SEVERAL months ago, when Prabhu Kumar could not find a book he wanted in Bangalore, he found it online at Amazon.com for $US10. But he had to pay more than $9 in fees to have Amazon ship it.
Mr Kumar, a software programmer, said he would not be doing that again. He now shops on India's answer to Amazon - FlipKart.com - which delivers books, phones and other items in as little as 24 hours at no extra cost.
But unlike online shoppers in other countries Mr Kumar doesn't have to pay FlipKart a single rupee until a courier bearing his books arrives at his door. He can then hand over cash or a credit card.
''I think it perfectly fits the Indian mentality,'' Mr Kumar said.
While dozens of electronic commerce firms have recently sprung up to capitalise on India's growing internet use, they have a problem. Indians are not yet comfortable with shopping on the web. Many remain unwilling to use credit cards online. So Indian retailers have gone to great lengths to gain customers. Customers may pay in cash on delivery, and the company fields delivery squads to ensure shipments get to customers fast.
One recent afternoon, four FlipKart delivery men loitered at a bungalow in the Koramangala section of Bangalore where the company started. When a small van arrived from the company's warehouse, the men rushed to take out two large duffle bags filled with packages that they put onto two tables in the house.
After scanning the packages with hand-held computers, they put the boxes into large backpacks and rode off on motorcycles to deliver them.
Because labour costs are relatively low in India, the company's delivery cost is $1 a package.
''More than 90 per cent of retail transactions in India are in cash,'' a FlipKart spokesman said.
''People like my dad and my uncle, they are much more comfortable with cash. If we have to increase our customer base, we have to accept cash.''
Online sales still make up a small portion of overall retail spending - one estimate pegs it at $US10 billion ($A9.7 billion), a tiny fraction of India's $US500 billion retail market - but they are growing fast.
FlipKart says it had revenue of 500 million rupees ($US11 million) in its last fiscal year, and is now clocking sales of about 10 million rupees a day. The top executives of the Future Group, India's largest retail company, says its daily online sales are on pace to triple between now and March.
''This time it is for real,'' said Kishore Biyani, the founder and chief executive of the Future Group, referring to an earlier wave of e-commerce euphoria in the early 2000s. ''This is the biggest thing to happen in India.''
That rapid growth has drawn the attention of venture capitalists who poured $US183 million into 20 e-commerce firms in the past year, up from $US61 million for 13 firms in the previous 12 months, according to Venture Intelligence, a research firm.
The rapid growth has also been noticed by American online retailers. Amazon, which has a software development office in Bangalore, is building a warehouse and hiring employees for an Indian site, according to industry officials.
NEW YORK TIMES