Illustration: Rahul Awasthi
Illustration: Rahul Awasthi

At a time when big players such as Reliance Industries, Amazon, and Walmart-owned Flipkart are doubling down on grocery retail, more than half a dozen technology startups — including Express Stores, Behtar Stores, Gully Network, GoodBox, ShopKirana, NIFLR and Jumbotail — are experimenting with new models in the segment.

While some of these businesses are taking over the functioning of the full kirana (corner) store to control merchandising, inventory, invoicing, financing and branding, others are creating self-checkout stores and technology solutions for retailers.

“Physical retail is such a large, fragmented, differentiated and unorganized business that no one solution can fit this underserved market,” said Ajay Nain, Founder, Gully Network Retail.

For instance, Gully Network as well as Express Stores, Behtar Stores, and Jumbotail-owned J24 own the whole store experience, including co-branding, and claim that by offering an efficient supply chain, in-store experience and customer engagement capabilities, the stores will clock increased revenues over time.

“Our thesis is that small shops need a 360-degree handholding to embrace technology to cope with the ever-dynamic purchase behavior of consumers and generate additional income other than their primary business,” Nain added. Investors that have backed such business models include Orios Venture Partners, Accel, and Nexus Venture Partners.

A few months ago, ShopKirana, which focuses distribution of goods to kirana stores in small towns and cities, forayed into the business of full-store transformation under the brand Need Square, and has worked with close to 80 outlets for a partial store revamp through a project called Kisan Kirana.

“Kirana stores in India will take their own journey to be the stores of the future. Our aim is to work on taking these steps with them,” said Sumit Ghorawat, CEO, ShopKirana, which is backed by InfoEdge, which runs Naukri.com.

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The company also runs a supply chain platform that connects retailers directly with brands and has an overall monthly gross merchandise value (GMV) of Rs 72 crore.

Although retail is the largest sector in the commerce pie at more than $300 billion, technology and supply chain solutions have barely been able to scratch the surface, paving the way for startups to target niche areas, experts said.

What helps is that mom-and-pop stores today are more digitally savvy compared to even five years ago and are slowly embracing technology.

“It has become an imperative for kiranas (corner stores) to use technology to even survive in the future,” said Abey Zachariah, co-founder and CEO, Goodbox, which has modified its business model over the last few months.

Goodbox provides a platform for local supermarkets that are similar to More and Star Bazaar in size, with online ordering, customer relationship management tools, analytics, logistics, and brand partnership capabilities, which in turn, increase their business by 30%.

The Nexus Venture Partners-backed company is working with close to 30 supermarkets in Bengaluru and nearing Rs 60 crore worth of grocery delivery in terms of annual run rate.

Separately, Bengaluru-based NIFLR runs unmanned self-checkout grocery stores with limited fast-moving items in apartment complexes, similar to Amazon Go in the US.

BigBasket also operates vending machines in select apartment complexes, similar to this model, which is suited for only very digital-savvy customers in top towns and cities.

The focus on providing technology to the mom-and-pop outlets comes at a time when Reliance Industries, Amazon, and grocery e-tailers like BigBasket as well as business-to-business players such as Udaan, are working to digitise small physical shops.

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While Amazon and BigBasket have been running their B2B supply chain and fulfillment operations for over 18 months, Reliance is the latest entrant in the space with the launch of its web portal Jiomart in Mumbai.

Kirana stores are already using products including UPI and QR code-based payment solutions, digitization and ledger solutions as well as inventory procurement and point of sale solutions.





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