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Home > Business > Special


Challenges of India's retail boom

Meenakshi Radhakrishnan-Swami | January 30, 2007

Andrew Levermore gestures impatiently to the bottle of mineral water on the table. It is clearly old stock - the brand recently rolled out its new look and colours in a high-decibel campaign. But it's not the vintage that is bothering the CEO of Hypercity, Mumbai's largest hypermarket.

"They changed the packaging a couple of months ago, but the bottles still don't have barcodes," Levermore shakes his head in disbelief. "A package makeover in 2006 - and no barcode."

Does it really matter? Perhaps not to the kirana or paan shops, which, admittedly, collectively sell more bottled water than the hypermarket, but a barcode is a critical business tool for organised retail, where it helps track products from the warehouse to store shelves and, finally, the checkout counter.

And when suppliers don't provide barcoded products, retailers need to print their own barcodes and then employ staff to stick them on every piece of merchandise. In a store like Hypercity, which carries 80,000-100,000 SKUs (stock-keeping units) at any given time, that means a lot of sticking.

It is also an indicator of the changes organised retail brings in its wake. For decades now, consumer goods companies have been used to delivering to India's proverbial "12 million kiranas" more or less on terms of their own choosing.

They are now finding that modern format retail doesn't operate along quite the same lines. In fact, it is so dramatically different, it is an entirely new business. "With the rise of organised retail, the balance of power shifts in favour of retailers," points out Jagdish Sheth, Charles H Kellstadt professor of marketing in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University.

What opportunities and challenges do organised retail present for consumer goods suppliers? And what strategic changes will help them do better business with giants like Wal-Mart, Reliance Fresh, Foodworld and Food Bazaar? the strategist takes a look.

The kiranas continue

First things first. The rise of organised retail does not mean the end of traditional retail. According to "Retail in India: getting organised to drive growth", a joint report by global management consultancy A T Kearney and the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Indian retail sector is valued at $320 billion (Rs 14,40,000 crore), of which organised retail accounts for a minuscule 6 per cent (Rs 86,400 crore or Rs 864 billion).

Of course, the latter's 35 per cent growth is multiple times the 7-8 per cent forecast for the sector as a whole: which is why Kearney forecasts organised retail will cross $100 billion by 2012. Even at that level, though, it will be far behind traditional retail. Most manufacturers understand that.

"For a very long time to come, the biggest chunk of business will be from general trade. The corner shop will not disappear," says V S Sitaram, executive director, consumer care division, Dabur India. Even modern format retailers agree.

"Microenterprise is the most adaptable retail entity in India. It will always remain relevant," points out Damodar Mall, president and CEO, foods business, Future Group.

Still, with the rise of modern retail outlets, the nature of shopping will change. While stock-up purchases (buying the month's groceries, for instance) are likely to move to the supermarkets and hypermarkets, top-ups (when you run out of, say, shampoo, in the middle of the month) will continue at local stores. That shift in buying habits has far-reaching consequences for consumer product companies.

What's in store

FMCG companies in India have had a fairly smooth run until now - given that the average kirana is 150-200 sq ft and has space for less than 1,000 SKUs, they didn't need to create endless product variations and extensions of the same brands.

Compare this with Barry Schwartz's list in his 2004 bestseller The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More, based on a visit to his local supermarket in the US:  285 types of cookies (21 options in chocolate chip alone), 95 different snacks, 360 shampoo types, 40 options for toothpaste, 275 varieties of breakfast cereal, 175 types of teabags.

Schwartz's supermarket was a "not particularly large store", but Indian consumer goods companies would struggle (and fail) to stock even that level of products (and remember, this book is three years old): Cadbury India has over 100 SKUs in two categories, Procter & Gamble sells over 320 SKUs across five categories, while Hindustan Lever has more than 700 SKUs in over 20 categories.

If hypermarket visitors are not to be confronted by acres of empty shelves, then, consumer goods companies will have to expand their portfolios substantially. "The sheer number of SKUs will rise because of the capability to stock a wider and deeper assortment of products," agrees Sachin Gopal, sales director, Procter & Gamble India.

It is not just numbers, of course. Modern format retail offers suppliers a chance to sell assortments of products, in different sizes and different bundling options: soaps in threes and sixes, bigger (2 kg and more) sacks of detergent or a variety pack of soup mixes, for instance, rather than the single packs seen in general trade.

Planned properly, consumer goods companies can take advantage of different shopping habits at different shopping formats. "What we stock in a hypermarket is different from what we stock at a petrol pump shop. A convenience store does not need supervalue packs," agrees Sunil Sethi, director, sales and customer development, Cadbury India.

Big packs and varying SKUs is just one angle to the product strategy. Unlike traditional outlets, where space and ambience are serious constraints, modern format stores also provide an ideal environment for FMCG companies to initiate product trials and launch premium or niche products. In mid-2006, for instance, Dabur India launched a 400 gram squeeze pack of Dabur Honey only through modern format stores.

In the past year or so, the company has also launched two variants of its chyawanprash, a sugar-free version and another that claims to combat stress - both were launched in modern format stores where the target customer is likely to shop and, perhaps more importantly, is willing to pay the 30 per cent premium these products charge over regular chyawanprash. "It is probably easier to sell such concepts through the organised retail route," agrees Sitaram.

While organised retail provides brands much-needed visibility and platform for customer-interaction (more on that later), manufacturers also need to make some changes to packaging to bring their products in line with the requirements of modern retail and its customers.

"Manufacturers will have to cede part ownership of the brand to retailers," says Raman Mangalorkar, head, consumer and retail practice, A T Kearney. That means complying not just with the requirement, but also ensuring expiry dates are prominently displayed, as is nutritional information and ingredient lists.

The distribution dilemma

Modern trade operates to a completely different set of rules. Given its superior bargaining power, it can negotiate better margins, wider product ranges and more frequent, speedier deliveries.

For manufacturers, then, it makes sense to have a separate team servicing these outlets, working full-time to ensure both parties profit equally from the transactions.

One way of doing that is by persuading retailers to route their purchases through suppliers' existing distribution networks. That's because for the supplier, selling directly to the retailer works only if the order size is large enough.

To their credit, most large retailers are willing to accept such an arrangement. Their only condition: orders must be filled on time. Modern stores maintain lower inventories than traditional retail - nine days for Hypercity and under two weeks for Food Bazaar, compared to over three weeks for most kiranas - and losses due to a stockout are far more significant, for both the manufacturer and the retailer.

Retail analysts say on-time order replenishments will become even more critical once the Wal-Mart/ Bharti combine begins operations - the American retailer works almost entirely on cross-docking and is likely to demand higher service levels, including potential levies for delays in shipment.

Meanwhile, manufacturers have to also keep their traditional distributors satisfied - a tough task, considering they offer modern trade more concessions and better promotions than their general trade partners.

Hindustan Lever is working around that by involving family grocers, chemists and wholesalers in custom-made programmes that offer them targeted promotions, value deals and also build relationships through training sessions, newsletters and meetings. "General trade will continue to be the focus of all FMCG companies that want to grow," says a company spokesman.

For its part, Cadbury India has changed the rules for all its customers (retailers). It has created a menu-based approach - issues covered include prompt payment, efficiency and business building initiatives - that is common to all retailers, big and small.

A couple of years ago, it also started the Purple Star programme for traditional retailers, where it tailors promotions and schemes for selected stores. "There is no differential treatment between retailers," says Sethi.

Jo dikhta hai, woh bikta hai

The earlier approach to marketing was simple enough: make sure the product is visible - on store shelves and through mass media advertising - and it will more or less sell itself. With the evolution of modern retail, though, the emphasis is shifting to in-store displays and promotions - probably also because for the first time, the space for such initiatives is available.

But manufacturers no longer have the last word on what will happen at the store. "Modern trade has a significant say in promotions, perhaps because it offers far superior results with a much faster lead time," says Future Group's Mall.

Cadbury India's Sethi points out that retailers are more open to brand promotions and displays - including posters, gondolas and danglers - when manufacturers back up their ideas with shopper insights. "There will be a shift from traditional media to increased communication at the point of purchase," he says.

Initiatives that help grow the category as a whole are particularly welcome, say analysts, since that boosts the retailers' revenue. And many FMCG companies are predicting that spends on promotion, in-store and point of purchase displays will increase significantly from the present 20-30 per cent share of the marketing budget.

Consumer goods companies need to make several changes - in strategy and in attitude - if they are to achieve the same level of success with organised retail as they have with traditional formats. Printing barcodes on their products would probably be a good place to start.


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