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 University of Greenwich. In his free time, he enjoys being with his family.
For a vast majority of the Indian population, the kirana store has been the one-stop shop for groceries, household items, toiletries and other little necessities. And over much of the last year, kirana stores emerged as the nationwide solution to daily essentials provision as big stores everywhere were forced to shut down. At the same time, kiranas too face the business challenges that their supermarket counterparts do – stocking issues, catering to demand fluctuations, managing promotional schemes, and staying financially afloat. These are particularly significant in rural areas, where fragmented transport systems and lack of financial and Internet literacy make it much harder to sell efficiently. The immense potential of the kirana model has attracted the attention of B2B ecommerce platforms looking to fuel the next wave of Indian consumption by addressing these challenges. Here, we take a closer look at how the humble kirana model servicing 90% of the Indian population is set to undergo a quantum leap in growth through digitisation.
The Covid-19 lockdown gave a unique opportunity to millions of India’s kirana stores to reclaim even the buyers in big cities who would ordinarily go to hypermarkets. Factors like wanting to avoid long queues at supermarkets, the convenience of choosing one’s own items (rather than accept whatever the online delivery store sends along), the saving on delivery fees and high mark-ups and the trust shared with long-standing kirana store owners all contributed to the renewed interest in small store purchases in metros and non-metros alike. The kirana stores themselves made progress towards digitisation too, with many stores adopting methods of online communication such as accepting orders over WhatsApp platforms and taking PayTM payments in advance.
The model however, has not been without its problems. Disrupted supply chains led to stocking issues in the early months of the pandemic, and limited budgets and storage spaces meant that kirana store owners were unable to stock up to guard against future shortages. This also meant that store owners couldn’t enjoy the price benefits of ordering in bulk, leading in turn to lower profit margins when selling. Many store owners also hesitated to welcome changes like digital payments or online orders, owing to their own unfamiliarity with the tech.
B2B ecommerce brands, however, have been quick to respond. The last year witnessed the growth of several end-to-end selling solutions that ease the digitisation process for traditionally offline retailers. Some the areas these solutions address include:
- Inventory management: Kiranas can use these platforms to access a wide variety of brands and products that are currently in fashion. They can place orders in advance based on demand patterns and have them delivered straight to the store.
- Supply chain continuity: Kiranas no longer need to travel long distances to stock up on items. With a structured delivery chain in place and the B2B solution handling the logistics, kirana store owners can track each order online and rest assured that it will reach on time.
- Financial inclusion: Many of these solutions enable financial upliftment for store owners by offering loans at easy interest rates to stock up, full transparency into money flows at any point and credit on-demand for working capital. They also provide advice on matters like investment and timely alerts on bill payments to facilitate clean credit histories.
- Marketing: Kirana store owners can enjoy full hand-holding through processes like social media marketing, discount promotion and loyalty programme management.
The main hurdle so far in kirana digitisation has been the resistance to a technology that store owners do not understand. User-friendly features like quick sign-up, local language support, zero commission fees and a simple interface have enabled shop owners to adopt these new solutions without much trouble. The goal, ultimately, for these B2B brands is to create a unified ecosystem of kiranas – while retaining their inherent localised nature – by which the shops can each benefit from data-driven selling, optimised customer experience and higher profit margins.
Going digital is no longer a choice for India, but a necessity. There is considerable scope, however, to digitise consumption in a manner that maximises reach and prioritises affordability and convenience for all rather than just the privileged few. Over the last year, B2B ecommerce companies have recognised the immense potential of kirana stores as the vehicle for universal digitisation and are investing consciously in bringing them on board, while equipping the store owners with the know-how to run their own shops their own way. The transparency of online end-to-end systems and the convenience of tech-driven logistics, coupled with the local awareness and intimate format of the kirana store itself, are sure to achieve impressive results.