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Role of Retail-tech Companies in Getting Kiranas to Adapt to New Technologies With the pandemic, the Kirana stores have recaptured not only consumer attention but also the attention of big players in the retail industry

By Pronam Chatterjee

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In the global economy, in the last few decades, the markets have evolved to create giant, integrated, global supply chains focused on optimizing processes and creating streamlined operations. This has led to a revolution of a sort, where the commerce flows freely across the globe, creating mega markets and massive conglomerates.

As an undesired side effect, it has led to a concentration of operations and a few concentrated pressure points on the critical path that can turn off the entire supply chain. These pressure points were choked, and the supply chain was brought to a grinding halt during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, as the markets start to open, the mega-brand stores are still finding it very difficult to get footfalls, and the supply chains are under tremendous pressure due to rapidly changing ground situation. The new normal has changed.

The resurgence of the Kirana stores

To be fair, around 90% of the retail market in India is still unorganized, the inflection point has not yet come, and Kirana stores have continued to play a significant role. With the pandemic, however, the Kirana stores have recaptured not only consumer attention but also the attention of big players in the retail industry. In recent news, there has been chatter about how Flipkart, Amazon and Reliance retail will be helping the Kirana store modernize their operations and help them compete better.

But therein lies the twist, the reason for the resilience shown by Kirana stores is an absence of a uniform, central nervous system and big conglomerates entering this ecosystem is not necessarily a win-win. At a time like this, if retail tech companies can come forward and help the Kirana stores adapt for these tough times, it can be a game-changer for these mom and pop stores.

How retail tech can help

The Kirana stores have shown an appetite for innovation during these tough times. For example, we see many of them using social media platforms, especially WhatsApp, to connect with their audience. Their delivery model is hyperlocal, and requires little oversight, with a couple of runners with fixed schedules.

A few examples of how retail tech can help the Kirana stores directly are as follows:

  • Online delivery and supply

Safety is the biggest concern right now for the consumers, and Kirana stores are typically cramped in space. To help the stores serve the consumers better, an online platform that helps them create a digital portfolio from where the consumers can order would be the first step. If the supply side of the equation can also be managed through this platform, it would be an ideal combination.

  • Digitization bookkeeping and inventory management

Kirana stores rely on the old age "khata" (ledger) systems, where for a few patrons they run credit accounts. The inventory lists are made when the items are out stock by noting them into a notebook or a stack of paper. There is a definite scope of improvement in efficiency if the bookkeeping can be digitized. Inventory replenishment is another area that can get a good boost if maintained digitally. Digital transformation for stores can potentially include technology like image recognition using mobile phone cameras to capture the inventory and replenish automatically.

  • Access to microcredit

One area which can revolutionize Kirana stores is the availability of structured microcredit availability for the consumers. As mentioned in the above point, the Kirana stores maintain running accounts for their patrons. Having structured credit available can help them expand and help them improve their working capital flows. Given that groceries (broadly FMCG) is a major portion of wallet share in India, this is one opportunity that NCFCs can leverage, creating a mutually beneficial arrangement. This would require retail tech companies and NBFCs to create a compelling and tailor-made offering for retail segment.

More than these examples, the retail tech companies need to understand the mindset, ecosystem and nuances of these small businesses. Kirana store operations are highly optimized for cost, they know their neighborhood better than anyone else, and they have their nuances, for example, some of them carry specialty items; such as regional stores that provide special items.

Like anywhere else, the retail-tech industry needs to understand their customers, their needs and then adapt to serve specific needs. There is a mass market of businesses opening up to new innovations ready to be tapped. It's only a matter of how we strategize to turn a challenge into an opportunity.

Pronam Chatterjee

Co-Founder and CEO of BluePi Consulting Pvt Ltd

Pronam Chatterjee, Co-Founder and CEO, BluePi Consulting, spearheads his team of experts to deliver solutions to retailers and ensure they grow, profit and succeed.

A technology expert, with 20+ years of experience in the field of digital transformation, enterprise software, computing architecture and analytics, Pronam, continues to successfully lead his team at BluePi, a key player in offering retail optimization solutions. At BluePi, Pronam wears two hats of building strategic business alliances and be instrumental in ensuring delivery of robust and custom-built retail solutions.

With deep expertise in new-age technologies and business strategy, Pronam along with his friend Kaushik Khanna, started his entrepreneurial journey and founded BluePi Consulting in 2012 in Gurgaon. The organisation specializes in providing customized solutions to the retail industry and has successfully implemented solutions pan India for leading retail customers.

Spearheading BluePi, as its CEO, Pronam navigates his team in strengthening the organisation’s brand value and business growth.  Pronam envisions BluePi to be a market leader in data driven business transformation that help retail customers to grow and profit further. He is passionate about leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning capabilities to further strengthen the retail industry.  BluePi also aims to expand to other industry verticals as well by leveraging the same transformation capabilities.  

During his successful career-life spanning over 2 decades, Pronam has held key and responsible positions having worked in leadership and technology-related roles.  Prior to starting BluePi, he was the CTO-Products at Xerox.  In his role at the organisation, Pronam led several technology initiatives that were successfully implemented.  Under his able leadership at Xerox, the next version of US benefits outsourcing systems were re-engineered with modern user interface.  

Earlier as a Staff Systems Engineer at VMware, Pronam provided subject matter expertise for all business associates in addition to contributing towards business development.

As Director-Architecture at Affiliated Computer Services, Pronam was instrumental in the implementation of next generation web portal as well as ERP based multi-tenant HRO products for SMEs.  

Earlier to this, he managed technology related projects at Sapient and Hewitt Associates. At Hewitt, Pronam has been instrumental in setting up the initial operations and scaling it successfully. He was one of the early leaders at the organisation, who built the team of a few employees to a 2,500-member strong organisation.

Equipped with a BS (Chemistry) from Delhi University and an MBA (HR) from University of Calcutta, Pronam joined PwC to start his career before moving on to work at Skytech Solutions and Polaris.

Pronam is passionate to bring business value to the retail industry by leveraging AI/ML, data analytics and other new age technologies as he has a deep understanding of them.

Besides work, Pronam spends his leisure time honing his chess skills and reading books on various subjects, where his favourite genre is geo-political strategy

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