Hyper-Local E-Commerce To Bridge the Kirana-Consumer Gap Caused By COVID-19

While e-commerce players bet on kirana stores to mitigate last-mile delivery bottlenecks, the local retailers are gaining access to technology that allows them to better service customers locally

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a near-complete shift to digital across all industries, as social distancing norms came into place to halt the spread of the infection. The crisis has resulted in a new partnership between e-commerce and kiranas, or local retailers. While e-commerce players bet on kirana stores to mitigate last-mile delivery bottlenecks, the local retailers are gaining access to technology that allows them to better service customers locally.


How kirana stores responded in the wake of COVID-19

Unorganized retail accounts for about 90 per cent of the Indian retail market, with about 13.8 million kirana stores across the length and breadth of the country. During the initial months after March 2020 as the lockdown began, large supermarket chains remained closed and online grocery services, while convenient, were unable to keep up with the surge in demand in metros and tier I cities. Customers relied heavily on local stores as they served their customers inspite of the risk to themselves, their staff and their families. Outside of the metro cities, however, local shops continued to be the backbone of their neighbourhood, ensuring people received their daily essentials day after day.

Kirana stores have historically relied on long-standing local connections and familiarity with customers to make their sales, which created a comforting environment for buyers to keep coming back to. The typical kirana store customer buys daily essentials like vegetables or milk to monthly groceries with large orders of dry grains, oils and spices. They tend to pay in cash, and the transaction often happens in the local language. While kirana stores have done an excellent job in catering to such customers, with digitization now they are competing with large ecommerce players. Slowly the kirana stores have been making a shift over the last five years, particularly in the wake of the 2016 demonetisation when online payments became popular in big cities. This was accelerated with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Data shows that 20 per cent of kirana stores started using online platforms during the lockdown to schedule supply deliveries, while many others began accepting customer orders via WhatsApp and taking payments through digital wallets. There is, however, still a long way to go in this regard. In addition, a large fraction of buyers became conscious about the need for contactless delivery and online payments to minimize the risk of infection during the pandemic.

The local retailers were working around the clock to meet their customers' diverse and varied requirements. Moreover, to compensate for the inability to dine out, many customers began experimenting with different cuisines at home. While the initial wave of purchases swung in favor of kirana stores owing to panic buying, later purchases favored e-commerce brands as customers started looking for more choice in their foods. Major retail brands with big pockets also opened their own grocery fulfilment wings, further intensifying the competition. Kirana stores, therefore, worked harder to keep up with the pace of their customer's demands as any big brand would.

The way forward

It is safe to say that post-pandemic shopping behavior will be the norm for the foreseeable future. For kirana stores to retain their customers and expand their reach, going digital will no longer be an option but a requisite, moreover, digital processes make operations much easier. What is equally essential, however, is the availability of hyperlocal-focused e-commerce platforms that put the retail owners' needs first. Taking into account the fact that most kirana store owners are relatively new to the digital world, these platforms make it easy by having an intuitive user interface with real time cataloguing solution, a user-friendly consumer app, end-to-end consumer service support and a set-up process that takes just a few minutes. With features such as online supply scheduling, store pick-up and home delivery, customer analytics and marketing options like offers and loyalty points, they give kirana store owners full control over their businesses and take away much of the manual component or the hassle of day-to-day online store management. By leveraging hyper local ecommerce, kirana stores can gain the power and respect they deserve as the backbone of India's retail and bring in new customers to their online store.