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Tech-Savvy Kiranas: The way forward for retail in India

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Since their inception, kirana stores have been a major contributor to the Indian retail industry both from the consumer as well as the retailers’ perspective. They are considered one-stop destinations for day-to-day needs, providing consumers the basic essentials and non-essentials products. Owing to their indispensable nature, kirana stores and residential units have always coexisted. But, with technology’s progress, several of us have turned to online shopping for groceries and other items we use every day. Technology has made it possible for us to browse through the products, choose what we want, and make the payment seamlessly with just a click of a button. Although the advent of technology has not put kirana stores entirely out of business, it has created an urgent need for them to keep pace with the breakneck speed at which digitization and automation are growing.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this gap with the series of lockdowns hampering business and creating an adverse impact overall for kirana stores. With restricted movement, disruptions in the supply chain, shortage of labour, and safety concerns, several kirana stores have either shut shop or are struggling to source inventory and avoid overstocking of items. To help them maintain business continuity and boost sales and revenue, kirana stores have turned towards tech-driven B2B platforms that are helping them source inventory, receive real-time updates, and avoid stocking out and overstocking. Recent times have seen kirana stores evolve to adopt technology and revamp their processes. We take a look at how tech-savvy kirana stores are the way forward.
Changing Consumer Preferences
Over the years, consumer preferences have evolved, and businesses are also constantly adapting to this change, for without the consumer, the business would cease to exist. Kirana stores, too, have kept pace with the changing times, and constantly strive to cater to the shifting consumption habits. For instance, between the 1970s and 1990s, kirana stores used to sell whole wheat grain that customers would purchase to make fresh wheat flour at home. Times changed and customers began to prefer ready-made, packed wheat flour that they could directly use while cooking, and stores started to sell large bags of ready-made, pre-ground wheat flour. It is a similar scenario for most commodities today.
The shift in consumer habits and preferences applies not just to the kind of goods people want to purchase but also in the way they make the purchase. As mentioned before, technology has enabled us to make purchases in bulk, make the payment online, and have all the products delivered to our doorsteps. As lives become busier, people prefer goods to be delivered to their homes as it saves time and is far more convenient in terms of saving time and effort. Just like big supermarkets, kirana stores, too, have accommodated this, and are now delivering to customers’ doorsteps, while offering them the additional benefit of monthly credit. To facilitate their business further, they have turned to technology to help them boost their customer base and sales.
The Rise of Tech-Savvy Kiranas
While the COVID-19 pandemic has left the entire world reeling in the wake of its devastating impact, it has presented a plethora of opportunities for technological innovations to be at the forefront. Kirana stores are no exception, quickly jumping on the digitisation bandwagon. The global crisis has spurred a new wave of online and phone businesses for essential items such as food and groceries, powered by the 12 million kirana stores that account for over 80 percent of India’s retail sector.
Kirana stores were in fact, some of the first businesses to adapt to technology. For example, during the advent of the landline telephones, kiranas offered PCO booths to customers at a minimal fee. As we moved to mobile phones and away from landline telephones, kirana stores introduced the concept of offering phone minutes for customers to recharge their talk time.
For instance, a prime example of kiranas becoming digitally savvy are the adoption of mobile payment methods. In the past, kirana stores used handwritten notes as substitutes for bills, and maintained manual ledgers to calculate their total sales and revenues. With the rise of the internet and smartphones paving the way for digital payments and online/phone orders, kiranas in the country now accept digital payment methods such as mobile wallets, UPI, and even bank transfers. Kiranas even use messaging apps to connect and engage with customers and offer them real-time updates, thereby improving customer experience and satisfaction.
Yet another example of technology making its way into the business model of kirana stores can be seen through the procurement of items. Gone are the days when kirana store owners had to travel long distances to wholesale stores and shut shop while procuring the stock they need. Digitisation has now made it possible for them to procure/source their inventory with just a smartphone and Internet connection. They use mobile banking or other digital payment methods to complete the payment. Brands are now even offering structured credit that kiranas registered on their platforms can avail, making the entire process seamless and convenient.
Digitally Savvy: The Road Ahead
Despite the disruptions created by the pandemic, kirana stores, rich in business legacy and skills, are emerging from the crisis in a more tech-savvy manner, albeit with some bruises. For a few years now, the process of familiarising kirana stores with new-age technology has been underway. According to a report by consulting firm Red Seer, more than 70 percent kirana stores in urban areas and over 37 percent kiranas in rural regions are ready to embrace technology to scale their business and offer better, more convenient services to their customers.
With the rising popularity of e-commerce, kiranas have begun to experiment with technology by tech-driven features such as mobile commerce, loyalty programmes and rewards, and as mentioned earlier, digital inventory management with the help of B2B platforms. The kirana stores of the future will be more connected, digital, and engaging. With e-commerce brands by their side leveraging cutting-edge technology, kiranas will be able to provide faster and frictionless service to their customers whilst retaining their locational advantage. Particularly in Tier-II & III cities, and even rural pockets of the country, the future will see the rise of the tech-savvy, futuristic kiranas offering impeccable, end-to-end customer experiences.

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