Showing posts with label Oyethere. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oyethere. Show all posts

09 July, 2020

Is Kirana Retail dead? David vs. Goliath

For the first half of my life, I grew up in Tamil Nadu Housing Board Quarters in Chennai which had odd 800 tenements. Lloyds Colony at Royapettah, close to the Marina Beach came up in the 1960s when Late Shri. Bhaktavatsalam was the Home Minister of former Chief Minister K. Kamaraj's cabinet who’s primary motive was to provide affordable rented houses for the EWS, LIG & MIG of the state. The houses were owned by the Government of Tamil Nadu and houses were allotted to users on a rotational basis. Within the entire housing complex, there was a one commercial complex, a school, a community center for weddings & events, a park, a milk vending booth, a library, two playgrounds and about 400 trees. Yes, you read that right – 1970s. And the complex had a few shops allotted for various vocations such as carpentry, automotive, Public Distribution Scheme centers (for Ration products) and most memorably a Kirana Shop (Provisions Shop). That the shop owner was our immediate neighbour and a family well wisher was an advantage for me as I used to visit the shop as a child quite often to pick up some thing or the other and the Uncle would give me a toffee or two once in a while.

I remember vividly collecting newspaper copies of “The Hindu” which had a full page Advertisement in the early 90s when Pepsi launched in town and one could get a sample 100ml RGB against the paper clipping and we exchanged several of these at this particular shop which functioned in the name and style of “Murugan Stores”. Guess, the seeds of Retail and Consumer Business was sowed in my heart in an early age, unknowlingly. Or by design. And hence my nemonic, "Retailer by Profession and Choice".


So, when Subhiksha Retail stores started expanding in the late 90s along with a bunch of new age airconditioned super markets in the “Mecca of Retail” that is Chennai including my alma mater and first job at RPG run Foodworld, conches were blown that this was the death knell for small and marginal kirana shops. Around the new Millenium, larger corporates such as Tatas, Birlas, Rahejas among others entered in to business of Organised Retail and we saw formats such as Supermarkets at Neighbourhoods, standalone Hypermarkets as well as those in basements of Malls and so on, Big Bazaar being the most popular such chain across India over the past 15 years and is India's largest Hypermarket chain. Once again, naysayers blew the conch that this would be the death knell for Kiranas. 

Then came the likes of Big Basket followed by small dotcom companies such as PepperTap, Grofers (including Oyethere.com founded by Your’s truly in 2015 and made strides) where the conch was blown yet again against the Kirans. 

Yet, amidst all this hullaboo, the Kiranas are standing rock solid with their determination, continued efforts to modernize & upgrade and of course, sustain their business with changing times by adapting to the new normal. 

Covid-19 is yet another opportunity for the Kiranas who form the backbone of India’s FMCG retail industry. With over 13 million Kirana shops across India, the Industry employs over 50 million people directly and indirectly including shop management, logistics such as first mile (from factory), middle mile (to Distributor points) and last mile (delivery of goods to Retailers / Consumers). Other than this, the Organised Retail Industry is estimated to employ a million or so staff members. The Share of Kiranas in Grocery & Household / FMCG Retail is approx. 90% which over the past 100+ days during Lockdown has increased to, perhaps say 98% since most Organised Retail stores were shut and E-Comm players remained non-operational or marginally. 


I have been saying this for over 15 years – in this battle, Kiranas are the Goliath. 

It’s almost impossible to get them off this equation – not because they outnumber organized retailers on a ratio of 9:1, rather because of the proximity that they enjoy with the end Consumers and the longstanding relationship they've meticulously built. 

According to a recent study by E&Y, over 40% of Kiranas have imbibed the Digital route including collecting online payments through Google Pay or PayTM as well as delivering through e-comm apps. Agility and Adaptability are the two main traits that these small business owners display, which is also the bane of larger companies and corporates who's employees work for a salary while the small entrepreneurs work for a living and especially to earn for the next meal. Makes a lot of difference in their approach, isn’t it.

03 May, 2020

My Nostradamus moments in Retail

The year was 1998. My classmate and I created an online booking option at 123India, a popular website which allowed users to build websites with a personalised domain suffix for free. The Madras based Client was Enhancers, an Event Management Company which organised concerts, Carnatic & Fusion Music involving some of the most reputed artists in India and abroad. We were freelancers cum college students and had the privilege of companionship and brotherhood, sparingly some snacks and coffee on the house. After all, we wanted to put to good use the coding languages that we were learning at NIIT.  One could choose the Concert, click on Number of Tickets required, share their Phone Number and Residential Address and within 3 hours, we would deliver the tickets and collect the money.


That was when I imagined a day when as a Consumer, I would simply click a button on a website, order grocery, food and other items which would get delivered right at my doorstep. Few months later, I heard that a company was already doing something similar to this at California in the US. The firm went by the name Amazon. During my stint at Musicworld, I saw in action the same model put to use where HamaraCD, the Kiosk installed at the store could be used to build a personalised playlist digitally, which would get recorded at the backend and delivered to Customers in a week’s time. That a CD bearing 9-11 songs would cost ₹399/- was a deterrent to potential customers and the project never took off.


In 2015, I tried to go back to my idea of 1998 and tried to put it in to good use. I built a website myself on Zepo (similar to and an Indianised version of Shopify) where Customers could order Grocery and Household items which would be picked up by my team from a neighbourhood area and delivered to Customers. Oyethere was warmly welcomed and embraced by Customers and we made a lot of noise and news for delivering Tender Coconuts during the Summer of 2016 and Kabali Movie Tickets and T-Shirts thereafter. We delivered 100s of Patanjali products across Chennai and 100s of clay Ganesha Idols a day ahead of Pillaiyar Chathurthi 2016 – ones which were available by the roadside but many patrons ordered to simply see how this worked, for we also said we shall take back the Ganesha idols for immersion.


Investors although were not impressed. A noted personality from Mumbai, when I pitched at TiECon 2016 asked why would he order on our platform when he could walk down to buy it. He and many other “Potential Angel Investors” said the venture doesn’t make “Unit Economics” for we had more Opex than Revenues, an unwritten norm and a must-do for StartUps and Founders today. There was no Corona Lockdown back then. I said, our StartUp targeted “Cash Rich Time Poor” shoppers who preferred convenience over cost, because our model was to charge 2% on Retailers of the Order Value and a small fee from Shoppers. With volumes of deliveries, we would eventually break even. Those days, Swiggy and Zomato were not delivering Idlis or Burgers below the Menu Price, there was no concept of Delivery Charges for “parcel food” from Restaurants although MakeMyTrip and BookMyShow were already charging users. I convinced him and many others over the next three years, around 50+ pitches. I went back to a day job early this year.


When the Covid Crisis was taking shape and making headlines in India during the first week of March, I sensed a huge surge in OTT Consumption and switched Levista’s Advertising to News Channels instead of GECs. I also shared my views that Multiplexes would reserve 1 seat unutilised for every 4-6 seats which were blocked. And that Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo would redefine Hyperlocal Retailing. Small joys of life when I see things happening right in front of my eyes.

These are some of those “Nostradamus moments” for me as I look back at my 23 years of being in the Indian Retail Industry. There are many such instances that I could add and share. Like how Consumers would order online and get home-delivered Microwave Ovens, Refridgerators and LED Tvs along with grocery items, although not from the same App. Amazon Prime could be an exception. We’ve just begun. Miles to Go... 

11 April, 2017

H for Hyperlocal Retailing

One of the most used and abused words for the past 3-4 years in E-Commerce in India and all over the world is “Hyperlocal”. What exactly is Hyperlocal retailing? How does it help customers? What value addition does it provide to Retailers? Is it a viable business option? Let’s explore.

The Indian Retail Industry is estimated at $500 billion with over 1.30 billion people in the country. Out of this less than 12-15% is Organized while the rest remains with traditional businesses such as Kirana Stores, Mom & Pop stores, road side vendors, etc. While Retail has seen a CAGR of over 15% over the past decade, it is E-commerce that has grown leaps and bounds in the recent decade, thanks to Wall Street Funded companies who morphed themselves from being mere technology companies to retail behemoths that they are today. Within the E-Commerce Retail Startups as well as a few established ones, Hyperlocal Players are the buzz of the day, what with a new one commencing operations every day for another that shuts down almost every day.

So what is Hyperlocal?

The term has been coined to connect offline retailers in a locality to customers in the same locality, but through digital means. This is nothing new, honestly. Through the late 90s (in India) when we witnessed the highest landline telephone penetration, it was common for customers to call a nearby Retail store and request them to deliver products for immediate use. During the early & mid-2000s, it was the mobile phone boom where household maids, servicemen like Plumbers, Electricians, Carpenters and many more were available over a call. The world seem to be lot more connected and we all loved it.


It was early 2014 and we saw a slew of technology companies building websites and mobile apps that connected customers to shops and service providers over a click of the button. Honestly, this was nothing new compared to what “Just Dial” and “Yellow Pages” were already doing. Even neighborhood newspapers were in a way Hyperlocal, connecting local services and people to customers in a particular locality especially for finding rental accomodations.

It is quite amazing to see that Hyperlocal has suddenly become a billion dollar opportunity with a lot of Investors throwing money at such start-ups. Most of the large Hyperlocal companies that took heavy funding have left the space, notable among them being “Ask Me” which had not only shut down a few months back but also headed in to legal troubles with outstanding payments.

Hyperlocal is a very simple business idea that has been complicated a lot with too much of technology being pushed on to the customers. A mere signage at the
Retail stores (the ones Zomato put up initially) bring a lot of visibility and access to customers. The startups pick from the nearest store and deliver to customers in the shortest possible time thereby increasing merchandise offtake for Retailers. Sometime, it is the simplest task that is complicated the most. Hyperlocal Retail is one such example.

How does Hyperlocal Apps work?

Hyperlocal Apps connect nearby stores and service providers on their app and act as an aggregator. When a customer looks for a product or service, the offering in the neighborhood shows up usually with a cost / time attached to it. For example, if a user is looking for a carpenter, the app shows how much time it would take for the Carpenter to arrive and also the cost per hour / relevant charges. Similarly, when a customer is looking to order tomatoes or rice bags, vegetables or household articles, the app would show up the product, their prices and estimated time of delivery and convenience charges, etc. It is a presumption while building a Business Plan for a Hyperlocal App that such customers will continue to order from the app regularly while also adding new customers everyday. And over time, the App keeps adding more and more retail partners and service providers while also expanding the geographies served.


Is Hyperlocal viable?

Trust me, it is viable. I have done the maths and it is actually possible to make money with a Hyperlocal App. They key here is not the idea or the strategy but the execution. With my own Hyperlocal app Oyethere, I have experimented various means through which we reach out to existing and prospective customers. While both are tough (meaning retaining & adding customers), it is quite possible to get the business going through innovative ways of sales outreach. For this, we need the unstinted support of the Retail Store, which is the key in making a Hyperlocal App successful. Most times, we have seen Hyperlocal App companies splurge on mainstream media and attract a lot of PR while the business remains in the lurch due to execution issues. At a unit level, the app makes a margin from the Retailer, so while the volumes increase, there is a business break-even. The only challenge here is how much to “invest” in acquiring and retaining the customer and controlling overall marketing spends.

Are Offline Retailers ready for Hyperlocal?

At the face of it, Retailers do not support Hyperlocal Apps because they believe the proposed digital marketplace is lethal and could do a lot of harm to their businesses. But it is not. When a customer looks up a product on the app, they would merely choose the one that suits their need – Brand / Retailer-connect, Time of Delivery, cost of the products and convenience. If the Retailer doesn’t stand up to all these measures and based on a permutation by the customer, the choice of Retailer varies and there are chances that a few non-performing ones may get pushed back. Indeed, it is quite interesting that a few Retailers are experimenting Hyperlocal. Food Bazaar and Hypercity work closely with Amazon Now; Heritage Fresh and Spencers have their own Apps which is being tested in a few markets. However, aggregating Kirans remains the biggest opportunity here while the greater challenge is that they do not make enough margins to be shared with the App aggregator. The same applies for Service Providers on apps like Urban Clap.

The market is ready, just waiting for Retailers to catch-up on them. Let’s hope.

09 April, 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.

The Popcorn Conundrum

Just realised that I have seen 3 movies over the last 3 weeks at theatres. Two were in top class cinema halls in a Tier 2 town and another w...