Despite a Reliance Retail and More screaming for attention within a 200-metre radius of her home, Sangeeta Mehta often treads to AP Traders, a provision store where her family has been buying groceries for the past two decades.
When the branded outlets first came up in her locality in Bangalore, she would make at least four trips to check out the assortment of products. Initially, the 35-year-old banker was enamoured by the display, the courtesies of the staff and the overall atmosphere.
But of late, she finds going there more of a hassle. Mehta has been noticing the absence of several brands. “Some or the other product is out of stock.”
Moreover, exotic ingredients like olive oil, castor sugar, baked beans hardly ever make it to the stores, she says. The slow movement at billing counters is also a headache.
All this has meant running back to the kiranawalla who keeps the olive oils and salad dressings, apart from doing free delivery.
Like Mehta, Aditi Deshpande has her own reasons to prefer the kirana to the branded supermarket chain in her lane. “The staff at the supermarket cannot speak any language apart from Kannada while the fruits and vegetables at the outlet often look wilted and rotten. The kirana staff can speak basic Hindi and guide shoppers while those in the supermarket appear lost,” says the BPO employee who migrated to the IT city from Nashik.
It’s no longer just about the air-conditioned atmosphere and the display of colours. Consumers are finding retail outlets no different from the non-descript 300 sq ft provision store defined by an ageing owner who knows each customer personally.
When it comes to retail outlets, lack of variety, goods going out of stock, absence of newer and fringe products, presence of stale and rotting produce, lack of language proficiency among staff, all are becoming key concerns among consumers.
“Such hiccups certainly impact the shopping experience,” says Amitabh Mall, partner and director, Boston Consulting Group. “Modern trade signifies a certain promise in the shopper’s mind around the experience – comfortable and clean environment, good quality products, availability, ease of check out and knowledgeable staff. Not having any of these can turn off the shopper.”
Though most consumers shop at retail chains only once or twice a week and mainly for bulk purchases, the grouses are quickly surfacing. “There is no value addition that these 2,000-5,000 sq ft outlets provide over and above the kiranawalla,” adds managing director of a large format chain.
And consumers too do not find much price difference as kiranas frequently offer more discounts than branded outlets. Housewife Jamini Pandey says, “She buys a litre of cooking oil at Rs13 below MRP from the provision store in her vicinity while at the retail chain nearby the price difference is hardly Rs2.”
The same for perishables. Uday Wavikar, vice-president, Consumer Courts Bar Association, Maharashtra and Goa, says despite several organised retailers claiming to have direct sourcing pacts with farmers, the prices of fruits and vegetables are almost same as those sold by roadside vendors. “Difference of Rs1-2 is immaterial. If they source from farmers directly, the difference has to be in bigger digits,” says Wavikar.
Second, chains permit only limited quantity of purchase. Bejon Misra, founder of Consumer Online Foundation, says that unlike a kirana or roadside seller from where consumers can buy any quantity, the restriction in a branded chain causes friction. “All consumers are not keen on overbuying and hence, give modern outlets a skip,” says Misra.
But retailers are mindful of this and working towards addressing the gap, says Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO of Retailers Association of India (RAI). “There is a severe talent crunch and retailers are investing in training manpower.”
The pressure levels for staff in an organised outlet are also more which can at times affect the shopping experience, reasons Rajagopalan. “At peak hours, a kirana can at best have 10-15 customers while organised stores see 250 customers. This creates pressure. Retailers are realising this.”