US Firm Adds Indian Clients, Looks at E-Commerce

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CHENNAI, India - Royal Images, a US-owned distribution and fulfillment company that handles Citibank's reward program in India, has added two new clients and plans to have an e-commerce business up and running in six months.


"We are signing up the reward program for Radisson hotels and will do the in-flight catalog for Jet Airways, India's second largest domestic airline that flies in conjunction with KLM," owner Abhijit Bhandari said.


"And we are repositioning our company as a private label e-commerce company. We have warehousing, fulfillment and merchandizing strengths in India and we are going to offer all these services to big portals."


In addition, Royal Images is building its own Web site in Chennai (the former Madras) but will keep the servers in the US. "It's the only way you can get the needed bandwidth," Bhandari said.


In addition to its own Web site, Royal Images will do the fulfillment for portals that want to do more shopping of their own. "Take Yahoo. If they wanted to offer shopping we could handle the back end.


"Chai time is another Indian portal. It means tea time, and they could offer chai time shopping featuring our products, which we have been sourcing in India for three years, and take a cut out of each sale while we handle the backend.


"These are the kinds of deals we intend to make. It is the kind of private label


e-commerce that several companies are already offering customers in the US. I think dotcom will be the biggest part of our business very quickly."


The value of dot-coms in India is skyrocketing. KPMG, he said, had "set up an offer for people who wanted to start dotcoms to show them their business plans. They received 20,000 of them."


Bhandari, who owns a leather goods company in Westchester County, NY, began his Indian business more than three years ago when he won a contract to handle Citibank's rewards program, which, he said, has been growing rapidly.


"Citibank is now the largest credit card issuer in India. It has about 1.5 million visa cards out there. Standard Charter Bank has 400,000 to 600,000 cardholders."


But Bhandari said the combination of GE Capital with the State Bank of India, the country's largest financial institutions with branches down to the village level, could offer Citibank serious competition.


Radisson, he noted, now has five hotels in three Indian cities - Chennai, New Delhi and Bombay - and wants to expand the chain across the country.


The Radisson program is standard: The longer you stay the more points you get which can be redeemed for gifts. "We're also developing a system for giving incentives to travel agents so that they will steer customers to our hotels."


Like tourists, the agents can collect points and redeem them for gifts from the Radison catalog.


For Jet Airways, which flies a fleet of 50 planes in India, Royal Images is developing an in-flight catalog from which passengers can order goods by mail, but not by phone.


Bhandari explained that Indian law demands "live" signatures on all credit card transactions so that Jet Airways catalog buyers could only use the mails.
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