A month-long search, dozens of cold calls, and visits to multiple mom-and-pop (kirana) stores. All in search of a shopkeeper willing to give us a peek into a revolution currently in its infancy—Reliance Jio’s attempt to bring kirana stores under its digital umbrella. Finally, we found what we were looking for—a shop that accepted coupon codes from Jio’s subscription-based loyalty programme, JioPrime. These coupon codes provide discounts and cashbacks on daily use items through JioMoney, the company’s e-wallet.

Significant discounts on even small items.

Rs 15 ($0.2) off on a 500-gram pack of detergent. 10% off on toothpaste. Rs 10 ($0.14) off on a 150-gram packet of roasted peanuts. Offers more at home in modern retail outlets and on online platforms, not the humble kirana store.

The shopkeeper scans the code with little confidence. This is his first time actually doing this, no one has tried to avail these codes yet, he mumbles distractedly. The codes don’t seem to be working. Not entirely surprising since they’re sourced from a beta version of the company’s upcoming app. The official roll-out date for it is still unconfirmed.

This stumble notwithstanding, the “hybrid, online­-to-­offline new commerce platform,” as Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani calls it, is Reliance Retail’s ploy to become the largest Indian omnichannel platform. Reliance Retail is already the largest retailer in the country (both in revenue and number of stores).

To understand Reliance Retail’s scale, it currently has 10,415 retail stores. Spread across 6,600 cities and over 22 million sq ft of retail space. Its annual revenue for the year ended March 2019 was Rs 1,30,556 crore ($18.49 billion). India’s second largest retailer—Kishore Biyani’s Future Group—meanwhile lags far behind. Spanning 2,200 outlets and earning Rs 35,000 crore ($4.95 billion) of annual consolidated revenues.

But Reliance doesn’t just want to be big. It wants to be a universe unto itself. And that’s where its latest play comes in. Modern retail and e-commerce only make up a small portion of India’s overall retail market. Reliance wants to dominate Indian retail by enlisting the small fish that make up the overwhelming majority. The idea is to digitise 30 million small merchants and shopkeepers (including kirana stores)—already battling the onslaught of e-commerce and modern retail.

To do this, Reliance is deploying merchant point of sale (M-PoS) machines. Devices that free these businesses of the burden of a per-transaction charge. Reliance’s ambition is crystal clear. The largest retailer in the country intends to ace the omnichannel game. And it has the right tools at its disposal. For starters, via its Jio mobile network, the company has a 300-million strong potential customer base. “As the Golden Decade rolls on, our consumer businesses will contribute nearly as much to the overall earnings of the company as our energy and petrochemical businesses,” Ambani said in the annual general meeting of Reliance Industries Ltd in July 2018.

AUTHOR

Rozelle Laha

Rozelle joins The Ken in Mumbai from Fortune magazine, where she was a Principal Correspondent covering retail and FMCG. In her seven years of experience, she has written for publications including Hindustan Times, Mint, and Businessworld. Rozelle also spent some time working in the PR industry. At The Ken, Rozelle will track leading retail and internet companies from Mumbai.

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