The online world has never been kind to Kishore Biyani. It seems like every time Biyani, the chief executive officer and founder of Future Group, wades into digital waters, he is swept back to shore. By 2017, he had made three major attempts—with Future Bazaar (2007), Big Bazaar Direct (2013), and FabFurnish (2017)—and failed thrice.

For a man who has built one of India’s largest brick and mortar retail companies, it has been deeply frustrating. In 2017, after the failure of Fab Furnish, Biyani went as far as saying it was “stupid” “stupid” The Economic Times Will not invest in e-commerce space for at least two years: Kishore Biyani Read more  to be in e-tailing.

Just months later, Biyani was back at the e-commerce shoreline, dipping his toes rather than taking the plunge. That attempt, called Retail 3.0, is on a similar trajectory as its predecessors. In January 2020, Future Group laid off hundreds of employees as it looked to scale down the project.

E-commerce, though, is no longer an option but a necessity. The Covid-19 pandemic has made that clear. And as the nation came under a stringent 60-plus day lockdown, Future Group found itself scrambling to re-establish a digital footprint once more.

On 1 April—scarcely a week after the lockdown was first announced—Future Group’s flagship entity, Future Retail, made the leap online. It launched a mobile-only website for BigBazaar, its 290-strong, pan-India chain of supermarkets. The website allows customers to browse the supermarket’s offerings online and have it home-delivered.

“We launched the website very quickly. Almost in a week,” said a person working closely with the website’s development. They asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorised to speak with the media. The same month, the BigBazaar website was swallowed up by the company’s Future Pay app. The app was originally launched as a wallet in 2016, letting customers pay digitally at several of its branded stores, including BigBazaar, and Future’s smaller format chains Easyday and Heritage Fresh.

From an almost standing start, Future Group was quickly hitting its stride. By May, it had built to a gallop. It relaunched its Future Pay app, this time as a full-fledged e-commerce offering. Today, customers can use Future Pay to shop online for groceries, clothing, furniture, shoes, and handbags across multiple Future Retail brands.

App downloads

Future targeted 10 million downloads for Future Pay by 2018. The app has over 10 million downloads on Google Play Store today.

For an entity that has an uncomfortable relationship with the online world, Future Group is betting the house on e-commerce.

AUTHOR

Prasannata Patwa

Based in Mumbai, Prasannata writes about content start-ups, consumer products, and OTT platforms. When not chasing trends she likes to travel, and binge on documentaries. She previously worked at Mint and is an ACJ Bloomberg Business Journalism graduate.

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