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The race to digitize neighborhood stores in India and Indonesia (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Avanish Tiwary and Khamila Mulia Published on 

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Small neighborhood stores are integral part of the economy of both developing nations, and tech firms are stepping in to provide additional services.

Located in a residential suburb of South Jakarta, Indonesia, Ita Wahyuna has been operating a small grocery shop in the garage of her house for over a decade. Wahyuna sells goods like cooking oil, sugar, snacks, and sweets, as well as stationery and cleaning supplies.

A year ago, Wahyuna joined a program named Mitra Bukalapak that was launched by Indonesian unicorn Bukalapak, and started to sell digital products like phone credit top-ups and utility bill payments. This partnership has opened up an additional channel of income, and it gave her the opportunity to purchase groceries from Bukalapak’s distributors at slightly lower prices for her kiosk, she said to KrASIA.

“I was reluctant [to join] at the beginning because I wasn’t very familiar with complicated mobile apps and I didn’t understand how this thing works. But after a year, I started to see an increase in transaction volume and income, mainly because of the new digital products,” she said.

A handful of startups in Indonesia such as Bukalapak, Warung Pintar, and GrabKios by Kudo, among others, are launching similar programs to digitize neighborhood shops, known locally as warungs, which are ubiquitous in the country.

The phenomenon of family-owned neighborhood stores is also integral to India, where a similar business strategy to digitize small shops has been picking up steam in the last few years. Much like how warungs are an essential part of Indonesian society, their Indian counterparts, kiranas, are the backbone of India’s everyday grocery supply, with companies like Amazon, Reliance’s JioMart, and Flipkart vying to get a slice of this market.

It is estimated that there are over 15 million kiranas in India, and 3.5 million warungs in Indonesia. Moreover, warungs carry around 70% to Indonesia’s fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) retail transactions, according to a report by Hong Kong-based investment group CSLA.

“Almost 60–65% of our household expenses [in India] go into food and grocery items. This is the market everyone wants to capture. The way kirana shops are located benefits everyone for people’s daily purchases. And this phenomenon is true for other developing markets like Indonesia as well,” Satish Meena, a senior forecast analyst at Forrester, told KrASIA.

Small but resilient

The reason tech companies are trying to rope in these mom-and-pop stores is because of their high participation in both country’s economies. According to a Nielsen report published in 2018, sales of FMCG retail in Indonesia reached IDR 700 trillion (USD 47.5 billion), with warungs facilitating around 72% of those transactions. In India, small stores are also essential for everyday purchases, as only 10% of the retail market size of around USD 600–700 billion is managed by major retail companies, according to Meena.

Also, small shops owners can give tech companies useful insights about customers’ buying patterns, favorite brands, and products, as they usually establish a close relationship with customers.

“While kirana shop owners are the most hard-working people, their level of intimacy with customers is unparalleled. This is why so many tech companies are trying to find out ways to work with them and leverage their network,” Ashish Jhina, co-founder of wholesale and food grocery platform Jumbotail, told KrASIA.

Similar to Mitra Bukalapak in Indonesia, Bengaluru-based Jumbotail provides kirana owners with an app where they can order products directly from manufacturers, without having to leave the shop, Jhina explained. “We have simplified how kiranas buy products. Before, they had to shut their shops and go to the wholesale market every two weeks to stock products. Now they can choose from thousands of stocks, discover new products, and get them delivered the next day,” he added. The app also helps store owners with managing their inventory.

According to Bukalapak’s senior vice president, Howard Gani, the Mitra Bukalapak platform is used by warung partners to purchase wholesale products as well as to sell various kinds of virtual products online. But that’s not all. Powered by tech, warungs are now also acting as “banking agents” for customers by providing services such as small loans, fund transfer, gold savings, and Hajj savings plans, Gani explained.

“Moreover, we also partner with Google My Business, allowing registered warungs to appear in Google search results, including Google Maps, so they have better visibility in the online realm. We hope that these value-added services can increase the competitiveness of warungs in today’s modern retail,” he told KrASIA.

After joining the Bukalapak network, warungs can increase their revenues by 15–20% on average, according to Gani. Wahyuna, for example, gets a small commission every time a customer makes a phone credit top-up via Mitra Bukalapak. Only in July 2020, the number of warungs registered on Mitra Bukalapak app has tripled from the previous month, he revealed, adding that the opportunity to digitize traditional kiosks is still huge in Indonesia.

“Indonesia has around 60 million micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), 66% of them are unbanked, and only 16% have adopted digital services. Most brick-and-mortar shops still depend on cash and have limited access to supplies or inventories which hinder their business development. This potential is what drives us to continually add more services to benefit both warung partners and their customers,” he said.

Other tech platforms such as GrabKios, Tokopedia, Warung Pintar, Ula, and Gudang Ada have been also helping shop owners in Indonesia to connect with FMCG distributors, allowing them to get more diverse products at lower prices, therefore increasing their income margin. Similarly in India, companies like Udaan, ShopX, and Jumbotail connect small stores with manufacturers as well as wholesalers.

According to Meena from Forrester, small format retail shops in developing countries such as India and Indonesia are largely unorganized, which gives a lot of scope for development, changes, and technology adoption. Startups are helping to solve common problems such as inconvenience in procurement, inventory management, and adoption of digital payments.

“Startups see a huge potential in this market and the way to be a part of it is to offer store owners tech-led services, to begin with. Then, tech companies can monetize with a mix of credit services, supply chain management, and a portion of the revenues that will also come from direct customers,” he explained.

A kirana in Bengaluru that works with Amazon. Photo credit: Avanish Tiwary.

Different digitization methods

The digitization of mom-and-pop stores in India and Indonesia allows shop owners to earn extra incomes while providing additional services to stores customers.

In India, PhonePe has a network of over 500,000 neighborhood stores providing ATM services for its users, who can go to kirana stores and transfer the amount of money they need to the store owner’s PhonePe account and collect cash in return.

“It helps merchants avoid the hassle of storing cash and making multiple trips to the bank branch to deposit their extra cash. Additionally, this new launch will also drive more footfalls for our merchant partners,” Vivek Lohcheb, head of offline business development at PhonePe, told KrASIA.

Another service that is taking over in Indonesian warungs are cashless payment and pay later options, supported by mobile wallet platforms such as GoPay, Ovo, LinkAja, and Dana. Kiranas in India are also implementing QR codes to accept payments via mobile, supported by fintech behemoths such as Paytm, Google Pay, and Flipkart-owned payment arm PhonePe.

Since warungs and kiranas owners usually establish a close relationship with their customers, selling goods on credit is a common practice. Traditionally, the shop owner would write down the names of debtors and the amount of money to be paid in a physical ledger, but recently, startups like BukuKas and BukuWarung in Indonesia, and Khatabook and OkCredit in India, are also digitizing this process through their apps.

According to Ravish Naresh, co-founder of Khatabook, kirana shop owners can spend one to two hours every day to tally up sales that were based on credit. By using the app, owners can digitally keep track of these credit purchases and send debtors payment reminders via WhatsApp, while they can also collect payments online.

Read this: Our India investment strategy is similar to Southeast Asia | GGV’s Hans Tung

Apart from providing tools to automate and digitize small shops services, tech startups are also collaborating with warungs and kiranas in several other ways. For Instance, in Indonesia, ride-hailing giant Grab, through its GrabKios business unit, uses warungs to allow new drivers to register as driver-partners with the platform, while in India, Bengaluru-based two-wheeler rental startup Bounce allows its users to charge electric scooters at kiranas.

On the other hand, Amazon has been partnering with Indian shops, turning kiranas into service points for Amazon’s products in last-mile deliveries for the neighborhood, under a program called “I Have Space” that has brought on board over 20,000 stores to act as mini-inventory spaces. What’s more, staff employed at these kiranas can work as delivery partners for Amazon during their free time. Amazon pays monthly rent to stores that store its shipments and pays a commission to “improvised” delivery agents.

Bengaluru-based hyperlocal delivery company Shadowfax, in which Flipkart invested USD 60 million in December last year, also uses neighborhood shops as collection points, where customers can walk in to collect their e-commerce purchases.

Kirana stores are very useful as collection and return points by hyperlocal communities to ease last-mile delivery. This activation has provided additional income to kirana stores. Adapting to technology and digital requirements of the end consumers and suppliers is something that cannot be ignored if one wants to stay relevant and to thrive in this ecosystem,” said Vasudevan Chinnathambi, co-founder of B2B platform for vegetables and fruit, Ninjacart.

Meena explained that that the digitization of small grocery shops is going through a “hyper experiment phase” in developing countries like India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, and others. “We will see a lot of startups working with them (shop owners) in different capacities, to begin with. It will take some time before a solid model evolves. It’s yet to be seen what will work and what won’t,” he said.

In the second part of this series, read about the revenue models of startups working with family-owned small retailers, and know more about the growing investors’ interest in the market.

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