More power to mom-and-pops

Updated: Mar 29, 2020, 10:33 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

The tech start-ups wooing kirana or neighbourhood grocery stores to go digital in payments and sales, are now figuring how to help them stay afloat

Shubham Kesarvani, who runs a kirana store in Azad Nagar, Andheri West, was compelled to consider digital payments when he started losing customers. Pic/ Ashish Rane
Shubham Kesarvani, who runs a kirana store in Azad Nagar, Andheri West, was compelled to consider digital payments when he started losing customers. Pic/ Ashish Rane

Like most Mumbaikars, entrepreneur Alakh Gargiya has relied on the neighbourhood mom-and-pop stores for his groceries. While he admired their simplicity, character and price stickiness, he also feared they were losing out in a rapidly changing economy. His business is therefore, an effort to save small businesses from slow death.

Gargiya is founder-CEO of Pay1, a retail tech platform helping the unorganised retailers across India embrace digitisation. "While researching the market, we realised that kirana stores don't need disruption but empowerment." Instead of trying to create a direct-to-customer model or expand the existing property, he decided to study the entities and strengthen them. "The DMarts and Flipkarts have various teams to look into tertiary functions, whether trend prediction, monetisation of infrastructure or customer service. When you go to a kiranawala, it's one man judging and doing all of this," he says. The team has, so far, conducted extensive interviews on ground to understand the needs of retailers. One of their primary concerns, he shares, is how to earn more money. "The immediate answer in the trade business would be to sell more. But when you look around the shop, you know that it's being utilised at 120 per cent of its potential  already." The answer, then, was in remodelling traditional retail stores. Gargiya offers additional services such as micro-ATM, digital payments, insurance and credit options to not only create multiple revenue opportunities, but also tackle roadblocks hindering the growth of micro-businesses.

Akash Gehani, co-founder, Instamojo
Akash Gehani, co-founder, Instamojo

Shubham Kesarvani, who runs a kirana store in Andheri West, says he was compelled to consider digital payment when he started losing customers. They would turn away when he'd say no to cashless transactions. "People have stopped carrying too much cash on them," he says. The 23-year-old not only offers these options to his customers, but also now uses them to pay his bills. 

Gargia targets small stores that typically don't take up more than 150 sq ft space. "The store owners are smart when it comes to identifying what the customer wants and providing service. They don't have algorithms to calculate preferences and order history. Their technological prowess is poor and that was the gap we had to fill."

Alakh Gargiya, founder of Pay 1
Alakh Gargiya, founder of Pay 1

Razor Pay and Metro Cash and Carry are also in the business. Instamojo, a digital payments platform, by Sampad Swain, Akash Gehani and Aditya Sengupta, is a seasoned player. Bundled with e-commerce features to expand business models, the platform is built on the existing financial infrastructure of bank accounts, credit cards and other digital payment instruments to create real-time payment solutions. "In 2013, when we started approaching small-time kirana owners with a digital payment option, we got a no. Out of 10, eight would reject us. Over time, when they saw e-commerce thriving, the resistance thawed. From a nice-to-have, it became a must-have. These days, it's no longer a yes or no; instead, they ask, how do I go about it?" says Gehani, one of the founders. While payments were a starting point, the start-up has expanded its offerings to include e-commerce options. "Under commerce, we give the business its own website. If they want to sell products, we manage the logistics and help ship the wares to customers," he says. To manage their cash flow requirements, they offer small loans in the range of Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000. "We have extended the services to not only include mom-and-pops, but also home tutors and freelancers." The prerequisite to sign up is to have a bank account. This is followed by an identification procedure. 

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the challenge for Gargiya is to help small businesses remain afloat. "If you take COVID-19 out of the picture, the challenge for us is to reach out to these small entities across tier II and III cities. We have now started creating 30-second videos, where we keep the content vernacular and pepper it with entertainment. We have started to observe positive results, but there's a long way to go."

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