It’s 6 PM at Malick Super Bazaar, a kirana (mom and pop) store in Bengaluru’s middle-class neighbourhood of Austin Town. Business is in full swing. Around eight customers are crowded around the store counter, waiting to be billed. They have no choice but patience, as a store employee diligently enters the details of the purchased goods into a point of sale (PoS) terminal. As the number of customers starts to build up, the store owner, Syed Ali, whips out his bill book and begins billing customers as well. “We are really busy right now,” Ali says to me, in between frantically scribbling down the names and prices of products onto the tiny pages of his bill book.
Ali’s store is one of an estimated 15 million kirana stores that dot the Indian retail landscape. But with a difference. Crammed into the little space Ali has to spare in the 750-square-foot establishment is a 24-inch flat screen monitor. It isn’t to keep up with cricket or the news. Instead, it displays a constant stream of offers on products ranging from Hindustan Unilever’s Dove range to FunFoods’ sandwich spreads. His customers, who once found this set-up novel, have grown used to it. They enquire about the offers displayed. “I have bought products based on these offers before,” says one customer, as she waits for her billing to be completed.
The technological enhancement of Malick Super Bazaar is still an outlier. But the supercharging of kirana stores through tech is a growing phenomenon as various players, both big and small, seek to better understand and utilise India’s millions and millions of kirana stores. This renewed focus and respect stems from one unavoidable fact—kirana stores account for almost 90% of the $44 billion of FMCG goods sold in India each year.
B2B commerce startups like Peel Works, SnapBizz, and Paisool believe that they have what it takes to optimise the relationship between large brands and small retailers, benefiting both ends of the spectrum. Some of the solutions on offer are small but nifty tech interventions, like those seen at Malick Super Bazaar. Others are more dramatic, seeking to completely overhaul the way brands distribute to kiranas. All of them have one thing in common—they are still at a nascent stage. They may want to revolutionise the common kirana store, but there are many hurdles between intent and impact.
So, what are they trying? And will they succeed in breaking a cycle that has existed with little to no change for decades? Let’s start small.
The typical kirana store model goes like this. A distributor’s salesperson bearing the goods of an FMCG company comes visiting every week to take orders and supply products.