Still nascent & novel, but growing number say these can be made to fill a modern need, profitably.
The internet hosts a growing number of websites offering delivery of fruits, vegetables and grocery at the click of a few buttons. Apart from easy purchase and delivery, they also offer special discounts and gifts to customers.
Both traditional players and modern stores says this isn’t much competition, they have a loyal customer base and internet penetration in India is not high. Even online stores say their customers use options such as telephone calls much more than the internet.
Online players say once foreign direct investment is allowed in multi-brand retail, these chains would also target customers online. Before that happens, they hope to have entrenched themselves.
The story began in 2009, when Akrosh Sharma, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, decided to launch an online vegetable store in Surat after running a vegetable retail business for a couple of years. He endeavoured to create a website with an online mandi, where one could ‘see’ the fresh vegetables, check prices and place orders. After this, several websites cropped up, creating a distinct space for themselves.
PULL & PUSH
According to Seema Dholi, head of Farm2kitchen.com, “People lead a very busy life in metros. Even on weekends, office-goers find it irritating to throng crowded mandis or even malls. Our mission is to assist customers in saving time from daily visits to the grocery and spend more time with the family.” It delivers only to customers in Gurgaon, with draws such as special food items for pregnant women in their list.
Some of the more popular sites such as FandV.in , sabzi.in, vegoncall.com, belivefresh.com, and freshsubzi.com offer transferable gift certificates and gift packing services. Sabzi.in (based in Thane, Maharashtra) has dry fruits and frozen products in its list of items and also offers popular Indian recipes to users. There are special gifts for referring the site to friends, apart from facilities like ‘free home delivery’ and ‘money back guarantee’. Freshsubzi. com caters to South Delhi and operates through both the internet and a call-for-delivery mechanism.
Would the regular wholesale markets get affected? Rajendra Sharma, general secretary of the Azadpur Mandi, says, “We do not get affected by these online mandis. We have a loyal customer base. And, how many people even access the internet, leave alone purchasing things online? New entrants in this field are welcome to go on with their business.”
Agrees Shakuntala Sarkar of Spencer’s Retail, “We don’t think the *’online stores’ are a competition. In any case, apart from what we sell, our service and the experience of visiting our store makes us distinct from all online portals.”
Says Pappu, an ordinary vegetable vendor at Ghaziabad: “Customers (at these online stores) cannot bargain. Though I do not have hi-fi facilities and world-class vegetables, mine are more or less good. Customers can pick and choose, which is absent in online portals.”
Gaurav Chamaria of freshsubzi.com says several options are available online. People use the internet for a range of services, so the online mandi concept came naturally. Retail customers and farmers are catered to by them. Also, most people in this field are MBA graduates or chartered accountants, who understand consumer needs and behaviour. “Most of our team members are highly qualified, he says.
He adds such a business is very difficult to manage. “Several leading companies tried to foray into this field but failed,” he noted.
Portals such as aaramshop.com point to other pluses. It ties up with several stores in New Delhi/Noida, each given the status of an ‘aaramshop’ . A customer logs on and locates one near his house. Next, he/she orders the list of items needed and fixes the appropriate delivery date and time. Cash on delivery is used and there are no additional costs. According to Aditi Gandhi, who is associated with aaramshop.com, “This portal helps save time from daily purchasing. In stores like Big Bazaar, one has a tendency to buy unnecessary things. Our portal saves both time and hard-earned money of professionals. Weekends can be optimally utilised due to the existence of portals like ours.”
According to some players, customers are still wary of online purchases. Chamaria says in spite of the popularity of the internet, 80-90 per cent of sales come through the telephone. “Female customers, especially, have strict specifications on the colour, size and quality of the fruit/vegetable. These concerns can be addressed only through personalised services through the phone,” he admits. Freshsubzi.com is one of the few that provide dual-services of e-orders and orders through the phone.
Reaching internet-friendly users is crucial for these companies. Dholi of farm2kitchen says her company was among the first to market products on Facebook. “Today’s generation spends most of their time on social networking sites. Therefore, we decided to target such users, who could comfortably make their daily purchases with chatting or playing games,” she added.
Gandhi of aaramshop, also on Facebook, agrees. “Since it offers a variety of products and is integrated to the local kirana store, users can buy grocery without having to worry about the quality,” she says.
In spite of low internet connectivity (6.9 per cent penetration rate in 2010), sites like these continue to be on the rise due to the paucity of time among today’s professionals. Says Dholi: “This is the age of ‘social-shopping’, where people do not want to waste time when something can be made available in the comfort of their home. This is the factor which provided such a huge market base for websites like ours in India.”