The Politics of Organized Retail

Devangshu Dutta

March 4, 2008

Recently there was some discussion online about the so-called “politics of organized retailing” in India (on Retailwire).

I believe these are no different from the politics of anything else. There are interest-groups and pressure-groups with different objectives, who pull-and-push economic and regulatory policy with varying degrees of success. In that, India is no different from any other country, whether the US or China.

After China began opening up its economy in 1979, it took more than a decade for it to begin allowing foreign retailers to enter the market, and it was not before domestic retailers were given time to scale up.

Even in the US of current times, there are places where the community would be up in arms at the slightest whiff of a Wal-Mart store proposal.

Even in the UK, the Competition Commission is preparing a report on how retail consolidation is affecting the sector and the consumer.

So the answer to the question about “the politics of organized retail” is: yes, there is politics involved, and if you are an interested party then there is no option but to be part of the politics.

While on the issue about opportunities in the Indian market, I’m reminded of a couple of conversations, one with a client and another with an associate, who compared the Indian market to the US and the UK, respectively, in the 1970s.

My response to them, and to the question above, is: yes, there is tremendous opportunity in India now, as there was in those markets in the 1970s. Yes, in parts the market, the distribution structure etc. may remind you of the US and the UK in the 1970s. But to assume that it will play out the same way would be dangerous.

There are many other cultural, economic and social factors, apart from the infrastructure, to take into account.

My advice to international brands and retailers is as always: approach India as India in the 2008, don’t approach it as the US in the 1970s. Or as China, Brazil or Mexico.

Some pointers that may be interesting: “Slicing the Market” and other articles available elsewhere on the Third Eyesight website.