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12 June, 2014
Online Grocery Shopping
There has been enough spoken and written about the Flipkart-Myntra deal. Online Commerce is no more a hype at the moment and there is no money to be made – that’s the response most subject matter experts are saying although they don’t want to be quoted since they are in various advisory capacities for many such companies. With a healthy two-digit margin, if offline Retailers are not able to succeed (read: profitable), then how would these companies survive- they ask. Having said that, there is not a single ECommerce company (in India) that has tasted profits yet. While many promoters have made millions of dollars collectively, the companies in question still remain unprofitable. I would presume that a very few of them would even be making unit level margins. Such is the discount structure and focus on Topline that these companies are almost forgetting that the main intention of a business is to create value through profitability and not just a valuation (to subsequent investors). Amongst the online frenzy across categories, the most dreaded and the most challenging category is grocery & daily needs including fruits and vegetables. Bangalore based BigBasket.com already has some headway while WeStaple.com from Noida and a few others who are regional players are taking the lead to establish their positions. Big Basket even has a Mobile app for Android and iOS from Apple. Take a look below at what their customers have to say;
K Ganesh and his wife Meena Ganesh are an entrepreneur and angel investor-duo. BigBasket, which is run on a daily basis by the founders of e-tailer Fabmart, on the other hand, is one of India’s only online grocery stores. Online grocery stores have been seeing big traction around the world, as recurring orders prop up the profitability of the niche e-commerce category. “The Series B funding for BigBasket, which should close in the next three-to-four months, will be around $40- $50 million. We believe it has huge potential, with gross margins of nearly 20 per cent. Every order is profitable for us on BigBasket,” Mr. Ganesh told The Hindu.
Bigbasket founder Hari Menon, a successful entrepreneur who sold his brick-and-mortar retail chain Fabmall and Trinetra to Aditya Birla Group, is bullish. “It’s a huge, underserved market. Convenience is a major factor in our metros. We are finding that at least 85% of our customers return after the second order.” Menon said that revenue is increasing 20% each month. Bigbasket delivers 4,000 orders daily. In Mumbai, where the average size of an order is Rs1800, it does 800 deliveries each day. The site has served 200,000 customers so far and is expanding to Delhi and its suburbs. Menon said the company did Rs85 crore ($14.3 million) in revenue in 2013-14 and was on course to do Rs200 crore ($33.7 million) in sales this fiscal year.
While the category is exciting, most customers seem to expect the savings (on real estate) to be passed on to them, which in reality is not. If the Real Estate savings are about 10-12% on Sales, the promotions and marketing costs are much larger than that, especially the first-time acquisition cost of customers. While most players do not offer much of discounts for every item, there are chances of combined savings when you buy more quantities or multiple brands from the same company.
However, the overall sentiment seems to be simple- customers would buy products online only if they value their time more than the time spent in shopping offline at Retail Stores such as Spencers, Foodworld, Nilgiris, Big Bazaar, etc. India has a huge density of Kirana Stores while Organized Retailers in the big cities are already quite popular for more than a decade now. Fruits and Vegetables are still preferred to be bought from the vendors who sell fresh quality items, most of them directly sourced from the Markets. Retail FDI in multi-brand retailing is a contentious issue and even the new Modi-led Government is not actively pursuing this at the moment, for the benefit of the trader community who form a big chunk of vote bank.
Online Grocery, at the moment is restricted only to those who work in odd-times, say BPO Employees and many others who would find it difficult to shop at a nearby store especially those who live in far off suburbs. Having said that, the Kiranas are much more active these days, offering various facilities such as door delivery to credit facilities to their customers. While Online Grocery has a great future, time will be a real reckoner.
21 March, 2014
Reliance wins handsdown
The first store for Reliance came up in Hyderabad. It was a grocery retail format and many skeptics wrote off the idea, citing intense competition in this segment. Gross Margins are low, two-digits and net margins, if any are a mere 4-6%. So, how would the company ever make money? Further, there were already established players in this segment, especially in the South (of India) such as Foodworld, Spencers, Food Bazaar, Nilgiris, FabMall, Trinetra (now together More), Fresh @ from Heritage Foods – the list could go on! But patience and perseverance has helped the company in the long term. According to a report in the most respected Hindustan Times newspaper, the company would become the largest Retailer in India by Sales in 2013-2014. The company is expected to close the year with $2 Billion in Sales, approx. INR 12,000 Crores. And it made a meagre INR 78 Crores last year and has made INR 278 Crores in 2013-14. That’s not bad at all. The company has been able to achieve scale over the past 7 years and its many Chief Executives of respective businesses have built the business brick by brick, sweating and toiling between Board Rooms and Store fronts.
Take a quick look at how the numbers stack up;
It’s a commendable achievement for Reliance Retail to achieve this position. Those who know me well would now agree what I have been saying ever since Reliance joined the fray in the Retail sector. I predicted right in the beginning that they are here for the long term. With a cash pile of INR 90,000 Crores and managing the largest Oil refinery in the world, Reliance has real deep pockets. And its Chairman Mukesh Ambani is not someone to open and shut businesses. Its not in their blood. Dirubhai Ambani, the patron founder of the group tht every household in India should have a Reliance product in some form or the other. The group created a furore in 2002 when the Reliance Mobile network was launched with an exciting Rs. 501/- package making it the most affordable mobile phone of its times. Similarly, they forayed into various other businesses and turned around all of them, albeit patiently.
One of the biggest reasons why Reliance has been able to reach where they are is also because of steadfast focus in the formats that they have opened and operated. They just have one Hypermarket, One Digital Electronics Format, three formats in Fashion, one in Jewelry and half a dozen international brand tie-ups. Makes it easy to focus on scaling up each vertical constantly. Reliance operates small supermarkets which compete with Kiran Stores and other organized players such as Spencers, Foodworld, Food Bazaar, etc. Reliance hyper directly competes with Metro AG, Best Price (Bharti Retail), Hypercity (K Raheja Group), Total (Jubilant Retail), Big Bazaar (Future Group) nd other local wholesale markets and APMC operated mandis. In the fashion segment, Reliance Trends is positioned against Lifestyle (Dubai based Landmark Group), Shoppers Stop (India’s largest Department store Chain) and Pantaloon (now owned by Aditya Birla Group). Reliance Footprints has a unique positioning and doesn’t have major names for competition except Metro and Mochi who have a pan-India presence. Reliance Jewels competes with the local jewelry stores in each micro market. Reliance Brands such as Diesel, Quicksilver, etc. compete with their international competitive brands.
This is just the beginning. Look how Reliance is going to grow leaps and bounds in times to come. I am still sure that they wouldn’t have a JV with the global biggies such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, etc. They would rather grow organically in times to come.
The game gets more interesting.
25 January, 2012
Retail Store Opening Time
I recently received an email from Reliance Mart that they would opening their stores at 8am! The email newsletter was a bit incomplete in most respects – it doesn’t talk of its existing store timing (including opening and closing) and the list of all stores or a contact number such as a Customer Care number or a Toll Free number. It is anybody’s guess why this particular retailer would want to open so early – given that it is a Hypermarket format. In the footer of the communication, the cities where they operate is mentioned, most of which are non-Metro cities, which I guess could be the main reason for this move. In metro cities, people (Read: consumers) leave to work by 8am and return back around 8pm, hence most of the modern shopping environments including Malls, Supermarkets, Hypermarkets and Specialty Retailers open their stores only by 11am. Also, this is a huge cost-saving for retailers – lower usage of electricity and other utilities; staff can work in a single shift; most importantly, it provides time to set-up the store in the mornings – stock fulfillments, “facings” of products on the shelves and a sound briefing session to the staff.
At Foodworld, (a Supermaket chain part of the erstwhile RPG Retail) when I used to work in Chennai 10 years ago, we experimented opening the store at 7am – really early by Organized Retail standards. But what we realised was that we built a strong loyalty among the local residents and the neighborhood. Customers started coming in early to pick up vegetables that would have landed fresh at the store; and along with bought a packet of bread and some milk. And a few other daily use things too! I remember, we used to interact with regular customers and they would feel happy to be at the store so early! I guess this is one area where Kiranas cleverly take a lead amongst Organized Retailers. A typical kirana store opens by 7am and starts brisk business early. And closes as late as 10.30 or even 11pm at times.
The Government’s rules and regulations are not helping Organized Retailers either. Law states that women employees (who contribute to a significant percentage of the work force in the front-end of Organized Retail in India) cannot work beyond 9pm and should be escorted back home by the employer. Almost no one follows this though, thanks to lax overseeing by the respective agencies and authorities. The retail stores cannot function beyond a certain timeline, which is 8.30pm in Kolkata, 9.30 pm in Chennai and so on. Recently, Star Bazaar, part of TRENT Retail (owned by the TATAs) and Total Hypermarkets, part of Jubilant Retail based out of Bangalore extended their store closing time to 12.00 midnight, a welcome move by regular customers who heaved a sigh of relief since they could comfortably shop during the late hours! Mustafa, a local retail giant in Singapore, for example, is open all night and sees regular customer flow all through! I was told that the contribution of business between 9pm and 8am is almost 20% since tourists hop by after the city closes down.
With FDI in single brand retail already in place, it is anybody’s guess if more and more Retailers would want to keep the stores open late night or open early since the International Giants might want to pump in more money and experiment if customers walk in late at night. While this may work for certain categories such as grocery, household, furniture, etc. it may be obvious that fashion is not something that could work. After all, that category of customers would we wining, dining and partying late night than shopping! Café chains such as Café Coffee Day, Barista, Costa, etc. keep their outlets open until late in the night while book store chains such as Crossword and Odyssey usually wind up early. The case may be a bit different at Airports, where a majority of International Travel happens during the night and therefore, most of the Retailers are open all through the day and night.
There are a few advantages for Retailers to have extended store opening time;
- Customer Service – During the lean hours, Retailers can provide better customer service, a typical measure to increase conversions
- Loyalty – Retailers could offer bonus loyalty points (if they are operating such a program) to those who shop during such a stipulated time
- Understanding Consumer Behavior – Since customers would be shopping under a more relaxed environment, they may tend to show a better behavioral pattern which may be useful to Retailers
- Targeted Promotions – Retailers and Brands could run specific promotions during such times to increase penetration of certain SKUs
The drawbacks though, would be;
- Increased Operating Costs – Retailers would have to shell out additional salaries to staff who work during such extended times as well as incur other overheads
- Sustenance – Such a move, if it is experimental only for a short while can dent the brand image of the retailer among customers, leaving them confused
- Managing the network – If the Retailer has stores across multiple cities, then it may be forced to maintain uniformity across all locations
Having said that, I believe there are hardly few Retailers who would want to try this venture. For, success is not something that comes without repeated attempts!
06 January, 2012
End of Season! End of Party time?!?
Late 2009 was the time when one could see the slow down of the 2008 Economic slowdown in India. While rest of the world including America, Japan and parts of Europe were down with Recession (read: 2 Quarters of continued negative economic growth), India was seeing its GDP grow at a modest 7%. As Kishore Biyani, CEO Future Group once said in 2008, “Consumers are sitting on the fence, not really knowing when and what to spend”. How true, it was at that time. And then 2010 happened. Growth was the new buzz word and Retailers were back in action. New swanky stores, additional staffing, high-paid executives in the upper echelons and yes, a double digit same store sales growth which was being celebrated by one and all. All izzz well – the song from the movie “3 Idiots” was the most hummed song among the Retail fraternity thereafter for the next 18 months.
Photo Courtesy: Times of India
Consumers who were holding on started buying new houses; furniture and furnishings for their new/old houses; Cars of all sizes – from an upgrade to a sedan to the first four-wheeler in the family; brown goods – LCDs and LEDs saw growth of over 100% for some brands! Refrigerators and Washing machines were flying off the shelves; Smartphones’ sales grew than those of normal phones; shoppers were buying more footwear and clothes, not just to show-off their wealth and happiness but because they could now afford to. Monthly grocery, which is an important metric to measure consumer confidence was growing at a healthy double digit. The confidence in consumer spending allowed Retailers and Brands to invest more and more – on new stores as well as higher targets. Unfortunately, the party seems to have ended abruptly.
(Suggested Reading: New Store Openings)
Lifestyle, India’s premier Department Store Chain was the first to announce EOSS – End of Season Sale last week. This came as a big surprise to the market – consumers aren’t complaining though. Central Malls, part of the Future Group and the largest mall chain in the country announced flash sales over the New Year Weekend, only to end up disappointing itself. Even brands like Levis which wait until Valentines announced “Sale” a day before. Spanish chain Zara, went on sale too, albeit it matches its International calendar where the end of season sale happens around Boxing Day and continues until Christmas. The new season in the West begins from January onwards. Most brands usually run on full price until Feb. 14, assuming shoppers would anyway buy, irrespective of the price-tag to fulfill their own wishes as that of their loved ones. This year seems to be an aberration.
Photo Courtesy: Times of India
“The targets for the current year were ridiculously high; We pleaded the Management not to set such high, unrealistic targets but they were in no mood to listen, thanks to the high voltage sales that have happened over the past 4 seasons” – says the Area Sales Manager of a premium apparel brand, who requested anonymity, saying he was not the official spokesperson. The Unit-Head of one of India’s largest Department store chains quipped that the chain has more stores today in large cities and hence the pie doesn’t seem to be growing rather getting cannibalized. “Instead of increasing the customer base of loyalty members through marketing activities and TV ads, the Management is getting into deep discounting; we had one of the finest customer service staff 4 years ago, but I cannot claim so now; they (the CSAs) are paid 6-7000 bucks and obviously the quality of staff and their service has deteriorated.” This gentleman, whom I’ve known for over seven years now requested I don’t mention his name as he may even lose his job for saying so.
(Suggested Reading: Customer Service by Trial & Error)
“These days, people are walking to our stores, checking out the products and then buying online. 5 years ago, the larger players were threatening our livelihood, but these days, looks like the online players will wipe us out”, quips Ravindra, shop assistant at a leading electronic store in Bangalore. “FDI in Retail is a big threat for us; if the big international players step up their expansion like what I’ve seen in the Gulf over the past 15 years (read: Middle East), then we will all have to shut shop and find an alternative full-time job rather than running these departmental stores”, cries Syed Pasha who settled in East Bangalore 5 years ago after working in Sharjah for 15 years as a low-cost laborer.
Photo Courtesy: Times of India
So, is the party over already? The answer is a big NO. Retailers and Brands have to realize that short-term growth is no metric for long-term survival. Nor would E-Commerce players like Indiaplaza.com would take away their share of business. India is a one trillion dollar economy and is fundamentally a strong one, with its ability for self-sustenance. (Sale) Targets are an important part of the business but they are not the only ones to focus on. Most Retailers and EBOs of Brands need to step up customer service. Rather than pay lower and have more staff, they should consider paying higher salaries, mostly linked to sales and have lower staff on the floor who are efficient and effective in their output.
(Suggested Reading: What retailers can learn from the aviation crisis)
The Retail India Story has just begun; Internet Commerce is still under-penetrated at the moment. Retailers can and should take advantage of growing consumerism with better service with fewer stores. As always, Small is Beautiful.
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