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The e-grocery market has seen the emergence of new-age, hyperlocal players, each outmaneuvering the other in terms of delivery timelines. Vaishnavi Gupta asks experts if online and offline grocery retailers ought to worry as quick commerce companies like Dunzo, Zepto and Blinkit, which promise delivery in a matter of minutes, get in the fast lane.

‘Impulse purchases small fraction of total purchases’

Alagu Balaraman, CEO, Augmented SCM

Customers normally plan bulk purchases and prefer to get them out of the way. So, fewer orders are more convenient. Customers also like to browse for new brands and packs. So, it is likely that a 10-minute delivery will be useful for impulse purchases or emergencies. This accounts for a small fraction of the total purchase basket of the customer. Servicing small orders will raise the unit delivery cost per item. Initially, this might be funded by investors, but eventually, the customer will pay. Or will they?

From a sustainability perspective, the “oops I forgot” or “I want it now” style of purchase is counter to the green style of the new generation. Having small orders transported to doorsteps will substantially damage our collective carbon footprint and aggravate climate change issues. We have seen this excitement over hyperlocal delivery companies before — first in 2015 and again in 2018. Most have retreated on plans or have allowed themselves to be acquired at presumably modest valuations.

‘E-grocery profitability a major challenge’

Rajat Wahi, Partner, Deloitte India

The majority (around 85%) of the grocery sales are done through the 10-12 million kirana/ mom-and-pop stores spread across India; 8-10% sales happen through modern retail chains; while online sales account for less than 3% of the total grocery sales today. Online grocers need to surpass the services that end customers demand — such as products to suit local tastes, sales credit, instant delivery on orders via phone or WhatsApp, small orders with no minimums, personal touch, returns and exchange — which is being done at a very low cost and margin by the kirana stores.

This is a tall order for e-grocery players. They are tying up with kiranas for last mile order fulfilment and delivery, offering a differentiated range of products, and better value using their EDLP (every day, low price) model, focussing on fresh meats through a better cold chain, offering credit and discounts, and more. Unless we see a major consolidation of retail in the coming years, building a successful and profitable e-grocery business will continue to be a major challenge.

‘Knowing your customer’s needs is key’

Devangshu Dutta, Founder, Third Eyesight

The answer to various questions around the e-grocery space in India lies in how you respond to this one question: if grocery is delivered tomorrow instead of in 10 minutes or even on the same day, who cares? Knowing the customer you are targetting, and what they need, is what helps in crystallising a unique value proposition. The online grocery market is made up of diverse customers with diverse needs/ wants. There’s a whole spectrum from digital natives to those for whom shopping online is an add-on for specific products or specific needs. Figuratively speaking, most customers won’t put all their grocery eggs in one basket.

If ‘authoritative selection’ is the value proposition you want to play off, a hyperlocal infrastructure is virtually impossible to create. On the other hand, if hyperfast, hyperlocality is what your customer is after, then product selection must be strictly narrow. Time-criticality is also determined by the nature of the product. Fresh produce that is ordered regularly and frequently won’t shift en masse to a hyperfast website.

Read Also: E-commerce trends in 2022 – What the future holds

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