Sridhar, CEO & Founder of StoreKing, is a radical technology-driven entrepreneur. He has successfully harnessed a holistic pursuit in building the Distribution Highway to rural India. Having garnered over a decade worth of experience, Sridhar has been instrumental in driving StoreKing’s growth. In his illustrious career, spanning over 15 years, he has worked with companies like EDS, Yellow Tag, Prolnt Software. He has also established India’s first location-based service platform called Yulop in the year 2007. Sridhar is an alumnus of the University of Greenwich. In his free time, he enjoys being with his family.
The Covid-19 pandemic has fast-tracked digitization among both sellers and consumers. Even the less digitally savvy population now confidently pay via UPI and place grocery orders via WhatsApp for delivery later. While large swathes of rural land have historically been underserved by the retail ecosystem, evolving technologies are all set to change that. And the prime mover in that will be none other than the humble Kirana store, of which there are 12 million quietly serving the masses.
A new retail model
In the last few years, online retail has witnessed the entrance of several new players. From digital-first start-ups to big brands seeking to expand their portfolio, entrepreneurs are eager to take advantage of the trend shift towards ordering online. At the same time, these players have struggled to make inroads in rural and semi-urban areas, largely because of fragmented supply chains that hinder last-mile delivery. There is also the fact that many customers are too accustomed to offline shopping to be attracted by e-commerce marketplaces. Realizing this, retail hopefuls are moving towards a new form of online retail, one of collaboration between e-commerce players and the Kirana store.
Over the last one and a half years, we have witnessed the growth of several end-to-end selling platforms that simplify e-commerce for Kiranas and other traditionally offline retailers. They include features such as:
- Inventory management: Kirana store owners can use these platforms to order a wide variety of high-demand brands and products and have them delivered.
- Supply chain continuity: The B2B solution handles all the logistics of order shipping and delivery. The store owners can simply track each order online and be assured that it will reach on time, rather than having to collect their orders from the warehouse.
- Financial inclusion: Many of these solutions enable financial upliftment for store owners by offering loans at easy interest rates and credit on-demand for working capital. They also provide expert advice on how to invest money and timely alerts on bill payments to facilitate clean credit histories for bigger loans.
- Marketing: Kirana store owners can benefit from full guidance on processes like social media marketing, discount promotion, and loyalty program management.
Kiranas proved to be the unsung heroes of the Covid-19 pandemic, continuing to operate through lockdowns while supermarkets were forced to close and attract even urban buyers who would previously rely only on large stores. Nor have they been slow to adopt technology as needed – when social distancing became a priority, store owners began connecting with their customers via WhatsApp for deliveries and also using the platform to get in touch with suppliers. The time is ripe for Kiranas to take the next step in digitizing, and a partnership with e-commerce players can do exactly that.
How the Kirana benefits
In a model like this, both parties bring unique qualities to the table. Kiranas are directly connected to the end customer and understand what the people want, while e-commerce players have the technological capabilities to turn that knowledge into efficient business decisions at the micro and the macro level. With appropriate technology, Kirana stores can streamline their order fulfillment and inventory management processes to ace last-mile delivery. And for the rural retail and e-commerce player, Kiranas present a golden opportunity to tap into the largely unexplored rural market and obtain direct consumer insights that can translate into better sales.
The chief hurdle to kirana digitization so far has been inadequate technological know-how. Moreover, many store owners in small towns mistrust the notion of shopping online and are too used to traditional methods. Rural Retail and Ecommerce players offer these store owners all the perks of a technological revamp – smarter inventory sourcing, timely delivery scheduling, better store layout, tech-driven customer service, and digital marketing – but on an interface that is easy to navigate and use. Through these interfaces, Kiranas can leverage the power of data, which enables them to plan inventories and offer new products to entice customers while saving money and avoiding guesswork. Moreover, they can enjoy complete visibility for all their transactions and accept payments in advance – a significant improvement over traditional Kirana environments where customers often ended up taking credit. Many online retail players are further aiding Kirana owners by offering structured credit facilities to help them acquire supplies on time and set up new store equipment. This, combined with financial literacy training, will help store owners take better control of their business.
The way forward
In 2019, a report released by consulting firm Redseer said online food/grocery retail accounts for only 0.2% of sales but is expected to reach 1.2% of the market by 2023. There is thus the huge potential for expanding via offline channels with a tech component, and by enlisting Kirana stores the possibilities go up manyfold. The government is actively encouraging Kirana stores to embrace digitization – for them to do it all on their own, however, poses a challenge. By teaming up with online retail players, Kiranas can enjoy the benefits of simplified operations and more sales with minimal hassle. As more and more of them become digitized, they can contribute significantly to the growth of online retail in a manner that is truly inclusive of the entire country by catering to buyers at the grass-root level.