Shambhavi Anand, Economic Times
New Delhi, May 24, 2023
Retailers and shopkeepers will soon not be allowed to seek phone numbers of their customers while generating bills, according to a diktat by the department of consumer affairs, a senior government official said.
Taking the numbers of customers without their “express consent” is a breach and encroachment of privacy, said the official, without wanting to be identified.
The official added that such a move will be classified as an unfair trading practice defined as any business practice or act that is deceptive, fraudulent, or causes injury to a consumer.
Most large retailers mandatorily take down buyers’ phone numbers while generating the bill for their purchases and use them for loyalty programmes or sending push messages.
The move has come after the department received several complaints from consumers about retailers insisting on getting their phone numbers. This will be communicated to all retailers through industry bodies representing retailers soon, the official added.
While the implementation of these new rules may require some adjustments and initial costs for retailers, it is seen as a necessary step towards protecting consumer privacy and ensuring fair business practices in the retail sector, said experts.
While retailers will have to rework their systems in case this becomes a regulation, this won’t stop them from asking for phone numbers of consumers as their loyalty programmes run on these numbers, said Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy firm.
He added that retailers also use numbers for sending e-invoices and so this could have a cost impact and environmental impact.
(Published in Economic Times)
Written By Vaishnavi Gupta
The furniture brand’s retail roadmap includes city stores in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, followed by tier I and II towns
For the Ikea model to succeed, adequate demand-concentration is crucial, which is being currently provided by the bigger cities in India.
After launching two large-format stores in India in a span of three years — one each in Hyderabad and Navi Mumbai — Ikea opened its first small-format store in Worli, Mumbai, to become “more accessible and convenient”. About 90,000 sq ft in size, these ‘city’ stores are already present in markets such as New York, London, Paris, Moscow and Shanghai.
The furniture market in India stood at $17.77 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach $37.72 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 13.37%, according to a Research and Markets report. Godrej Interio, UrbanLadder and Pepperfry are among the big players in this space, all with a significant online presence, too. Godrej Interio has 300 exclusive stores in India, while Pepperfry has more than 110 Studios.
Spread across three floors, Ikea’s first city store has 9,000 products in focus, of which 2,200 are available for takeaway and the rest for home delivery. “We have observed that it is not easy to find large retail locations in cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru. The small store offers convenience and accessibility for consumers to experience Ikea products,” says Per Hornell, area manager and country expansion manager, Ikea India. This launch is in line with the company’s aim to become accessible to 200 million homes in India by 2025, and 500 million homes by 2030.
More launches are being planned: another city store in Mumbai in the spring of 2022 and a large-format store as well as a city store in Bengaluru by the end of 2022. For its retail expansion in Maharashtra, the company plans to invest Rs 6,000 crore by 2030. “We are on track to exceed the investment commitment of Rs 10,500 crore made for India in December last year,” adds Hornell. Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are the three cities on its radar at the moment, which will be followed by tier I and II towns.
Furthermore, Ingka Centres, part of Ingka Group that includes Ikea Retail, is coming up with its first shopping centre in Gurugram (followed by Noida), which will be integrated with an Ikea store.
In India, unlike its organised furniture market competitors, Ikea doesn’t have a pan-India online presence yet. It has been following a “cluster-based expansion strategy” for its online offering, but the company insists this is not a limitation. “At present, 30% of our overall India sales come from online channels,” Hornell informs. Through its e-commerce website and mobile shopping app, the company currently operates in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Surat, Ahmedabad and Vadodara.
On the other hand, players like Godrej Interio and Pepperfry have big plans to tap new markets. The former aims to add 50 exclusive stores each year, while Pepperfry aims to achieve the 200 Studios mark by March 2022. In September this year, Pepperfry forayed into the customised furniture segment with the Pepperfry Modular offering, which focusses on modular kitchens, wardrobes and entertainment units.
This is a good time for Ikea to establish its presence in the Indian market, says Alagu Balaraman, CEO, Augmented SCM. “Earlier, people used to rely on carpenters for furnishing their homes; now, they prefer to buy ready-made furniture. The market is moving towards acceptability, making plenty of headroom for growth for these companies,” he says.
Ikea’s cautious expansion approach in a market like India where several local dynamics are at play, is tactful, analysts say. Devangshu Dutta, founder, Third Eyesight, says, “In the past, Western businesses have made the mistake of simply copy-pasting formats and strategies in emerging markets from their more developed markets.” He believes there is “nothing wrong” in being incremental while growing footprint. “There’s no sense in carpet-bombing the market with stores, when many may end up being loss-making or sub-optimal,” he adds.
Getting the product mix and pricing right would be key in realising the full potential of this market. Balaraman says Ikea will have to balance its global portfolio with what it is doing locally, and make sure it is profitable.
For the Ikea model to succeed, adequate demand-concentration is crucial, which is being currently provided by the bigger cities in India. Given its global popularity, the furniture giant, analysts say, is poised to see traction in the metros and tier I cities.
Written By Mihir Dalal
(From left to right) Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, which owns Flipkart; Mukesh Ambani, chairman and MD of RIL; Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
BENGALURU : Last month, Nimit Jain, an entrepreneur, ordered biscuits, shampoo, toothpaste and other items for his family in Kota. He used JioMart—the new online shopping app by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited—lured by its low prices and freebies.
JioMart was to deliver the order within two days, but Jain’s family didn’t receive the items on time and JioMart didn’t inform Jain about the delay. The delivery was done four days after he had placed the order, a few hours after Jain had complained to the firm via email and Twitter.
A few products were missing, Jain’s parents informed him. It took time to figure out the missing items because the details of the order weren’t available on the app. Jain had paid online and asked JioMart for a partial refund. Instead of receiving an acknowledgement for his refund request, he received a response for his previous email about the delay in delivery. Five days later, Jain got a refund.
Mumbai-based Jain, a computer science graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, usually orders groceries from BigBasket and sometimes from Dunzo. He said that he doesn’t plan to use JioMart again.
“A couple of my friends and relatives (in Mumbai and Kota) have also had similarly bad experiences. It doesn’t look like JioMart is ready for online groceries. Their operations and customer care teams weren’t in sync,” Jain said.
Since JioMart expanded to more than 200 cities this summer, scores of customers like Jain have complained about missing products, delayed deliveries and generally poor service. Still, industry executives say that while its service levels have been inconsistent, JioMart is registering similar order volumes to BigBasket, the largest e-grocer, on the back of aggressive marketing and discounts.
These volumes still comprise a small fraction of the overall business of Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart, the two dominant online retailers. But that’s because JioMart is only selling groceries now; it plans to sell other products like fashion and electronics soon. It’s clear that after many years of talk and hype, Reliance, which owns India’s largest offline retail chain, is finally becoming a serious challenger to Amazon and Flipkart, as well as BigBasket and Grofers.
Still, industry executives, logistics firms, consultants and analysts that Mint spoke with said that Reliance will find it tough to break the dominance of Amazon-Flipkart in e-commerce, similar to how Walmart is struggling to challenge Amazon in digital sales in the US even as its stores continue to prosper. Amazon and Flipkart both have deep pockets, proven expertise in e-commerce, popular brands and good knowledge of the Indian market.
“Reliance has the financial muscle, but Walmart (Flipkart) and Amazon are no pushovers,” said Harminder Sahni, managing director, Wazir Advisors, a consultancy. “Today, most people who want to shop online are happy with Flipkart and Amazon. These companies have achieved significant scale and have very few weaknesses. As a latecomer, it will be very difficult for Reliance to make a big dent in the market.”
Reliance did not respond to an emailed questionnaire seeking comment.
Local internet powerhouse
During the pandemic, Reliance has not only moved fast to make inroads into the e-commerce market, it has also consolidated its leadership in organized offline retail. Last month, Reliance bought most of the businesses of Future Group for about $3.4 billion in a deal that will take its retail footprint to nearly 14,000 stores—by far, the largest in India.
In the past six months, Reliance has raised more than $21 billion for its digital unit Jio Platforms. This month, Reliance kickstarted a separate fund-raising spree for its retail unit, Reliance Retail, bagging about $1.8 billion from private equity firms Silver Lake and KKR, two of the investors in Jio. Several more investment firms, including other shareholders in Jio, are expected to join them.
These moves are part of Reliance’s efforts to transform itself into a 21stcentury digital behemoth. It is positioning itself as India’s answer to Amazon, Facebook, Google, Alibaba and other world-class digital giants, and unlike local startups like Flipkart, Ola and Paytm that have or had similar ambitions, Reliance enjoys some unparalleled advantages.
It is now accepted wisdom among politicians and regulators that India needs a ‘local’ internet powerhouse to counter the dominance of America’s Big Tech and the growing influence of Chinese firms, partly because of sovereignty concerns. Reliance’s mastery in lobbying and its political clout makes the firm best-placed to exploit this urgent establishment need to find a domestic internet powerhouse.
Amazon, Flipkart, Facebook and others face many policy-related restrictions that not only serve as obstacles to them but pave the way for domestic firms led by Reliance to enter the fray. For instance, foreign investment rules prevent Amazon and Flipkart from owning inventory or selling private labels (though critics say that these firms do it anyway using clever legal workarounds), while Reliance has no such constraints. Apart from a supportive policy environment and huge capital resources, on the business front, too, Reliance has an enviable digital distribution network and reservoir of customer data on account of Jio.
But despite these formidable advantages, Reliance has yet to prove that it has the chops to realise its ambitious vision.
The war among Reliance and Flipkart and Amazon and other internet firms is also not restricted to retail, but will extend to other sectors like financial services, content and business-to-business commerce. The technology-centric nature of the battle is more suited to the internet companies than to Reliance. There’s little doubt that Reliance will be a major player in the digital business, but the jury’s out on how much value the firm can corner. Its foray in e-commerce and B2B will provide early answers to this question.
After JioMart began testing its service late last year, media reports said that the company would deliver products to customers from local kirana stores. After Facebook invested in Jio in April in a deal that included a business partnership between JioMart and WhatsApp, Ambani said that JioMart would soon connect some 3 crore kirana stores with their neighbourhood customers.
Many analysts, too, expect the partnership with WhatsApp, the most popular app in India, to be a game-changer. In July, Goldman Sachs estimated that Reliance’s entry will help expand the online grocery market by 20 times to about $29 billion by 2024. Reliance’s partnership with Facebook could help the firm become the leader in e-grocery and garner a market share of more than 50% by 2024, Goldman said.
But Mint learns that Reliance is sourcing a majority of orders on JioMart in many cities through Reliance Retail’s supply chain; only a small number of orders are served through kirana stores. JioMart is signing up a few thousand kirana stores every month, but its expansion is happening at a slower rate than many analysts expect. Two industry executives said that JioMart’s average order value is lower than that of other e-grocers, which means that Reliance is losing larger amounts of money on every order.
According to one e-commerce executive, for BigBasket and Grofers, the delivery cost is about 3-4% of the average order value, which exceeds ₹1000. For Reliance, the delivery cost is presently much higher because its order value is below ₹800. The lower order value is partly because most of JioMart’s 200 city-markets are non-metros. BigBasket and others generate an overwhelming majority of their business from the metros. Reliance is betting on expanding the e-grocery market rather, than taking market share from incumbents, which generate an overwhelming majority of their sales from 10-15 cities. But while Reliance may be able to attract customers in smaller cities initially with discounts, profitability will be tough.
“The economics of serving metros are very different from the rest of India. In the mass market, bill values are much, much lower. Right now, Reliance’s main focus is to scale JioMart, so they aren’t worried about the delivery cost,” the executive cited above said. “But eventually, reality will catch up, and they will have to increase basket sizes because this model isn’t sustainable. Grocery has very thin margins to start with. “
Private label push
One obvious way for Reliance to boost margins is by selling more private label products. In the grocery category, Reliance Retail already generates 14% of its revenues from private labels. People familiar with Reliance’s plans said that the company wants to push its private label products to kirana stores. While there are hundreds of well-known brands in FMCG, the grocery category (products like rice, pulses and flour) is largely unstructured. Reliance plans to sell its private label products both in grocery and FMCG.
Apart from retail, Reliance is also rapidly expanding its B2B business. Its private label products form a key component of its retail and wholesale business plans, the people cited above said.
The private label push, however, is making large FMCG companies like Hindustan Unilever, Marico and Dabur, which sell competing products, wary of working with Reliance’s B2B arm.
Like Flipkart and Amazon, which are also expanding their B2B businesses, Reliance’s grand vision over time is to have an integrated ecosystem of wholesale and retail in which it connects consumer goods makers with kirana stores and retailers, supplies a large number of private label products across many categories to retailers and end-customers, and becomes the biggest omnichannel retail firm in the country. But realising this vision will require Reliance to work seamlessly with millions of kirana stores, thousands of brands, modern retailers (all of which will see the firm as a rival to an extent)—and provide exceptional service in a profitable manner to retail customers.
Analysts and industry executives said that Reliance has a higher probability of finding success in categories like fashion (in which it already runs a portal called Ajio) and grocery that are mostly unorganised and have a shortage of established brands. In these categories, Reliance faces fewer barriers from existing players and has a better chance of pushing its private labels in both the wholesale and retail markets. But in categories like electronics and FMCG, which are dominated by entrenched brands, kirana stores and e-commerce firms, Reliance may struggle to scale as fast.
For instance, Flipkart and Amazon dominate online sales of electronics and fashion, which together comprise more than 75% of all e-commerce. To win significant share in electronics, Reliance will have to spend enormous amounts on discounts, marketing and offering favourable terms to brands . But, in fashion, Reliance can tap its low-priced private labels to lure customers without resorting to value destruction.
“The market is too varied for one player to be big in all categories,” an investment banker said. “Reliance will have to carefully choose its battles. There’s a risk that it may spread itself too thin, so it’s wise for them to have started with grocery.”
Meanwhile, while Google and Facebook have together invested more than $10 billion in Reliance, both companies are continuing to expand their own businesses in India. Google and Facebook have ambitions to enter e-commerce and expand in other sectors like payments and content. What this means is that while Google and Facebook will end up collaborating with Reliance in some areas, they will also compete with the firm in others, joining Flipkart and Amazon in the war of the digital conglomerates.
Flipkart and Amazon have already stepped up their lobbying efforts with the emergence of Reliance as a threat. Because of the pandemic that has made e-commerce indispensable, there has been a thaw in the government’s attitude towards the US e-commerce firms. A more antagonistic attitude may return when the pandemic passes.
Eventually, though, the war will be decided by customers. Here, experts are divided on whether Reliance will emerge as the winner. “Reliance still has to do a lot more on getting the customer experience in place, but given the strides they’ve made, it is well-placed to compete in the digital space,” said Devangshu Dutta, head of retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight.
Written By Sangeeta Tanwar
Two of India’s leading retail chains are currently preparing the ground for their full-fledged e-commerce forays, albeit in totally different ways.
While the Kishore Biyani-led Future Group, which operates the popular Big Bazaar hypermarket chain, is busy listing its labels on Amazon, rival Reliance Retail is withdrawing its products from all e-commerce platforms, as parent Reliance Industries (RIL) gears up to launch its own online marketplace.
For both the traditional players, cracking online sales is important as they prepare for a future beyond high street retail.
Online sales in India will balloon from last year’s $18 billion (Rs1.25 lakh crore) to $170 billion by 2030, Jefferies India predicted recently. This potential aside, Indian e-commerce is still nascent and retailers are still perfecting their strategies.
“E-commerce is now a game of two dimensions, one of scale and the other of last-mile ubiquity. Whoever gets this right, will manage growth, revenue, and customer acquisition,” said Anil V Pillai, director of the independent marketing firm Terragni Consulting.
As for the Future Group, it thinks the best way to achieve this is by riding piggyback on Amazon’s proven capabilities in scale and last-mile delivery.
How the plan evolved
In 2016, the Future Group had made its first e-commerce acquisition by buying out the struggling furniture retailer FabFurnish from its German incubator Rocket Internet. Biyani had hoped to find synergies between the startup and his group’s furniture brand Hometown.
A year later, hit by heavy losses, FabFurnish was shuttered. Biyani downplayed the move saying his losses were “compensated” as the company had learnt “enough” from the episode.
The move now to partner Amazon seems to have stemmed from that learning.
Over the past month, the two have been trying to make joint plans, including in distribution, warehousing, and creating products for Amazon and its grocery format, Pantry. Also, Future group brands, including Big Bazaar, are being aligned with Amazon Now, which promises delivery of everyday essentials within two hours, suggest media reports.
A more serious handicap will be Amazon controlling Future Group’s data and customer relationships in the partnership. “In e-commerce, ownership of customer relationship and data, which offers consumer insights, is the real asset,” points out Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, a consulting firm focussed on retail and consumer products.
Vianello agrees: “When you have your own e-commerce venture, as Reliance Retail plans, you are the owner of the data and you can slice and dice it to come up with exciting product offerings and improved service experience.”
This is one of the advantages that RIL might have seen in going it alone.
“Reliance Retail has taken a more integrated approach towards e-commerce,” observed Dutta. “The company is set to leverage its pan-India retail presence and Reliance Jio’s (RIL’s telecom business) data capabilities to roll out an e-commerce platform,” explained Dutta.
The synergy between Reliance Jio and Reliance Retail is a big advantage. The retailer has about 10,000 stores across 6,500 towns in India, while Jio has a subscriber base of 306 million. After bringing many Indians online with Jio’s affordable data offerings, Reliance now hopes to get most of them to start shopping online as well.
The challenge, though, would be in getting the last-mile delivery right. “Reliance Retail could be at a disadvantage here compared to the Future Group, which has its delivery mechanism in place courtesy its partnership with Amazon,” suggested Vianello.
Moreover, like with Jio, consumers will expect heavy discounts from Reliance’s e-commerce venture as well, which may be difficult to sustain given the initial investments. “Biyani’s (online) launch involves lower upfront costs, while Reliance Retail’s will be resource hungry since it’s an almost greenfield project,” pointed out Pillai, adding, “Reliance’s challenge is the overwhelming perception about the group being a price warrior and disrupter.”
So, which strategy will triumph? Everything comes down to execution. “Success in retail, including e-commerce, is about more and more customers choosing to transact with you repeatedly. Achieving this is a difficult and ongoing process. There are no guaranteed or permanent winners,” says Dutta.
Do you have this feeling that 2018 went by a little too quickly? Well, however quick it seemed, it was certainly momentous for retail in India.
If 2016 was marked by the shock of demonetization, and 2017 by the pains of GST implementation, 2018 highlighted two threads – the obvious convergence of the online and offline world that had been ignored for far too long, and the interest of foreign capital in India’s consumer world.
Walmart bought India’s loss-making ecommerce leader for an eye-popping US$ 20.8 billion valuation, while ecommerce giant Amazon injecting equity into Shoppers Stop, bought Aditya Birla’s More grocery chain (49 per cent through a back-end entity), and held discussions with Future Group to acquire 9.5 per cent in Future Retail. There were rumours of a mega joint venture between Reliance Retail and China’s Alibaba, and media also reported Japan’s Softbank looking at ploughing US$200 million into Firstcry. Both rivals Amazon and Alibaba were reported to be looking at Spencer’s, one of India’s oldest retail chains currently owned by the RP-Sanjiv Goenka group.
Videos of the crush of curious crowds at India’s first, much anticipated Ikea went viral, and the company said it planned to open 40 locations over the next few years, upping its earlier projection of 25. Chinese retailer Miniso basically came out of nowhere and claimed to have clocked sales of ?700 crores in the very first year in the country.
But along with these cross-border “big bangs” we saw domestic confidence also quietly resurging. Indian retailers are not cowering before large foreign retailers and expensive ecommerce advertising splashes; today they are less defensive about their own prospects than they were two years ago. There is also a growing interest among entrepreneurs and corporates to create new retail businesses, which augers well for the diversity of competition and freshness of offerings in the market.
Going into 2019, one thing I can say with certainty is that the weather, economic and political – both in India and elsewhere – will be unpredictable, and might even turn stormy. Externally, retailers should “expect the unexpected”. To ensure that the business remains on track, however rough the track becomes, retailers must centre all major strategies and decisions on the customer. A theme that has been around for centuries, it is surprising how much it gets ignored in this most customer-facing business.
Retailers tend to divide customers into rigid segments. My suggestion would be to look at customers through the behaviour and experience lens and also recognise that the same customer behaves differently at different times and in different contexts – in effect there are no hard boundaries between “segments”.
It is often emphasised is that Indian consumers are “deal-seeking”. I don’t think we should treat this as a uniquely Indian thing: all consumers look for value-reassurance in unpredictable times and in uncertain conditions. Also remember that even in value-seeking, experience still rules. Retailers and brands that are solely focussing on price or price+feature comparisons are turning their business into a commodity. They are missing the long game: of defining the customer’s experience from the first moment of brand contact to the purchase and beyond.
In 2019, if you want to focus on a single competitive strategy, it would be this: for stickiness and sustainability, think about the customer’s experience, and actively design it, in every environment where the customer connects with you.
Lastly, technology is transformative, but tends to get restricted to being the contrast between ecommerce and physical retail. Indian retailers need to embrace technology in all forms, from using the zillions of transactions within the business and with the customer for developing actionable knowledge, to automating processes where unnecessary cost or time makes the business inefficient.
Having said that, keep the previous rule in mind when deploying at customer-facing technology – make customer-interfacing technology as invisible or intuitive as possible. When in doubt, learn from one of the leaders in the sector, Amazon: its 1-click ordering patent 20 years ago gave it a huge advantage over competitors, and it is now aiming to replicate the same seamless, friction-free behaviour physically with its Dash button. Or pick cues even from younger fashion businesses like Rebecca Minkoff, whose focus is on ease and convenience. The key reason for adopting technology is to remove friction for the customer and for processes that serve the customer.
I have no doubt that 2019 will be eventful – let the customer experience be the guiding light to keep our businesses off the rocks and afloat.
(Published in the Financial Express on 4 January 2019, under the title “Retail in 2019: Need for stronger brand-customer connections that go beyond purchase“)