Explained: How Covid-19 pandemic has changed shopping on BigBasket

Despite the operational glitches in the early days of the lockdown, the e-grocery firm mobilised its resources so as to be able to deliver essentials to its over 10 million customers across 24 cities
In the first half of 2020, when the entire country was under some form of lockdown, Hari Menon, founder and CEO at online grocery firm BigBasket, knew that while this unprecedented situation increased the challenges for his business, it also presented opportunities. Despite the operational glitches in the early days of the lockdown, the e-grocery firm mobilised its resources so as to be able to deliver essentials to its over 10 million customers across 24 cities. There were even days when the firm sold over 22 kg of onions and potatoes every minute, catering to the massive rise in demand for home delivery.

Sustaining this was no small feat. In late March, after the lockdown was announced, the company had lost around 80 per cent of the blue-collar workforce (which services the essential last mile for BigBasket) as employees rushed back to their hometowns and villages. But BigBasket managed to recover within two weeks, hiring over 12,000 people to cater to the 84 per cent rise in the number of new customers over pre-Covid levels.

Menon believes the pandemic has advanced BigBasket’s growth by 15 to 18 months and this rise in demand is not a one-off event. “We have built the company on resilience and are ready to take off from here to be one of the top three grocers in the country, not only in the online but in the overall segment,” says Menon.

Resilience is one of the biggest qualities that Menon brings to the table along with his four co-founders, V S Sudhakar, Vipul Parekh, Abhinay Choudhari and V S Ramesh. In their previous innings, Menon and his colleagues had started one of India’s first online businesses, called Fabmart.com, which was later sold to the Aditya Birla Group and is now known as the More supermarket chain. 

During that period, with enabling technologies still to emerge fully, there was no logistics, no payment gateways. Business was running on dial up lines, with systems so slow that Menon recalls that one could have a cup of tea and come back before a new page opened on the internet.

So, when BigBasket was started in 2011, the ecosystem was just right for an online grocery business to succeed. “The right ecosystem is the single biggest factor that makes sure that a business works or not, and for us it was the key driver towards the success of BigBasket,” says Menon. What took them three years to build in the Fabmart days, took them five months to achieve at BigBasket. 

The company today records about 20 million orders per month and has reached the milestone of a $1-billion run-rate in annual revenues. With a schedule packed with back-to-back meetings through the day, Menon, who believes the customer is always right, still tries to look at customer mails personally. He answers them once he gets home or does so through his customer service team. An early riser, his day starts with morning walk and yoga. What follows is a lot of reviews during the day. “I travel a little because we are quite connected now; through the screen, I can connect with all my offices,” he says. 

Starting its journey from a small office in Bengaluru’s Domlur area, BigBasket is one of the biggest employers in the start-up space, with over 25,000 people. About 70 per cent of the total workforce comprises blue collared employees, including delivery boys, warehouse pickers, packers, stackers, fruit and vegetable segregators, loaders and unloaders. Menon is well aware that the company’s success depends on the commitment of this workforce, which he refers to as “associates”, and spends a lot of time interacting with them and focusing on their welfare. 

The company also works closely with about 15,000 farmers. Over 80 per cent of the fruit and vegetables BigBasket sells is procured directly from them. 

This existence has helped the company grow from strength to strength and it is now on the verge of becoming a part of the Tata group conglomerate. The home-grown conglomerate is said to be in final stage talks to acquire a majority stake in BigBasket at a valuation of over $2 billion. Even after that happens, the Bengaluru-based company will continue to follow its target of becoming one of the top three grocers in the multibillion dollar domestic retail industry.

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