Kirana stores are the new battleground for India's e-commerce giants

A shopkeeper wears a mask and sanitizes his hands at Crawford market in Mumbai Photo: PTI
With the anticipated change in consumer behaviour after the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), offline retail is becoming the new battleground for e-commerce giants such as Amazon, Flipkart and trade associations that are scaling up efforts to woo local shops in a bid to bring them online.

While global giants such as Amazon, Walmart-owned Flipkart, and Reliance’s JioMart are putting in efforts to cash in on these opportunities, even the offline retail association, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), is working with the Department for Promotion of Industry & Internal Trade (DPIIT) to launch a national e-commerce marketplace for over 70 million traders in the country.

CAIT on Friday said it was optimising efforts of various companies and start-ups in the supply chain to help local kirana stores take orders online and ensure last-mile contactless delivery through a national e-commerce marketplace to be launched shortly. “It will be the world’s largest e-commerce portal. We are creating a robust portal end-to-end — from manufacturers to consumers, duly embedded with an efficient delivery ecosystem and digital payments,” said Praveen Khandelwal, CAIT national secretary general.

Beside DPIIT and CAIT, the other promoters include Startup India, Invest India, All India Consumer Products Distributors Federation, and Avana Capital. CAIT said, domestic manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers would be an integral part of the platform.

However industry insiders don’t see the platform as a threat as they feel companies such as Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal are better placed to woo kirana stores and offer them the technology to go digital. “The initiative is sensible, but the key here is technology. It’s not just about building a website, listing products there thinking that the sale would happen on its own,” said a senior executive at an e-commerce company.

According to experts tracking the sector, the consumer habits are going to see a huge change after Covid-19 as people will likely avoid visiting crowded places to buy essentials. “Consumer behavior will see a significant change post Covid-19, while more and more consumers will shop online,” said Hari Menon, cofounder and chief executive officer of Bigbasket, addressing a webinar on Thursday. There would be a bigger thrust on community buying at household and resident welfare association level, he added.

Most e-commerce firms have either launched initiatives to expand their reach by bringing kirana and offline stores onto their network, with the promise of providing them the power of the digital. Flipkart, for example, has announced forging partnerships with kirana stores, resellers and general trade stores. The company already has 37,000 kirana partners, of whom 12,000 act as “authorised buy-zones” and about 25,000 help in last-mile delivery. These stores include bakeries, pharmacies, mobile recharge stores, electronics and communications stores across cities such as Jorhat, Sibsagar (in Assam), Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Amazon is rolling out a programme that will bring thousands of small shops in India onto its platform to deliver groceries and other essentials. The company has already brought around 5,000 retailers and shops in more than 100 cities online, through a pilot programme launched six months ago.

Mukesh Ambani-led company Reliance Jio Platform’s e-commerce venture JioMart is also bringing kirana and local shops on its platform and merging online and offline retail. This effort is expected to gather momentum following the recent investment by Facebook into Jio platforms.

German wholesale giant Metro Cash & Carry has launched a programme to modernise and digitise the thousands of kirana stores it caters to. Under this programme, the stores are given a point of sale device to digitise them, through which they can also order directly from Metro stores. It also helps the stores capture the consumer database to help create targeted promotions and offers for the customers.

It has launched an app  through which kirana owners can order items online, get daily sales and profit reports and track top customers. It already has 10,000 users.

“We found that sales for stores that implemented the Smart Kirana programme have gone up by 50-60 per cent. So far, 2,400 kirana stores have been made smart and we are taking this programme nationally,” said the firm’s CEO Arvind Mediratta.
Several start-ups have also upped the ante. Foodtech unicorn Zomato, which recently rolled out Zomato Market, has partnered with several local stores to deliver groceries and other essentials. These stores already constitute over 35 per cent of its current order volume, said the company.


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