When India went into a nationwide lockdown on 25 March, it decimated the country’s $50 billion restaurant sector. With hotels shuttered and many of their delivery personnel homebound, India’s foodtech unicorns—Swiggy and Zomato—suffered a body blow as well. Order volumes plummeted by 70-80%. Swiggy, however, had a contingency plan.

Codenamed ‘Go’, it was a service that let users task Swiggy delivery executives with errands or shopping orders. The company had been trialling the service in its hometown of Bengaluru since September 2019, but hadn’t rolled it out beyond this.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic brought the country to a standstill.

With many Indians afraid of venturing out for supplies lest they contract the virus, Swiggy pulled the trigger on ‘Go’. Rechristening it Swiggy Genie, it was launched across 30 tier-1 and -2 cities on 9 April.

Despite the name ‘Genie’, one of Swiggy’s investors told The Ken that the company isn’t trying to create another brand or app. “It wants to build services that work with its hyperlocal delivery network,” the investor says. “And the food-ordering perception will get replaced with the perception of the convenience of working from one Swiggy app.”

Indeed, in this post-Covid context, Swiggy is looking to be a mobile-screen conglomerate. While the restaurant business recovers—which could take up to a year, as we’ve written recently written recently The Ken The new math for India’s $50 billion restaurant industry Read more —Swiggy Genie steps into the void left by food delivery. Listing essential commodities as part of a dedicated grocery service further cushions the blow from the drop in food delivery volumes. In February 2019, Swiggy piloted its ‘Stores’ project in Gurugram and Bengaluru. After the lockdown, this was rolled out in 220 cities, delivering everything from groceries to meat, wellness, and pet care products from partner stores.

The current situation has made Swiggy prioritise acceleration of these projects at a faster pace, says Karan Sharma from the digital and technology arm of financial services provider Avendus’ investment banking business. “This is strategic to them: concierge, and then groceries—faster turnaround and quick fulfilment at a consumer level.”

Rolling out new services in the midst of a lockdown, though, is hard. Especially when these new services are a marked change from Swiggy’s core business of food delivery. Delivery personnel, who were previously required to just pick up food orders and ferry them from restaurants to customers, are now responsible for selecting the contents of orders as well. Swiggy had to remotely train its pan-India delivery force to handle these nuances, while also onboarding stores across the country.

And while Swiggy tries to learn new tricks, it is also treading on the turf of fellow Bengaluru-based hyperlocal player, Dunzo, as well as e-grocers like Bigbasket. Can it outmanoeuvre its more experienced rivals, all while navigating the minefield that is post-Covid India?

AUTHOR

Kunal Talgeri

Kunal is a Bangalore-based business journalist who has dabbled in editing and reporting since 2001. He has covered the technology industry for the Indian editions of Fortune and Forbes, as well as The Economic Times. A commerce graduate, Kunal also studied at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.

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