Exclusive: Meesho to look at metaverse, web3, other blockchain use cases for e-commerce sellers, buyers

Technology for MSMEs: After Amazon and Flipkart, e-commerce company Meesho may soon embrace blockchain-based use cases to improve the digital experience of buyers and sellers on its platform. E-commerce is arguably the next frontier in redefining online sale and purchase of goods through blockchain-based metaverse, web3, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and other use cases. Hence, digital-native platforms are seemingly keen to explore blockchain which is considered to be the holy grail of trust and security.

“I do see a lot of promise here for buyers and sellers on Meesho interacting in the metaverse. The only question probably is when is it going to happen. It’s just about the timing of the adoption of the metaverse. It is slightly early for us but we have started exploring Web3 and extension of that — the overall metaverse,” Sanjeev Barnwal, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Meesho told Financial Express Online in an interview.

The use case, for instance, ensuring the quality of the product, said Barnwal, would have to be explored in an e-commerce context. “Blockchain can be leveraged to build trust in some form or the other. Now, how do you draw parallels of that to e-commerce? Can we build trust around the quality of a product through blockchain? Maybe but we haven’t found a solution yet,” he said.

At its core, blockchain is essentially a shared database with various entries verified and encrypted that cannot be edited or tampered. The data is secured through cryptography in blockchain with each network participant having his/her own private keys that act as a personal digital signature to their transactions. 

However, blockchain to become ubiquitous in e-commerce will take some time. “If metaverse becomes the norm, you can do lots of things like simulating offline buying experience online. Fundamentally, how you think about e-commerce itself changes. It will be a game-changer in terms of user experience as well,” said Barnwal. The company, on Tuesday, had announced crossing the 6-lakh micro-and-small-seller milestone on its platform, recording a 7X increase from around 86,000 sellers since April 2021. Meesho is targetting to reach 12 lakh sellers by end of 2022.

Earlier this month, Meesho had also tied up with Google Cloud to leverage the latter’s infrastructure to drive increased operational efficiency. Meesho said Google Cloud will help in advancing the company’s artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities for demand forecasting and inventory optimization. Through Google Cloud, Meesho said it will also optimize its transactional data and boost productivity with real-time insights into buyers’ shopping activity. 

In April this year, Walmart-owned Flipkart had also launched Flipkart Labs to test Web3 and Metaverse use-cases with real-world applications, including NFT-related use-cases, virtual storefronts, etc., in order to improve the overall shopping experience for its customers.

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On the other hand, Seattle-headquartered Amazon’s AWS had launched a metaverse-like game called Cloud Quest in March this year to train users on AWS. In July last year, Amazon’s Payment Acceptance & Experience team had posted a job to hire a digital currency and blockchain product lead at its headquarters, indicating the company’s possible experiment in enabling cryptocurrencies for accepting payments from customers in near future.

Meanwhile, Meesho is also exploring the government’s pet online project Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) which is pitched to turn e-commerce into an open digital infrastructure instead of being dominated by large marketplaces such as Amazon, Flipkart, and others in India. The departure from the platform-centric approach to an open-source framework is the mainstay here.

“It opens up more opportunities for SMEs. It makes the ecosystem more open, which means people can now build integrations and can get access to a lot more suppliers. Suppliers joining ONDC will probably be able to become part of multiple e-commerce platforms at once. We are definitely in touch with them (ONDC) and our team is working closely with them. We’ll see how this pans out. We are extremely bullish on this,” added Barnwal without disclosing details on the company’s plans for the ONDC network. 

Meesho had last year forayed into the direct-to-consumer (D2C) business to compete with Amazon, Flipkart and other marketplaces in selling directly to consumers instead of only being a reselling platform. “Because of our focus on end customers in the last 1.5 years, our business has grown 5X in the last one year. All of that translates into success for suppliers. So this growth has been powered by end customers and suppliers have been benefiting a lot out of it,” Barnwal said in his response to the question on the likely impact of its D2C foray on its resellers.

The company has so far raised $1.1 billion in funding with the last round of $570 million raised in September 2021 from SoftBank, Prosus Ventures, Fidelity Investments, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin’s B Capital and others, as per data from Crunchbase, at a reported valuation of near $5 billion. Meesho had reportedly laid off 150 people from its grocery business Meesho Superstore amid its integration into the main app. As per news reports, 5,000-6000 people have been laid off by around a dozen Indian startups this year so far as focus on profitability takes centre stage apart from the subdued investment scenario.

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