After moving to Mahalakshmi Layout with her family, a few months ago, Lakshmi Teeka, 32, found that there weren’t too many grocery stores in her neighbourhood. At supermarkets, she had to wait in line to pay the bill and checkout. Her friends introduced her to Town Essentials (towness.com), an online grocery shopping website that takes orders online and delivers groceries home. “I could do shopping at 12 am in the night and didn’t have to wait in line anymore. The prices too are on par with wholesale prices so I began to order all my groceries including vegetables and fruits this way,” says Lakshmi.
Browsing groceries is just a click away as several online websites have begun offering home-delivery of groceries. Town Essentials and At My Doorsteps are two such websites that deliver in the city. The virtual shops sell everything from cereals to spices and dairy to instant mixes.
E-tailing (a portmanteau of electronic and retail) is not a new phenomenon. In 1999, K Vaitheeswaran started India’s first online departmental store, Indiaplaza, in Bangalore and in 2002 took the operations offline and opened a grocery store near Koramangla. The company was eventually acquired by Aditya Birla Group in 2006 and re-branded as More chain of grocery outlets.
Ordering online on most websites is fairly simple. After registering on the website (you need to enter basic details and the address you want the products to be shipped to), one can browse through the product list and add the products to the cart. The items on the cart can then be reviewed after which the order can be confirmed. Payment can be made online through debit/credit cards or through cash-on-delivery. Deliveries are usually made in less than one day of the order being placed.
At My Doorsteps makes free delivery for orders higher than Rs 500 and charges Rs 30 for orders below Rs 500. It delivers in Banashankari, Bannerghatta, Jayanagar and JP Nagar. Town Essentials, which delivers anywhere in the city, requires a minimum order of Rs 400 and an extra delivery charge of Rs 20 is levied. Town Essentials delivers the products in a cardboard carton and packs them in a combination of plastic and paper .At My Doorsteps deliver the orders in cloth bags, however, take back the bags after delivery. The products are pre-packed at Metro using a polythene bags.
In case of dissatisfaction with the products, At My Doorsteps provides a credit note for the value of the product, which is returned. This can be redeemed on another purchase. While, Town Essentials refunds the cost of the product returned. The returns are picked up from the customer at their convenience.
Priyadarshini Shetty, 26, another customer of Town Essentials and a recent law graduate from USA began looking for online grocery shopping websites after her return in September this year. “I had become used to ordering online when I was abroad. I tried it once and liked it enough to order regularly,” says Priyadarhsini, a resident of 2nd Stage RMV extension. “I don’t have to wait in lines or be restricted to shopping only during business hours,” she says, adding that this way, she does not have to worry about finding parking spaces while grocery shopping.
Amita Rao, a Human Resources professional, in her thirties, living in Jayanagar echoes a similar opinion. Three months ago, she began shopping for groceries from At My Doorsteps. “It is a personal shopping experience without the hassle of going to a store. Since the quality of the products was good and they call you to confirm that you are at home before they deliver which is good,” says Amita.
Priyadarshini points out that the online method does have a few drawbacks. “It can be a problem when I am having guests over and need to cook something quickly,” she says. Lakshmi agrees. “It has to be a planned shopping. Impromptu shopping is not possible this way as delivery takes time,” says Lakshmi.
Price and quality
Sushant Junnarkar,, who started At My Doorsteps earlier this year, says that because they don’t own warehouses and keep only minimal inventory, they are able to save considerably on operational expenses. “We are able to pass this savings on to the customer. The convenience of home delivery at attractive prices is our USP,” says Junnarkar. For example, five-kilo Ashirvad Atta, cost Rs 160 as against the MRP of Rs 190 and five-kilo India Gate Basmati Rice, whose MRP is Rs 780, costs Rs 700.
Amar Murthy, Managing Director at At Town Essentials says, that since they source in bulk for hotels, they save on costs and are able to transfer the cost saving to retail customers. With purchases of vegetable and fruits, Town Essentials also provides a can of solution of vinegar and lime to wash the produce with, to help in reducing surface pesticides.
Priyadarshini says that she was initially hesitant to order online as she was sceptical of the quality but she tried it once. “Once I was convinced about the quality I became confident to order it regularly,” she says.
Earlier this year, Junnarkar, 35, a 2001 IIM-Allahabad graduate started ‘At My Doorsteps’, an e-commerce website sensing an opportunity in this sector. His website lists more than 1500 products ranging from dals and spices, to meat and cosmetics. Junnarkar does not store the commodities in any warehouse but instead buys it from Metro cash-and-carry. He says that since he does not store anything, products are fresh. “This ensures that staples like rice and pulses are of high quality. We deal with pre-packed stuff and ensure that there is no mixing of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food,” he says.
In contrast to Junnarkar’s business-model is Town Essentials. Old-timers in the business, Town Essentials was started by Murthy 45, in 2001. They supply groceries including fresh fruits and vegetables to over 350 commercial kitchens like restaurants, industrial and hospital canteens in the city. Some of them include restaurants of BJN Group (Bamboo Shoots, Indijoe and Firangi Paani etc) and Adiga’s chain of restaurants.
Since March of 2011, Town Essential began retailing to consumers through their website. “We had the infrastructure and logistics in place so we were confident that we could do it,” says Murthy.
Junnarkar says that their main competitors are still the local grocery stores. “The challenge is to get consumers to change their shopping behaviour and get them to shop online and for our target consumer base of apartment residents and middle and high income working couples, internet connectivity is not a concern” he says.
Home-delivery of groceries is not a new concept. Most local grocery stores in the neighbourhoods have been delivering groceries for decades. All you had to do was give them a ‘list’. Sameer Ahmed of Gem Provision Stores in 1st Phase J P Nagar says that the kirana business has not been affected so far from supermarkets or online shopping. “We have a set customer base, that we have been catering to for years; mainly long time residents. We offer discounts and do home delivery. We haven’t seen any reduction in the business. In fact, one of the supermarkets nearby shut down recently,” he says.
Salim Mohammed, who has been running National Stores in Jaynagar for over two decades admits that they have lost a few customers to supermarkets but does not see it as an imminent threat (he was not aware of online grocery shopping). He says that since they are located in a residential area, they are easily accessible to shoppers. “However, it is the migratory population that prefers to shop in supermarkets. Most old-timers continue to shop with us. It is not a concern in a residential area like Jaynagar,” says Mohammed.
Murthy says that the market for groceries is big enough for everyone. “If you do a good job and provide good service, you will have a set of loyal customers,” he says.⊕