So, this was my first contribution to The Strategist of the Business Standard.

The complete article appears after the image :

Cash on delivery has been identified as one of the culprits responsible for the troubles of e-commerce establishments. Food Tech seems to be the new Gabbar Singh in town!

But the experience of Domino’s Pizza shows why this line of argument is all wrong!

I have been reading the horror stories about how the cash on delivery model of payment touted by the e-commerce companies in India is the root of all their troubles and may ultimately lead to their ruin. It is almost funny how one of the most innovative ideas of our time is getting blamed for the things it is not really responsible for.

I would say cash on delivery is actually one of the best things that has happened in e-commerce, or for that any form of commerce. Here is why:

I just flipped through the 2011 balance sheet of the publicly listed company that operates Dominos India and was amazed to note some jaw dropping statistics.

- This company shipped about 3.7 crore pizzas in the year, equaling to 1 lakh pizzas sold per day.

- The pizzas sold for a total of Rs 600 crore, translating into an average price of Rs 162 per pizza.

- The business operated via 380 stores in 90 cities; that is, approximately four stores per city.

- Each store sold approximately 1 lakh pizzas a year or about 300 pizzas a day. That’s about 25 pizzas an hour.

- The company recorded a net profit of Rs 90 crore. This equals to Rs 25 per pizza or a 15 per cent margin on the sale price.

I think this is awesome, considering that this business is entirely managed as a cash-on-delivery business. Also, if you review the size and scale of the operations they have, it resembles any gigantic e-commerce business.

So how can anyone blame cash on delivery as the culprit that ruined a business?

Actually, the pizza business in India teaches five important lessons to those who intend to execute the cash on delivery business model.

1. Cash is guaranteed when collected from home:

No one can run away from home. There is a Marwari saying that “If you run away with my money, I will come to your house to collect it.”

Imagine people giving you their home addresses to deliver and collect money. Can you get any more upfront? I doubt if anyone would like to rescind on a pre-placed order and kick up a fight in front of their neighbours over a small amount.

Lesson: getting called home is an assurance of getting paid. Leverage it.

2.  Personal sales provide the best reference check:

In the weary world of business, people are unreliable. Companies are even worse. Who can fight a big legal battle with corporations whose karma has clogged up the Mithi river (a river in Mumbai that infamously gets clogged and
causes floods)?

Now cash on delivery is a foolproof method of establishing creditworthiness.

Once your name and home address is in the system, the seller quickly establishes if you have ever defaulted on your payment. If you have played truant, then you will not be supplied the pizza or the shoe you ordered. That’s too bad because it’s not easy to change your name or the place you live in at the drop of a hat.

Lesson: use cash on delivery as a means to establish creditworthiness. And when the market is ready, cross-sell that creditworthiness across business verticals so that it becomes a win-win.

3. Use cash on delivery to check ‘Intent’:

Consider the pizza sales again:

If 3.7 crore pizzas were sold just by one company, it’s very generous to say that at least 2 crore unique households in India bought a pizza (2 million crore x 2 pizzas = 4 crore pizzas per year).

Now, those who buy pizza in India are typically e-shoppers.

The numbers state that e-shoppers represent about 1 crore in India. And this is the same affluent, upwardly mobile community that can afford pizzas and printers delivered at their doorstep.

So while none of these households return a pizza that has been ordered, why do a staggering 45 per cent (according to a recent media report) of the same set of households refuse to take delivery of online goods purchased, when the courier reaches them?

If you do not return one out of two pizzas you buy, why would you return one out of two books you have e-ordered?

Lesson: New businesses using the cash on delivery model may want to collect small token amounts in advance to check ‘the intent’ of these happy-to-reject customers to ensure they pay up.

4. The 30-minute curfew works for pizzas, not for books:

If I am hungry and want to eat, it makes sense to promise me a pizza in 30 minutes or a free pizza if the deadline is not met.

But I ask, what is the urgency to ship a book with the same demonic speed while executing a book delivery? Will it matter if the book reaches me in a few days and not minutes? And hey, if I am so ‘hungry’ to read my newly ordered book, then ask me to pay double the regular charges for ‘instant delivery!

Lesson: New businesses relying on cash on delivery need to step back and ask themselves if they can spend less money on speedy delivery.

5. Cross-sell and cross-sell like crazy:

I am sure at one time or the other, we have indulged ourselves with those sinful garlic bread sticks and dipped them in that irresistible co-conspirator, the ‘cheesy dip’ that comes along. Coke and pizza get along famously and hence ordering a bottle of coke is logical when you order a pizza.

Another example. Haven’t we all seen those mini shampoo and moisturiser sachets embedded in women’s magazines? Or that perfume strip we carefully peel off and inhale as if it was pure ozone?

The point is that with every package delivered to someone’s house, there is a great opportunity to cross-sell domestic products which the same set of consumers could be encouraged and let me add, delighted to sample.

In the case of e-commerce companies, this is not a goldmine kind of opportunity; it’s a veritable diamond mine. Cross-selling and delivering samples do not cost anything extra in deliveries (the same courier boy achieves both jobs); rather it can easily change the fortunes of the fledgling e-commerce companies who say they lose money when they execute cash on delivery!

Given the myriad kinds of goods e-commerce companies ship out (books, electronics and home appliances), even a failed direct marketing student can build a simple ‘ASL’ or age–sex–location business model offering outside brands to ride on the e-commerce deliveries headed to consumers.

For example, if a microwave is headed for Mrs Sharma in Noida, the package can surely contain packs of free popcorn and ready-to-drink soups sponsored by other brands that would happily pay to reach their target audience directly.

Let me add, Mrs Sharma will bless you.

This is why desserts and appetisers bundled with pizza deliveries work so well.

Lesson: allow partner brands to piggyback on the cash on delivery transaction. Extract money from them for home delivering to their target audiences. Even cross-sell that extra as a surprise for the buyers.

Cash on delivery must be examined as a business opportunity rather than a titanic blunder. There are very few businesses in the world that actually invite brands and companies within the sacred portals of their homes. Leveraging what is not easy but can be highly profitable.

So if you want to master the cash on delivery model for your business, then maybe you should start by getting onto a pizza diet.


Link to the article on The Strategist



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Replies to This Discussion

so now like socks stories, we could have pizza stories...?!

many congrats!

A good differentiator could be to deliver faster on upfront payment and deliver slower on CoD

Okay so I still maintain that you are the Devil which one's grandmother warned you about.
And I say this with utmost respect for kicking the COD-naysayers in the GUT.

I need to sit down with you and get a relearn of how to think absolutely ULTA !

I am Sitting in Gurgaon abhi and can sense the Hush and the Rush going on in e-Commerece Portal office to replicate the model you have touched upon.

So very true about cash on delivery model

Two things which I can relate to the story are

  • When Dominos initially started their online ordering service they didn't offered COD for it but they did offered 20% on purchases made online. For first couple of times, because I was getting a good deal I didn't mind paying online too.  I certainly preferred CoD afterwards as getting money back for a late delivery may be a problem.

Offering something to the customer which he cannot miss can also get more purchases on the site. For example, EMI options on Flipkart.. That can be important for a lot of people.

  • I recently went to Delhi book fair and bought a book from a local publisher,a book which is hard to find at the local store. The thing I noticed after reaching home was that they have also put a complete book comprising of all the books they have to offer, I am certainly going to buy a couple of more books.

If you are a company dealing into things which does not have much competition but comparatively good market, it makes sense to upsell additional things or share some suggestions with the customer to keep in mind for future.

and i have replied:


1. With all due respect, what you may think is 'frivolous' purchasing in e-commerce may not apply for everyone.
For example, I buy the book 'The Autobiography of a Yogi' each month from Flipkart to give away before my Rodinhood Open houses. I usually gift 35-50 books per session.
Last time Flipkart failed to deliver last moment and that really hurt me. Today again they have ditched just before my Bangalore meeting.
The same applies for so many items that people buy (I assume people buy things they need badly!!) irrespective of food or not. Tomorrow you will say that a PC ordered for an office or a laptop ordered for a Sales person is not 'effing urgent'!!
2. This 'DOC' or 'COD' makes little sense to me. Its cash against purchase. Age old barter.
3. The end of your post 'But comparing Dominos CoD model to Ecommerce CoD model isn't the best thing to do. Unless..' is not understood by me. I am used to writing and reading complete sentences.
4. Finally some extra links on your post as a retort to my post (linking articles on CRM etc)  is confusing. I don't understand the view when you say 'As far as Alok's other points are concerned, that's the basic CRM that ecommerce needs to build' !

So, does that mean that in the end I was right!?
Ashish - something's missing in this post of yours. Its a knee jerk, weird ramble, that I have never seen you write before.
Anyways, respect and thank you for giving my article the attention you did!

If 3.7 crore pizzas were sold just by one company, it’s very generous to say that at least 2 crore unique households in India bought a pizza (2 million x 2 pizzas = 4 crore pizzas per year).


2 million x 2 pizzas = 40 lakh, NOT 4 CRORE.

hahaha - thanks for the maths correction.

It should read 2 crores homes * 2 pizzas each =  4 crore pizzas

The line BEFORE though reads "it’s very generous to say that at least 2 crore unique households in India bought a pizza"


Good thing about COD is it seems to be evolving. Having in house delivery is the biggest plus.

Check out this new evolution of COD used by Yebhi of Try and Buy -

P.S. I've not used Yebhi before and dont know abt their service. Checked this feature out of curiosity and tht it was relevent to this post.

Frankly I have never understood how people order as COD and then turn back the order at the time of delivery. I can never do that, not even for fun. Anyways...

Amazon has mastered the art of providing various shipping options and generating good amount of revenue. It is time for e-commerce companies to offer various shipping modes too.

As Alok mentioned, whether a book comes in 2 days or 3 does it really matter. It does matter as Alok mentioned when he needed the book to be given and it didn't come but this is an issue which can really be solved if one orders a bit in advance so as to not take chances. Since we are used to Flipkart's speedy deliveries we tend to order at the end moment and expecting it will still come.

But to my limited knowledge, it may not be right to compare why COD works for dominos and why it will work for e-commerce companies. Why would anyone order food and return it when it comes?

Another fantastic way is blacklisting, which i didnt knew Dominos actually does?

Same can be applied to e-commerce also...if one returns COD without any reason, blacklist it. How to remove blacklist...let them pay a deposit of some sort and on any return let them deduct something...I dont know ...just thinking it loud. 


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