active. Working full-time in a job alone shouldn't become the sole reason for my brain cells to get exercised
  4. My prior programming experience was mainly on PL/SQL and SQL in the databases world. Though I had learnt Java long time ago, I'm in no mood to go back and upgrade. I want to experience something new in the programming paradigm
  5. Having read a few blogs on Python's ease of programming, faster learning curve and data processing capabilities, I decided to learn Python

Whenever my daughter takes a nap in the afternoons or when she sleeps early in the nights, I decided to do my learning. I downloaded Swaroop's e-book "A byte of Python" and started reading it. He has covered the basic concepts so clearly that it gave me a good revision of object oriented programming fundamentals. I also ensured I tried the examples and exercises diligently. After finishing his book, I started loving Python. It's definitely a no-non-sense language !

I believe learning becomes more interesting if there are different mediums and sources from which one can learn. Having read an e-book, I decided to go through the Python video lectures hosted by Google. The lecturer Nick Parlante keeps you really engaged and takes you through the concepts of Python step-by-step. I have always had an aversion towards regular expressions. But through his lectures, I finally understood regular expressions and did some interesting exercises in Python. The more you code, the better you learn - after each lecture video, there are a set of exercises you need to complete. It gives immense confidence as you breeze through them. I still remember the night when I was solving one of the exercises and felt thrilled to be "in-the-zone".

Having learnt the basics, I was looking for some advanced concepts to learn in Python. Many programmers have recommended the e-book "Dive into Python". I appreciate the fact that the author has given a real code snippet and then goes about explaining the concepts based on this snippet. It makes learning much more serious and engaging. I'm one-third through this book and hope to complete it by end of May.

I'm enjoying this slow and steady programming journey with Python. I would love to hear comments from experienced Python programmers on how I can take my learning to the next level.

Apr 19, 2012

Review of bigbasket.com

I have been a regular customer of bigbasket.com for the past 3 months. Since frequency of my purchases are quite high, I want to share my experiences. With a little baby at home, it's very difficult for me or for my husband to go to the nearby supermarket for our weekly grocery purchase. Moreover, the fuel charges for commute and most importantly, the time required to step out and buy groceries, vegetables and fruits from the nearby shops (please note the plural word) made us look for an alternative. Thanks to twitter, I discovered BigBasket through one of my tweet acquaintances.

This is my unsolicited feedback.

First the pros.
  • Shopping for groceries is highly convenient. I just can't be more happier about the time it saves for us.
  • Cash on delivery - the payment method I prefer for products like vegetables/fruits where product quality cannot be guaranteed
  • Friendly return policy - no questions asked. I have returned vegetables and dairy products a couple of times when I wasn't happy about the quality. Such occasions were very few, though
  •  Delivery guarantee - when I fix a time slot, they deliver promptly. Once when it was delayed by 30 minutes, they returned 10% of the order amount
  • Vegetables are fruits are very fresh. Bread and Dairy products are always within the expiry date.
  • Coming to the product -
    • very easy-to-use, no clutter, no ads
    • organized catalog of products. Initially, navigation was a bit clumsier and one could get lost in the individual product description page and wouldn't be easy to get back to the category page. They seem to have fixed it now, with the breadcrumb display.
    • Time slot that I have blocked used to get released earlier. Now they have fixed this problem and I can hold onto a slot for 5 minutes.
    • Notifications are perfect. I get an email and an SMS as soon as I place an order. When the order is to be delivered on a particular day, I get a SMS notification again which is useful
  • Being an early customer, I get a 10% discount on the order value. That's a good savings for me.
Now, the cons.
  • When I place an order for a certain list of items, I expect all the items to be delivered. Many times, there were 2-3 items that were either unavailable or weren't delivered. If I need to visit a physical store to buy these items, then the whole purpose of ordering from an online store gets lost
  • The other irritating issue is the quantity. I'm not sure if the delivery guy (or the person who packs the items) even looks at the quantity of an item ordered. If I order 2 packs of a certain item, he delivers only one.
  • Because of these issues, I always go for cash-on-delivery so I don't have to pay for items that were not delivered
  • Search box - doesn't give me the items I search for, though the items are available when you navigate through the menu. For instance, search for Coconut.
  • Product names do not support multiple languages
  • As I mentioned earlier, I get an SMS on the day of delivery but the SMS doesn't contain the amount that I need to pay. It would be good to get this data so I can keep the cash ready
  • My Shopping List - I find this feature to be totally useless. It is a huge list of items that I have ordered since my first order with no categories or any form of organization. It can be categorized based on the same tab structure or based on my frequency of purchase
  • Good-to-have feature - An event can be added to my calendar if I have scheduled a delivery on a specific time slot.
  • Ability to edit my order placed - Would be good to add/modify a few items to an existing order. There can be a cut-off time before which an order can be edited
  • Order status - orders which have been delivered weeks ago still show as "Ready to ship". What's the purpose of this status then?
  • Last but not the least - the plastic trays they use for packing vegetables and fruits look trendy and neat but also a serious concern to our environment. I would be more than happy to return those trays if they can reuse them.

Apr 18, 2012

Product Management in the E-Commerce world

If you are planning to take up a product management role (or similar such role) for an E-Commerce organization/startup, here's a list of pointers for you to get started, assuming the product is already launched. Hope this list will help you get a head-start in your new role and will give you some direction to think about where and how you want to take the product forward:

Current state of market for the product category to be sold
     - Target segments
     - Estimated market size
     - Buyer personas

From a customer's point of view,
     - Why do customers purchase this product category? What problems does it solve for them?
     - What decision criteria do they use to evaluate before making a purchase?
     - How do customers purchase this product?
     - What are the different channels? (wholesalers, retailers etc)
     - Purchase frequency
     - What issues they face
          - during the product discovery phase
          - during the purchase phase
          - during the post-purchase phase
     - Which of these issues are very important to your target audience?

Your E-Commerce product
     - What is the product vision?
     - Who are your competing against?
          - Online world
          - Offline world
     - What is your USP? Differentiating factors
          - as compared to other online players
          - as compared to offline channels
     - Supply chain - the entire chain of events from the time consumer visits your site, creates an order, makes payment until the time the product is actually delivered

Similar products / Inspirations from other markets

Who all are involved?
     - Suppliers
     - Logistics providers
     - Packaging providers
     - Payment gateways
     - Content editors
     - Web hosting solution providers
     - e-commerce platform (if not built in-house)

Revenue model
     - from customers
          - Markups on products
          - Payment related charges
          - Shipping charges
          - Convenience charges (Example : Express delivery)
     - from suppliers
          - Commissions on sales
          - Channel signup charges
          - Products hosting charges
          - Payment related charges

Your product
     - Key principles/focus areas
     - Transaction path
     - Registration
     - Search
     - Catalog
     - Product description
     - Shopping cart
     - Order creation
     - Order confirmation
     - Payment
     - Communication
     - Collaboration/Sharing
     - Referrals
     - Compatibility with Non-PC devices (smart phones, tablets)
     - Hiring/On-board process (Self-serve / Assisted)
     - Signup
     - Product catalog upload
     - Preferential catalog display
     - Price management (Markups / Discounts)
     - Marketing campaigns (Coupons / offers / promotions)
     - Sales analytics

Cost structure
     - customers
          - customer acquisition costs
          - discounts on products
          - referral incentives
     - content providers/editors
         - content charges (description, pictures, reviews etc)

     - Product Architecture
     - Data storage
     - Caching
     - Deployment
     - Backup/Recovery

Launch plan / Go-to-market
     - Awareness
          - Teaser campaigns (Signup offers, Limited invites)
          - Social media campaigns
     - Sustenance
          - Coupons/Discounts
          - Affiliate marketing
          - Strategic partnerships
          - Organic search
          - Search Engine Marketing
          - Display ads

Product Performance
     - Tracking analytics
          - Page views
          - Number of searches
          - Unique users
          - Referral sites
          - High demand products (product categories if selling multiple categories)
          - Number of successful transactions
          - Number of failed transactions
               - Failure reasons (dropouts, payment failures)
          - Average Transaction size per product category
          - Registered users
          - Transactions from new users
          - Transactions from returning users
          - Device-specific trends (PC and non-PC devices)

I found this article which I stumbled upon recently to be very useful for product management in the e-commerce world - http://www.beingpractical.com/2012/03/23/what-has-product-management-got-to-do-with-ecommerce/

Would love to hear your comments/feedback if I have missed out something more.

Apr 3, 2012

Try it out !!

An article I had written on "Product trials":

Peter Drucker in his book "The Practice of Management" says "There is only one valid definition of a business purpose - to create a customer". In this era of globalization, many different brands are eying for consumer's attention at the same time. So it becomes essential for the brand to try different strategies for building awareness about its offerings, thereby creating a presence in the mind of the consumer. One such strategy that has been in existence for a while is to give consumers a chance to try out the product. 

The “trial” strategy gives consumers a first-hand experience of the product, which helps the brand to develop certain associations in the minds of the consumers. The recent Nescafe ad starring Vir Das illustrates this aspect where the primary focus is on getting new consumers to try out their “first cup of coffee”. This ad appeals to the target segment – the current youth generation. The protagonist  speaks out his mind without any inhibitions in front of a celebrity (Karan Johar). The messaging clearly emphasizes to the target audience that it's time they get started with their first cup of Nescafe which is just Rs.2.

Brands execute their trial strategies at the point-of-purchase. The trial packs are being offered at leading supermarkets and retail stores. Either a brand representative or a store salesperson locate the interested consumers and offer them a free sample. The sample pack of the new fruit yoghurt brand “Danone” is offered to consumers who visit the dairy section of a leading supermarket. If consumers like the taste, they can pick up the actual packs from the dairy section.

Brands also lure consumers to encourage product trial by offering freebies and lucky draw coupons. During the last ICC Cricket World Cup, Hyundai came up with an offer where people who test drive the latest Hyundai i10 car were eligible to receive two free tickets.

Product trial is one of the predominant customer acquisition strategies in the digital world. Customers can either try the product for a limited period of time or can access limited set of features of the product. Many of the latest SaaS (Software as a Service) products prefer the latter approach so that customers get a hands-on experience with the product's limited set of features and at a later point of time, customers will opt to upgrade their product access to a paid version. The features that are offered free should give a real feel of the product and at the same time, create an anticipation that there is more value to the remaining features which fall under the paid version. Zoho, one of the popular CRM software providers offers a free version of Zoho CRM which the IT decision makers of businesses can use to evaluate the product.

Online brands also try to acquire consumers by offering discounts on purchases for consumers who register with their site. Consumers get to try out the online product and understand the offering when they register. International fashion brand retailer theprivatesales.com ran a campaign where consumers were offered a Rs.200 discount on signing up with their site.

Conversion of trial to actual consumers is the metric to be captured out of these trial strategies. Increased conversion will happen when the experiences from product trial create a positive attitude in the minds of consumers and they are willing to take the next step of buying the actual product. The trial experience should act as a trigger towards actual purchase. It should help the decision making process of the consumers when they compare brands. 

Brands should ensure that there is no variation in the quality of trial packs and actual packs of the product. If the trial pack has created a positive experience but the actual pack didn't cater to the same expectation, it will trigger a negative association towards the brand, which will destroy the brand equity in the long term.

Trial offering creates a promise which the actual offering is expected to deliver. It should demonstrate the value so clearly that consumers are able to make an objective decision when making the actual purchase. Trial-ability is one of the characteristics that helps in the diffusion of innovative products. Marketers need to take advantage of this product characteristic and design a product sampling programme to increase awareness and drive adoption.

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