June 18, 2008

Delhi Tastes Retail Therapy

By Radhika Oberoi

From a hawker's tindas, karelas and baigans, to packaged zucchini, broccoli and cherry tomatoes, the Indian consumer has come a long way. Organised retail and the steady mushrooming of hypermarkets, supermarkets and departmental stores in the country have roused the appetite of consumers looking for variety and economy.

Organised retail accounts for a mere 4% of the $322 billion market, which is poised to double over the next five years, according to a recent study conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER).

But statistics alone can't gauge the extent to which organised retail has reached out to the urban shopper, pampered for years by the friendly neighbourhood kirana (mom-and-pop) stores with free home delivery, trust-based credit and the comfort of being known by name.

Sadashiv Nayak, CEO, Food Bazaar, says of a shopper torn between the urge to explore and the need to follow the dictates of habit, consumers present endless opportunities. "We want to change habits and drive consumption to a much higher level: for instance, introduce variants to a brand they are accustomed to putting in their shopping cart. What drives a consumer to a particular store for everyday groceries is a combination of demographics, social conditioning and levels of comfort with a new format."

Committed to kirana

The Knowledge Company, a division of Technopak-Mindscape, spoke to over 2,500 housewives (SEC A, B and C households) across 17 cities, and found that the average Indian housewife still shops at the kirana store for milk, vegetables and other perishable essentials.

Like 65-year-old Bala Kumar of Hauz Khas who has not shifted loyalties from her kirana, Anil Stores, despite a Big Apple store in the market. He is so polite, she says of her grocer. "Even if I call him at nine in the night, he delivers to my doorstep." It's a relationship that goes back 30 years.

Intimidated by long supermarket queues at the cashier and the fact that once "I buy something, I can never go back and exchange it", she feels her satisfaction with Anil Stores is so complete, she needn't ever visit a firang-style store.

Meera Juneja, a 53-year-old housewife from Safdarjung Enclave, visits Garg Stores in neighbouring Yusuf Sarai market for atta, dals and masalas. For fruit and vegetables, she prefers the many vendors at Sarojini Nagar Market to the Reliance Fresh outlet in Green Park, closer home.

"One never knows how long the veggies have been in cold storage at these outlets," she says, "but in Sarojini Nagar, everything comes fresh from the mandi." Praveen Garg of Garg Stores, the 24- year-old enterprising young successor to a family business flourishing since 1979, is confident that no supermarket on earth can shake his client base.

He has, nonetheless, reinvented the old shop to keep up with the times. "I've introduced branded packaging for dals and spices that were earlier sold in loose polybags," he says. A new billing software that indicates the MRP, the actual (lower) price at which the product is sold, and the amount the consumer has saved, has also been installed. And where else can customers hope to see posters announcing 'Tuition for all subjects' or 'Learn Salsa' except at a thoughtful neighbourhood store?

A Super Affair

Shireen Chater, a 33-year-old working mom who lives in Gurgaon, reserves grocery shopping for weekends. She has recently shifted loyalties from the neighbourhood subziwala to the plusher environs of Spencer's because, "I'm not the type who enjoys bargaining with vendors." Also, the clean, organised displays inspire confidence: "The fruit always looks fresh and luscious, the greens look greener here."

The Technopak study stresses on 'Commitment Drivers' that ascertain whether a consumer will remain loyal to a new format or not. Brand variety, freshness of stock and an international shopping experience are key considerations for a young segment.

Benu Pandit, a mother of two, prefers the supermarket to the kirana because, "I like taking my trolley around and browsing.Sometimes I pick up stuff I don't need; the schemes are fabulous and I can't help but shop!" Her husband, Kabir, a management consultant, accompanies her on these trips: "He actually helps decide which juice or cereal to pick up something he would never have done in a kirana."

This insight is reinforced by the study - modern retail has made men more active in the shopping process. They are increasingly losing themselves in the alluring colours and designs of slickly packaged brands. And while women are intuitive shoppers pressing, smelling, shaking and watching others to arrive at a decision, men shop cognitively, reading product literature before stuffing the cart.

Spencer's straddles both the large format (hyper) as well as small convenience stores and is planning 600 new ones in the country (50 in Delhi) by March 2009. The retail chain is clearly targeting the young family and its predominant decision-maker, the 25-35 year- old homemaker, who keeps herself abreast with the latest brands. With approximately 4.5 million footfalls per month, the well- defined strategy has ensured that business is brisk.

Single Preference

For singles in the city, small convenience stores, especially those open round-the-clock, are a lifeline. Rishi Kumar, a 25-year- old software professional who lives in a bachelor pad in Malviya Nagar, picks up his groceries from a Reliance Fresh store near his home.

"I pick my cucumbers and tomatoes on my way back from the gym in the morning. And I don't feel like an old lady shopping for vegetables."

Suparna Dasgupta, a young writer who lives in Saket, says she visits the Twenty Four Seven store because they stock up on microwavable meals. Kula T Naidu, a 25-year-old who has just opened his own Malaysian food take-away service, says, 'It has pretty much everything else; it's perfect for a late-night ice-cream or picking up a jar of Nutella for a midnight snack."

Organised retail has expanded the market and ensnared new grocery shoppers like Tej Kuttiah, a 34-year-old entrepreneur who says, "Until now I had no clue about the prices of potatoes or tomatoes." However, the unorganised sector - which according to the ICRIER survey witnessed a closure rate of 4.2% (only 1.7% closures were attributed to competition from modern retail) - is gearing up to take on the new players. But as Sadashiv Nayak of Food Bazaar reassuringly says, "There is no reason for us to eat into mom-and- pop stores. The two can easily co-exist."

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