Kirana stores get a makeover as online retail increases

“Blinxxit is now in your area. Deliver everything in 10 minutes,” is the sign outside an apartment complex in Attapur. Inside the apartment complex in the parking lot is a fridge kept by another fast delivery company where shoppers with the app can scan the barcode and pick up what they need. The refrigerator is stocked with packets of crisps, vegetables, milk, dosa paste, curds, canned juices, fruits, onions, potatoes and other vegetables. It doesn’t matter to find onions and packets of potato chips in a refrigerator, but the race to provide household items at a pace has intensified in the city. These rapid deliveries have dealt a blow to the mom and pop kirana stores which are folding or being forced to reinvent themselves.

“We had two Kirana stores in this alley. Now the two places are run by different people. One has become a bakery with some kirana items, another is a medical store with some daily use items,” says a resident of Anand Nagar settlement.

“The activity of the Kirana stores has declined. Since March 2020, we have experienced issues with the increase in online retail. Now the business has dropped by up to 40% in urban areas,” said Mahesh Kumar Gupta, secretary of the Hyderabad Kirana Merchants Association. Sitting inside his wholesale market at Begum Bazaar which supplies dried fruits and groceries across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, Mr Gupta gets an overview of the changing business model . “I know that some kirana stores have closed but I don’t have the exact number. Who knows they will be able to reopen when business returns to normal,” says Mr. Gupta who blames nuclear families and limited needs for the decline in kirana’s business.

Exactly 22 years ago, MS Reddy opened Sri Sai Medical Store in Attapur region. It was a purely medical distribution center that shared a common wall with a hospital. Now Mr. Reddy has competition. There are six other outlets within a 100m stretch of the lane where Mr Reddy started. “We are all passing the time. I can’t move to a new company. I don’t know how the others are doing,” Reddy says of the sudden surge in competition and dwindling business. Of the seven medical stores that line the street, one started out as a vegetable store. Then, as Covid-19 shut down businesses, the vegetable store turned into a generic drug store. “In the beginning, business was good, but now it’s boring. We switched to this when there were three stores. Now there are more,” says the lady with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy who runs the store.

The churn and pain due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on kirana stores is only slowly dissipating.

Anne G. Cash