Showing posts with label big basket. Show all posts
Showing posts with label big basket. Show all posts

09 December, 2021

The race to go Omnichannel

 Earlier this week, I had been to Kanchipuram, around 90kms west of Chennai on store visits to review the team’s performance. While I have been doing these visits for over 15 years now, what I love most about the trips is the local cuisine I love to enjoy. However, being a long and hard working day, I chose to have a quick bite and not the usual fare from the quaint town which is famous for its numerous temples. My colleague and I decided to eat a pizza thinking it would be quick and the restaurant, less crowded. I was wrong on both counts. Most of the 10 tables were crowded. Barring two which had business-attired guests, all others were a family crowd, including kids. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, I hardly expected such an outing in a Tier 3 town like this one. We profiled the customers and were raving about the economic transformation happening in smaller towns. All this while we were waiting for over 20 mins for our beloved pizzas.

When I first went to the cashier to order and enquired about Combos (or deals), she immediately asked me to order online, for they would have better discounts than in-store. Coming from the cashier herself, I was stunned – and I am guessing this would have been an informal gag ordained by her seniors and managers. Or maybe, not. Perhaps, she was simply helping a customer to get the best deal possible. Giving her a benefit of doubt, I hail her levels of customer service and caring offered to us. To my surprise, the online offer was way better than what we would get “at the counter”. Just that instead of home delivery, I had to click “take-away”. Sans the delivery time, the pizza and add-ons took the same time as otherwise. We spent as much time eating the maida-laced grub as much we spent waiting for them to arrive. As I chewed the vegetables, I was wondering what is it with the recent race to go omni-channel (or Phygital) as many retailers and brands claim to be.



Reliance Retail is experimenting with a 30 minute delivery possibility while Big Bazaar has already pioneered a 3 hr door delivery – both for orders placed online. This is in direct competition to Swiggy’s Instamart which promises delivery in less than 60 mins while newbie Zepto is assuring 10 mins delivery for essentials. Only difference being Reliance Fresh and Big Bazaar deliver from their offline retail stores while the e-commerce portals deliver from warehouses or “ghost stores”. Even as the pandemic hit the roof, fashion brands like Levis, Indian Terrain, Ethos watch boutique, Hidesign leatherware and eyewear retail chain Lenskart and many more set forth their e-commerce websites stronger than ever before, giving discerning customers an opportunity to buy clothes and accessories online. As the offline stores started reopening after the first and second wave of the pandemic-enforced lockdown, customers have started coming to the physical stores though the online entities remain as they were and there is a continued thrust and focus by the companies to push the vertical. In fact, many companies had invested heavily in creating online categories to cater to the audience due to FoMo even as their competition was lacing it up. 


Meanwhile, Amazon is planning to open hundreds of offline retail stores in the US & the UK across formats such as Fresh, Go and the coveted 4-Star stores which stock merchandise that have atleast 4-star or more reviews and ratings on it’s website and Apps. Back in India, Big Basket has opened it’s first ever physical retail outlet in Bangalore while talks are on that Flipkart will also launch similar experiential stores in India’s tech capital Bangalore. Chinese mobile & electronics brand Xiaomi now has several such stores across India known as “Mi Home” which showcases the company’s innovations and prowess. But one can place orders for these models only online and some only on it’s own digital assets which in turn get delivered to the customers. Samsung & LG meanwhile are converting their offline stores in to display-only formats while delivery happens from a warehouse nearby. Reliance Retail formats Fresh and Digital are pioneering “order offline, delivery at home” model while Croma has already been allowing the reverse - “order online pick at the store!” 



While on one side it certainly looks logical to have an e-commerce transaction model, the bigger question is do consumers really need it. Before I try to disprove or prove the hypothesis, I also reckon there is no one right answer, atleast for now. Going by the recent BlackFriday to Cyber Monday Thanksgiving Sales in the USA, which is the peak shopping period in the country and China’s Singles Day sales on 11/11 every year – both of which were tepid and beyond a surprise to brands and retailers, it is well established that e-commerce shopping is here to stay for the long term. In India though, things are not so crystal clear. While Amazon’s month long sale in October ahead of Deepavali and Flipkart’s Big Billion Day Sales garnered a lot of interest, it is also combined with wholesale shopping – in other words, shopkeepers buying stuff to resell. The fact that customers are back at Malls and local shopping areas is testimony to the fact that India is really an offline led market. So I wonder why brands and retailers are pushing the envelope to be everything to everyone. The coveted One Size Fits All (OSFA) model simply doesn’t work in India – be it footwear sizes or those for shirts or trousers – and also for business models. What works in the Western World may or simply may not work in our land. And Brands & Retailers must come to terms with this. 


While on one side, precious dollars are being spent on building and maintaining shopping websites (and Apps) for the sake of customers, what companies do not realise is that it also distracts and confuses customers on their current and future purchase pattern. If consumers are used to shopping in a particular way for a while, there is a high chance that habits are formed. As the saying goes, Habits die hard. Once a pattern is established, going back the other way is difficult. Unless companies are sure to continue with the service – e-commerce & omni-channel in this case, it is best not to experiment something which cannot be continued in the long run. In the garb of Omni-channel Retailing, many Brands are taking that extra effort just to appease their Investors, the Board and in many cases, to simply make the business owners happy. Tall ask.


While there is no doubt Omni-channel is the way forward, it really is NOT the only way forward. The sooner, we as Retailers & Professionals realise this, is best for our own peace!

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... 

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.

07 April, 2017

F for FDI in Food Retail

Much has been spoken and written about the opportunities and perils of allowing Foreign Direct Investment in Retail, especially in the Food & Grocery business. At the moment, only locally procured farm goods and other products manufactured in India can be sold in organized retail stores with FDI. Unfortunately, the top Food Retailers in India including the Future Group, Reliance Retail, RPG-SG led Spencers Retail, etc. do not have foreign investors. Most of the retail chains are reeling under heavy losses and have not been able to scale their businesses beyond existing geographies.


Carrefour and Auchan have shut shop while Walmart has severed it’s tie-up with Bharti Retail and is on it’s own for a while now. Tesco has always had a back-end arrangement with Tata Retail and it continues to be just that. And there is no news of any other international Food Retail chain getting into India in the near future. Interestingly, Amazon and homegrown start-ups Grofers and Big Basket have applied FDI proposals to FIPB for operating in the food & grocery space, perhaps in e-commerce, which is gaining ground every passing day.

Big Basket started operations in 2011, is well funded at the moment and works on an Inventory model in gross violation to existing FDI rules. BB has a warehouse where its products are purchased, sorted and stored. Customers order online/mobile apps and BB delivers the said products from their Warehouse to customers at their doorsteps. BB also procures products from local retailers for quicker delivery and for items that they do not carry. Needless to say, BB hasn’t made a single penny in profits and continues to mount losses.


Grofers started similarly as Big Basket and built ghost stores (outlets with products but no name board and consumer shopping) but then modified its business model to a Hyperlocal model where it currently picks products from neighborhood stores and delivers to customers.

Others like Peppertap, Zopnow, etc. have tried their best raising Investments but have failed to make a dent and have shut shop or have morphed in to delivery companies. Amazon Now currently operates only in Bangalore and is app-based. Customers order on the Amazon Now Mobile app and Amazon picks the products from The Future Group run Food Bazaar & Shopper’s Stop’s Hyperlocal format “Hypercity” Stores and delivers products to customers in a scheduled manner. This is the entity perhaps to whom the FDI license is being sought for.


Incidentally, I have been operating “Oyethere” which has a website and mobile apps on Android and iOS which are not only Hyperlocal but also Convenience formats. Customers can order products from our website or apps and we pick products from the nearest Retail outlet with which we have tie-ups and deliver to customers in 30-300 mins which is our Unique Selling Proposition (USP). We have been around for a year and half now with minimal investments and are on the verge of getting well funded shortly.

Food Retail is a hot space both offline & online Retail and we are playing a wait & watch game with what the Modi-Government is up to. Let’s hope for the best.

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