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.


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.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at support@the-ken.com detailing the error or queries.