The kirana apocalypse - that dreaded wipe-out by e-tail of your friendly neighbourhood grocery store - never took place. And now, probably, never will. With barely 3 per cent share of India's $795 billion retail market after plodding through two decades, e-tail hardly turned out the kirana killer it was made out to be.
Call him Lala, Pansari, Parchun or grocery, your neighbourhood kirana - the equivalent of American mom-and-pop stores - has not just survived but flourished. Now he's the centre of attraction as e-tail and consumer firms realise that "If you can't beat them, join 'em".
In our cover story this week, some of India's consumer giants, including HUL, Reliance Retail, Amazon and Walmart-Flipkart, are vying with each other for the kirana's undivided attention. They are getting kiranas on-board their apps or tech networks so that their deep knowledge of the customer's needs and tastes could be leveraged for mutual benefit.
The latter have acted coy so far. Barely 2-3 million of India's 12 million kiranas have been hooked up. Not everybody on-board is using the apps regularly either. But better sense may be prevailing. After all, the suitors have worked out a proposition they can't refuse. It adds to their income, manages their inventory, eases their compliance headaches and even digitises their payments. Who would refuse a bit of pocket money coming their way? Read Ajita Shashidhar's account of how consumer firms and e-tail giants are reinventing India's kiranas (page 20).
In yet another noteworthy trend far away from retail, Surgeon Robots are taking the world of healthcare by storm. Some of the world's most complex and precision surgeries are being entrusted with what is fast becoming an army of surgeon robots, the doctor-robot duo. One out of every 10 surgeries in the US is being performed by this combo. There are more than 600 trained robot surgeons in India. Success rates are high and repeat surgeries are very rare. P.B. Jayakumar takes you through robotic surgery (page 66).
Meanwhile, there's a redux at Infosys. The allegations against Infosys CEO Salil Parekh and CFO Nilanjan Roy are similar - and more - to those against the previous CEO Vishal Sikka. They point at a deeper malaise. Does the firm have the right checks and balances? Does it have the right processes? Can it match up to the exacting stands of governance set by founders N.R. Narayana Murthy and Nandan Nilekani? It would be hard for Parekh and Roy to continue if there's even an iota of truth in the allegations of ethics and dressing up accounts. Rukmini Rao and Goutam Das analyse the charges (page 56).
The negotiations for what could potentially be the world's largest trade bloc - the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - are in full flow. Agreement has been reached in 21 of the 25 areas. India is rightly dragging its feet on the rest for fear of flooding the domestic market. This has totally polarised the narrative between exporters who are all for it, and the domestic players who are opposing RCEP vehemently. Joe C. Mathew explains why India dithers on RCEP and what are the odds of a deal (page 46) .
Continuing with our promise of a deep dive into a sector every month, read Manu Kaushik-led sector report on why the aviation industry continues to face headwinds (page 78).