Sunday, April 9, 2017

G for Grocery Retail – Then Vs. Now

From shopping grocery at Kirana stores to Government Ration Shops to one of the first organized retail shops in India to the supermarkets and hypermarkets and finally now with my own mobile Apps for Grocery, I would say I have been lucky to see them all. My tryst with Grocery shopping is cut to the early 90s when I would accompany my father to the state-run TUCS shops and PDS shops and bring, rice, dal & kerosene kept on the back of our bicycles. During the late 90s, a retail shop named Subiksha opened in the heart of South Chennai – a store similar to a PDS but a bit modern with staff in uniform who assisted customers with their shopping needs and a computerized bill to support the transaction. I remember cycling 5 kms to buy 3 kgs of sugar, which would save us 10-12% than buying from the neighborhood Kirana shop. I used to be amazed at how shopping was revolutionized in the late 90s with the advent of “Shop n Stop” a modern retail store close to my house in Royapettah that encouraged self-service, which was not just a fancy thing but also a very convenient one.



I was fortunate in the early 2000s to join and work with RPG Retail’s Foodworld Supermarkets, which was one of the earliest organized retail stores in India. From consumer offers to world class shopping experiences, the company paved the way for future entrants with this format of retailing. When I joined the Future Group, I witnessed how a humble 1,500 sft of a supermarket had morphed itself into a hypermarket with Food Bazaar spread over 10,000 sft at its largest outlet then in 2004 and that too on the fourth floor of India’s first seamless Mall, Bangalore Central. Till date, our family has shopped only at Food Bazaar in over 95% of cases. That’s some loyalty, rather just the convenience of shopping the entire household I would say. Late 2000s was the challenging periods for Retail, although not as worse as what we’ve been witnessing for the past 24 months. Hypermarkets reduced their sizes and have found the 4,000 sft model as their sweetspots and are still tweaking their models.


Since the turn of the decade in 2010, we have seen online retailers come and go and behemoths like Big Basket stay on with a supposedly proven model. I would like to cite the example of IBuyFresh.com which was the online effort of Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam, a Coimbatore based Retail store that started with fresh Fruits & vegetables and later moved on to the Grocery & Household segments. The e-commerce start-up, which was serving over 800 orders a day in just 6 months of commencing shut down abruptly one day due to viability issues. Others like Peppertap and Local Banya raised millions of dollars to eventually shut down their ventures leaving smaller players like my own Hyperlocal start-up Oyethere.com in jeopardy, what with Investors sitting on the fence not wanting to experiment on new models any further.


Much has been spoken about Amazon’s self-service, self-check-out store in America which is a dubbed as a smart-store where customers pick products off the shelves which get billed while picking-up and the check-out is super quick with just a tap of their credit cards or mobile phones (NFC payments). Grocery shopping worldwide and in India has been seeing a lot of new opportunities, of course with challenges but perhaps, remains the most interesting retail format.

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