Nearly two years ago, V Jijeesh, the proprietor of Brothers Store—a department store in Indiranagar, Bengaluru—was poised to be the spear tip of a revolution. His was among the first wave of stores kitted out with a Point-of-Sale, or PoS, machine from India’s youngest and soon-to-be largest telco, Reliance Jio.

Touted as the latest disruption from the stable of India’s most valuable conglomerate, Reliance Industries Ltd, Jio’s PoS machines were meant to be a game-changer. Not only would they allow India’s 14-million-odd kirana (mom-and-pop) stores to accept both digital and card payments, but they would also serve as an inventory management system, with RIL’s subsidiaries serving as suppliers.

By the middle of 2019, Jio intended to deploy 150,000 machines—around 5% of India’s total PoS base. A 2019 report 2019 report Business Today Reliance Jio MPoS devices to help digitise 5 million kirana stores by 2023: report Read more by Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted that Jio would digitise up to five million kirana stores—nearly one in three—by 2023. Reliance was set to become an inextricable part of the kirana store ecosystem, which accounts for around 90% of India’s food and grocery retail.

The company intended to go beyond this, too. Eventually, the plan was to cater to pharmacies and garment retailers, as well as other small and medium enterprises across the country, creating a massive retail network all tethered to Reliance.

Going into 2021, Jio is nowhere close to its initial target of 150,000 machines, according to PoS industry executives The Ken spoke with. The roll-out, which was restricted to four cities—Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Delhi—has largely gone “silent” over the past few months. According to industry estimates, only around 20,000 machines have been deployed. Questions sent to Jio about the status of its PoS play went unanswered.

Jijeesh’s memories of Jio’s PoS machine are hazy. He returned the machine to Jio around six months ago after barely using it to fulfil any transactions. Jijeesh claims he isn’t alone. “I don’t know anyone near me who has not returned the machine.”

For many kirana stores, having all their transactions recorded was a problem. Many store owners tend to keep some of their transactions off the books to avoid paying taxes. Indeed, this culture of tax evasion has been a huge hurdle when it comes to bringing these stores online.

The payments space has also evolved since Reliance unveiled its PoS ambitions. QR code-based UPI UPI Unified Payments Interface UPI is a real-time digital payments system that’s owned by the central bank-promoted NPCI payments have gained steam over the past few years, making payments quick and simple.

AUTHOR

Pranav Balakrishnan

Pranav writes about the business of moving people and things around, i.e, mobility and e-commerce. Over the past two years, he has written about Ola, Tesla, Flipkart, Amazon, and the increasing role played by Reliance Industries in the Indian technology story. Pranav joined The Ken from Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, specialising in business journalism.

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