How retail’s new-age baniyas are becoming digital disruptors, courtesy millennials

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Born with business in their DNA, baniyas have written several success stories when it comes to traditional, brick-and-mortar industry. With the spurt in digital economy, the clan – be it a Bansal, a Goyal, a Gupta or an Agarwal – has now adapted to newer business models with ease, especially in the burgeoning digital space.

Online food delivery platform Zomato has a masterchef in Deepinder Goyal; Sachin Bansal helped Flipkart deliver millions of packages; and Peyush Bansal, founder of Lenskart, has firmly set his eyes on becoming the leader in the eyewear segment.

Zomato has grown into a unicorn valued at $2.3 billion and recently raised $600 million in funding.

After selling his stake in Flipkart for nearly $1 billion following his ouster from the online retailer, Bansal has invested $100 million in Bhavish Aggarwal-owned cab service Ola and is expected to invest more.

All of them have certain inherent skills in common: unwavering grip over “Hisaab-Kitab” (accounts) and a clear understanding of their “evolved” customers — most of whom are millennials and are spending most of their time on smartphones and Internet — from ordering pizzas to calling cabs, booking flights to shopping anywhere, anytime.

Baniyas, an occupational community of merchants, bankers, money-lenders, dealers in grains or spices, who have set up commercial enterprises, have fast reinvented themselves for the changing needs of over 400 million millennials which make up for 46 per cent of the country’s workforce, according to a latest Morgan Stanley report.

“The Gen-Y of traditional business families have moved onto the e-commerce bandwagon and are successful due to their exposure to developed economies, newer business models and better education,” says Thomas George, Senior Vice President and Head-CyberMedia Research & Services Ltd. (CMR).

With over 400 million smartphone users and more than 500 million broadband users (nearly 97 per cent of them are on wireless connections), the baniya brigade has sensed their biggest-ever opportunity in the e-commerce and online space.

Zomato currently delivers 22 million monthly orders. The company has acquired a desi startup TechEagle Innovations for drone-based food delivery.

According to Deepinder Goyal, Zomato is currently at the early stage of aerial innovations and are taking baby steps towards building a tomorrow wherein users can expect a drone to deliver the food they ordered online.

“We believe that robots powering the last-mile delivery is an inevitable part of the future and hence is going to be a significant area of investment for us,” he said, reflecting a clear baniya trait, to sense what the new-age customers want.

According to George, the baniya community is now fueled by evolving customer preferences centred around convenience. “Needless to say, the sunshine sectors have offered wider scope and better growth opportunities for them,” George told IANS.

The great Indian baniya community, single-mindedly focused on business and keeping a close tab on profits, has embarked on a digital journey to understand their customers better and boost growth.

Utilising new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and data analytics in their businesses, they know better what the young buyers’ preferences are.

Today, India’s Gen-Y shop using a mix of online and offline modes where they compare prices and refer to reviews online even when they shop in an offline store.

The traditional acumen, mixed with New-Age technologies, have unleashed a new breed of baniyas who are defying old wisdom and charting new courses.

“Anyone can set up and start a business with a small or a big idea or investment but without having a business sense, the knowledge of trade and the market trends, they can’t survive. Baniyas are ahead in this game with additional support of family culture and community,” says Anoop Mishra, one of the nation’s leading social media experts.

Indian millennials — aged 18-35 and accounting for nearly 34 per cent of the population — have driven e-retail industry’s growth through their increasing Internet usage, says global services firm Deloitte.

“Millennials’ increasing usage of internet for shopping has driven growth of online retail. E-retail is expected to surge from 3 per cent of total Indian retail market in 2017 to 7 per cent by 2021,” said the report.

Convenience of buying anywhere and anytime, discounts and access to products not available offline are some of the key reasons for India’s Gen-Y going online — and Baniyas know this well.

Prasoon Gupta, Co-Founder and Director, Sattviko Foods, says his idea was to offer a snack that finds its origins in traditional Indian recipes but with a modern twist for young consumers.

“Right from coming up with a unique idea to differentiate ourselves from the other players, and what they deliver, Sattviko has overcome many hurdles and has thrived in its journey to where it is today,” Gupta told IANS.

He has developed an AI-based technology platform called “JIGSAW” to enhance and scale-up the distribution medium.

According to Mishra, “Unlike entrepreneurs who believe in concentrating on business administration, baniyas are hawk-like people”.

“This is the secret to their ever-flourishing business,” Mishra noted.

Baniyas are strict with keeping their balance sheets up-to-date. They are also a closely-knit community and adhere to their clan’s unwritten rules very strictly.

The inner community network plays a big role, where they have enough access to trade or business knowledge, availability of funds and other resources. Almost all of them have retained the hard-nosed approach of their forefathers.

“The current army of baniyas knows by heart how their forefathers worked. It is deep down there, even if they live and study abroad and then start their business back home. It is right in their genes,” said Mishra.

(By Nishant Arora for IANS)

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