Local businesses, Digital Approach
Ours is a country of small businesses. Contrary to what we see in a lot of other nations, India is as diverse in its business structures, as it is in languages and cultures. That essentially means there a lot of players competing in any field. However, traditionally, there has been plenty of room for all and although competition might be a factor, everyone attempting to provide a service has had a fair share of opportunity, be it due to the sheer market size or due to specific needs of different segments. So, even a new player in an already crowded space could create a customer base for themselves, either by providing a slightly different value or by catering to a specific segment of the population.
That, however, has changed with the advent of the digital age. Online stores that were launched by large businesses or even newly formed innovative companies have taken the market by storm. Customers who were largely dependent on local businesses that sourced goods from far flung sources now suddenly didn’t seem to provide as much value, as the same products were now available with one or the other online store. The consumer, always touted as the King, now started getting an even more royal treatment by way of convenience of having products shipped to their doorstep. Small, local businesses suddenly started becoming more of a spectator to products being shipped around. Although there was a lot of living-in-denial initially, we could gradually see small retail store owners acknowledging the impact of the online retail revolution.
Enter the aggregators, the scenario seemed to change a bit again as some of the small businesses suddenly got a platform to reach customers erstwhile beyond their own geographical reach. It seemed like time for celebrations as there was a significant step-up in business due to the sudden availability of a much larger market. The challenges that showed up were in the form of the customer becoming more and more choosy and less accommodating, due to the plethora of options given to them. The aggregation platforms thus provided seemingly equal opportunity to all, but very little dependability in terms of long term stability due to the constant flurry of ‘options’ in the same segment. Even if the customer returned to the same aggregator, they seldom knowingly return to the same seller on the platform.
Add to all of this the chaos due to the loads of multiple aggregators, customers are now also starting to feel exhaustion from going through excessive comparisons and yet not being certain about the dependability of a the service being provided as the seller is rarely known to you on an aggregation platform. We’ve almost heard some folks sigh out at the memory of simpler times when they would walk into a local store, knowing it was the only option they had and being content with what they got from there.
So, what would happen if a local business starts providing the same convenience as large online stores, but also provide the face-to-the-name advantage? It’s not surprising that users seem ready to give these guys a shot and find comfort in the face of having convenience with proven dependability and, needless to say, the added benefit of being able to give a shout out to a fellow human when you really need to draw away the digital curtain from in between.
We see a steady surge in local businesses adopting technology to, once again, engage their customers and recover their partially lost loyalty. These businesses are in different spaces, from grocery to food kitchens and farm produce to spices. SGT Agro Fresh and VegMart, for example, deliver fresh farm produce to their (increasingly loyal) customers. MangoMango deliver the choicest of seasonal fruits, including the king - Mango, to their die hard fans in and around Pune. Lobhster delivers lip smacking food to their patrons in West Pune. Millets and More deliver high quality Organic produce to their consistently growing customer base. Mothers Pantree are carrying on their rich tradition of carefully ground spices to connoisseurs of flavor in Aurangabad. These businesses are not only leveraging technology, but also staying true to their inherent nature of catering to specific needs of the region rather than providing a blanket solution to all.
A while ago, it would have been rather difficult, if not unthinkable, for businesses with a moderate technology budget to engage their customers digitally without losing their identity on a crowded platform. But today, platforms like vendorZApp make it a snap for any business who is looking to take their service to the next level, while not only retaining, but also enhancing their identity in their locality.
Customers too seem to be welcoming this approach, as they now get the best of both worlds, with their favourite stores and local providers offering the same convenience of large online platforms. Seems there’s a chance that we, as a country, still retain our diversity, while embracing the digital change, without letting go of local identities. This is who we always were. The land that has room for all and more importantly, a need for one and all, albeit in their own context. The business life is turning a full digital circle then, isn’t it!