Despite the significance of handicrafts in India’s rural economy and export sector, the crafts industry has been languishing due to policy neglect and poor earnings for those at the bottom of the value chain. Agents and traders in the traditional value chain have historically appropriated a large portion of the premium from handicrafts by squeezing margins for art creators. However, social enterprises and government agencies have emerged as trustworthy intermediaries by operating on the principles of transparency and cooperation. These contemporary intermediaries and artisans have catalysed an online presence for artisans to explore the next frontier of e-commerce in handicrafts.
Online selling can unlock an additional sales avenue for the handicraft industry. However, it is at a nascent stage due to the current siloed platform approach to e-commerce, which increases seller-side costs, limits organic discoverability, and restricts choices to avail value chain services such as logistics and last-mile delivery. These barriers hinder the exploration of direct online selling as a viable channel for generating revenue.
The network approach to e-commerce, which is at the core of the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC), can incentivise artisans and cooperatives to explore digital selling as an additional revenue channel. The ONDC’s unified search, unbundling, and interoperability features can boost reach and visibility while offering sellers a wider choice of ancillary services. These features would ease some of the barriers faced by artisans and social enterprises, allowing them to strengthen their digital commerce presence.
Artisans and craft cooperatives will need to be supported with the right skills and an enabling ecosystem to allow them to benefit from the ONDC’s capabilities. Capacity building, promoting recognition of handicrafts and enhancing the ecosystem should be key priority areas for the government and philanthropic organisations to improve the e-readiness of artisans and prime the handicrafts sector for a strong digital presence.
Authors: Abhishek Modi and Parul Gupta, with support from Shruti Mehta