Kiranas the “unsung heroes” of Covid-19 in India
During the pandemic, my family (and so many others we know) haven’t faced a shortage of any necessity, thanks to Mahavir stores our local kirana (corner) shop. Infact, many would attest to the fact that in addition to the front-liners that shone during Covid-19 relief apart from the doctors, nurses and support staff were our local “kirana stores” (corner shops). Due to the lockdown, most on-liners like Amazon, Flipkart, Swiggy, Big Basket & Grophers were hamstrung especially in the urban areas due to government restrictions on last mile delivery and people had no choice but to turn to their neighbourhood kiranawalas to get their stock of daily groceries and even some chocolates and ice cream for the kids.
According to Nielsen, India is home to about 12 million kiranas which generate close to 95% of the $650 billion food and grocery spend and they themselves have innovated in these stressful times. WhatsApp has been the main platform for innovation because of its ease of use and total simplicity – from issuing tokens to customers at home in order to maintain social distancing norms to generating “live order” lists and plan dispatch and “contactless delivery”, each kirana owner evolved his/her own playbook.
But the over-riding commendable factor was that none of them (at least a majority) didn’t indulge in price-manipulation and take advantage of the situation. This has to do with the relationship kirana owners share with their customers. It is one of an extended family member who is aware of what is happening in the family at all time – new births, weddings, favorite food brand, diet plan et al. They are on top of it.
Infact, a recent survey of 3000 people done by Velocity MR revealed that a two-third majority of the respondents found it “safe” to shop at kiranas compared to online shops during lockdown, an attribute which is at a serious premium during these truly exasperating times.
Brands are all praise for these heroes in their supply chain. Speaking to Brand Equity, Tata Consumer Products, MD & CEO – Sunil D’Souza credits the success to the connect and trust kirana stores have with their customers. He believes the element of “familiarity” has worked to their advantage in such uncertain times.
But unfortunately all is not well with the kirana ecosystem. A recent report in The Economic Times stated that leading consumer goods companies said over 600,000 kirana outlets may have closed during the lockdown, “hurt by a liquidity crunch or the return of owners to villages, and fear that most of them may not reopen.”
While the corona virus continues to spread unabated, we hope these champions of retail will find a solution to mitigate the effects of this pandemic and survive the onslaught of this truly unprecedented situation. Given their resilience and creativity, this is certainly not out of the realm of their ability. We hope the government will step in and do right by them.