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How COVID-19 led to retail startups reinventing themselves

Start-ups such as Near.Store, Store Se and WoW! Momos capitalised on the situation and quickly tweaked their business model to become grocery delivery platforms

twitter-logoAjita Shashidhar | June 24, 2020 | Updated 08:17 IST
How COVID-19 led to retail startups reinventing themselves

The coronavirus lockdown has seen a surge in online grocery shopping. However, its not online grocers such as BigBasket or Grofers which came to consumer's rescue during this crisis, but it was the neighbourhood grocer which enabled consumers to order through WhatsApp. Food aggregators such as Swiggy and Zomato, who were already experimenting with grocery delivery, also rose to the occasion by quickly partnering with leading FMCG companies as well as local stores. Apart from these stakeholders, there was the start-up ecosystem such as Near.Store, Store Se and WoW! Momos which capitalised on the situation and quickly tweaked their business model to become grocery delivery platforms.

While Near.Store and Store Se enable retailers, especially kirana stores, to have an online presence, WoW! Momo, with 345 stores is a reasonably well-known brand which specialises in Tibetan food. The lockdown for all the three businesses posed an existential crisis as their business came to a halt and they had little option but to innovate in order to stay afloat. Near.Store set up its ecommerce marketplace where it  has listed modern retail brands such as Epigamia, ID Foods, Raw Pressery, as well as national brands such as Cadbury and Marico. Through out the lockdown it has been aggregating orders for these brands across 200 housing societies in Mumbai, and the orders are fulfilled by the brands themselves. It has also been picking up products directly from the warehouses of these brands and delivering directly to consumers homes.

"In the last 60 days, we have built an e-commerce web site, built a delivery network, we have also  partnered with delivery service providers," says Ashish Kumar, Co-Founder, Near.Store. Similarly, Store Se also has created a model wherein it has started facilitating hyper local grocery delivery.

WoW! Momo Co-Founder, Sagar Daryani, says that out of its 2,700 employees, it could utilise only 735 for food delivery and the challenge was how to utilise its other employees and real estate assets better to take up the cash flows and enhance the business. "Out of our 345 stores, only 63 were operational for delivery," he says. Daryani realised that there was an opportunity in real time grocery delivery as the likes of BigBasket were unable to cater to the demand. Daryani converted his restaurants into dark grocery warehouses and started his grocery delivery service WoW! Momo Essentials. WoW! Momo Essentials is listed on platforms such as Swiggy and Zomato and promises delivery within an hour of placing an order.

"It contributed to 50 per cent of our revenue in the month of May. In April we did Rs 2.5 crore topline, compared to a Rs 16 crore topline in February. In May we touched Rs 5 crore toplline because of WoW! Momo Essentials. That's how the curve has become better, it helps us to get more sales and revenue happening," explains Daryani.

In order to prevent blocking of it's working capital, Wow! Momo Essentials buys products from brands on a consignment basis. "Conserving cash was important, so we got products on a credit period as well as consignment basis. If any product is not selling between 21 days to a month, we return it back," explains Daryani.

Do Near.Store, Store Se or WoW! Momo look at online grocery as a long-term business? Abhinav Pathak, Co-Founder and CEO, Store Se isnt too sure about being in this business for the long term. "It looks like things are getting back to normal. If its getting back to normal, then kiranas would start getting footfalls and it wont make sense to be in the delivery business."

Daryani of Wow! Momos agrees that their per day deliveries have come down from 3,000 to 2,000. "This is not a full time arrangement for us, as stores open, I don't see people coming to a WoW! Momo Essentials to purchase on a daily basis. However, we will keep Wow! Momo Essentials and tweak it to WoW! Momo Select." The idea is offer niche products like organic food, which isn't easily available on shop shelves.

Kumar of Near.Store says he doesnt want to be in the direct to customer business. "We want to continue our journey with the kiranas," says Kumar. He however plans to list many of the niche food brands on the virtual platforms of the kirana stores. "If a customer orders for these products, we will give the kirana store owner a share of the margin as well. Its an incentive for him to work with us."

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