The Indian retail sector today is in a state of flux as the industry continues to evolve. The rise of digitization as a catalyst for disruption has prompted players within the sector to initiate policies that enable the integration of digital technologies in the pursuit of ever-growing profit margins. While the Indian scenario continues to move closer to mirroring its global counterparts, one set of retailers have resisted the all-out push for digitization: owners of kirana stores.
Kirana stores have long been an integral part of the retail fabric in India, currently accounting for almost 90% of FMCG sales. These sales, driven out of the 12 million kirana stores in the country, clearly indicate the status of these stores as barometers of the Indian retail sector as a whole. While they have long enjoyed the prime position in the market, the entry of larger private organizations has led to a need to adapt to changing scenarios. Kirana stores intrinsically possess the advantage of low real estate needs when compared to newer competitors due to their established position in the market; they must however, look to expand their functioning in order to remain competitive. Digital technologies offer kirana stores an avenue that enables them to retain their core capabilities while helping them compete with new entrants in the market.
Local hearts beat for kirana stores
Historically, the primary advantage that kirana stores have held within the sector has been an extensive level of local knowledge. This knowledge has been accumulated over the course of the transactions conducted across decades, thereby attributing not only an economic but a social value to these stores. The direct consequence of the attribution of this value is the creation of a loyal customer base, as opposed to the constant requirement for newer players to build and maintain a customer base. This allows kirana stores to focus on delivering quality service that is customizable at an individual level, an advantage that can be used to drive future sales merely through the maintenance rather than innovation of efforts. Additionally, this level of local knowledge also allows kirana stores owners to manage their inventory more easily as they are aware of which items need to be stocked based on the locality within which they operate. Despite these advantages, however, kirana store owners today must still contend with the need to acquire new customers in order to continue competing in a more dynamic retail space.
Expansion and sustenance through technology
Customer acquisition among a digital-native audience is the foremost challenge that kirana stores face today. They have, however, found avenues to combine technology with their core aspect of human relations to solve this challenge. Innovations like cloud technology allow them to attract newer customers by upgrading the shopping experience during the billing process through the use of LED screens. These screens allow kirana stores to display ads for FMCG products while at the checkout counter, performing the double function of informing the customer of deals and products while also adding a more attractive element to the store itself. Along with attracting new customers, the older, most established clientele also benefit from this digital integration, with the additional services representing a reward of sorts for their continued loyalty to the store. At the backend, technology also makes inventory management simpler for kirana store owners, allowing them to combine their own extensive customer-specific knowledge with data-driven insights to improve their services.
As digital technologies continue to gain ground in the industry, multiple sectors are looking to adapt to the disruption caused in various ways. The Indian retail space has undergone many changes in the recent past and the centrality of kirana stores is now being challenged with the entry of larger retail firms. Kirana stores, however, still hold the advantage of sustained human relations which allows them to continue competing in a technology-oriented world. The future of kirana stores, hence, lies in successful integration between these two worlds to ensure that customer experiences continue to take priority along with the progression of profit margins.