The new N-word that is taking the retail space by storm

We writers are an attention-starved bunch, but I’m sure the headline must have piqued your curiosity. Before you are up in arms asking for my head, let me clarify, the N-word I speak of has no racial connotations whatsoever. That being said, this N-word, if most market analysts are to be believed, can be a game changer for the retail space. First though, let’s take a gander at the facts, the e-commerce space in India is a burgeoning one. M-commerce, or mobile e-commerce has aided and abetted the growth of this space, to an extent where it is worth more than a pretty penny.

While bringing the world’s best brands to your doorstep has been a relative breeze, there are still some gaping holes in the e-commerce spectrum that until recently no one has sought to plug. Things like groceries, fixing tube lights, car servicing, laundry services, and scores of other daily chores are still a bother for you. While housewives and stay at home professionals like freelancers may not find these a terrible hassle, the majority of working couples and parents do. The problem existed and so did the framework of its solution.

The e-commerce model works on the principle of local availability of global commodities. In this very framework, some bravehearts have ventured to pioneer a principle called local availability of neighbourhood commodities. Think about it, many of the aforementioned chores are of the supremely local variety. There are neighbourhood stores that cater to our every need, from groceries, to our handyman needs. There is only the small matter of us actually having to physically go to these establishments and service providers to avail of these services. Therein lies the problem of it being a time consuming and inconvenient phenomenon.

Popular e-commerce sites like Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal have bet big on the emergence of M-commerce. It is a good move too, considering that India today is easily one of the most rapidly growing mobile phone (especially smartphone) markets. The potential 1.6 billion consumer base in this country, is being closely observed by bigwigs the world over. But in the race to please the Indian consumer with discounts, ne’er before heard of and popular brands, and the ever present hook of convenience, e-commerce and m-commerce, have failed on one, very critical parameter.

Experts say that India as a market is definitely ripe for the plucking, from the point-of-view of products, especially for international clothing, lifestyle and electronics brands. Most Indian families, especially in the urban areas, however, are still widely dependant on their neighbourhood stores, handymen and service providers for critical services. This need, until recently, was left untapped. Enter N-commerce, or neighbourhood commerce, and all of a sudden the entire purchases spectrum, from clothes to electronics, books to groceries, and fresh produce to handyman services, is slowly but surely getting covered.

What is N-commerce?

Picture this: you’ve had a hectic day. Eight hours of work, a two-hour commute back home, and all you’ve been looking forward to, is a warm shower and a soothing cup of green tea. You trudge along drearily and enter the house. To your dismay, the heater isn’t working, and if that wasn’t enough, you’re clean out of green tea! This means you’ll have to get out of the house, yet again to call an electrician, and pick up a pack of the soothing elixir. Sound familiar? With N-commerce, this isn’t a hassle anymore.

N-commerce therefore is neighbourhood commerce, or a platform that brings together all your daily needs, handymen and other vital, locality specific services, onto your smartphones, making them supremely accessible to the consumer. In essence, it takes the chore factor out of a daily task. Whether it is once-in-a-week grocery shopping or once-in-a-quarter car servicing, N-commerce simplifies this process infinitely.

In the words of Sahil Dalal, founder of Ahmedabad based groceries retailer, myonsto.com, “N-commerce is the next logical step in the evolution of online retail. After all, making local produce and services available to the consumer in a time-bound and efficient manner, is the epitome of the convenience. Grocery shopping for instance is a time-consuming and laborious process, which makes it a task, and therefore, it isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. But if you could play a game of your choice, while restocking your fridge, without tearing yourself away from your leisure time activity, all of a sudden that chore isn’t a hated one at all”.

What’s in it for participant local establishments?

Integrating local and neighbourhood players like grocery stores, chemists, bakeries, electricians, plumbers, mechanics and others, may seem like a daunting task, but it is also a great and innovative opportunity. Websites like Localbanya, BigBasket, PepperTap, and Grofers have begun exploring this model in earnest. What’s actually great validation, is the fact that these ventures are raising decent funding from investors, which means they’re doing something right, and that the market validates the need.

The one thing that e-commerce has done right in this respect, is creating the infrastructure for N-commerce to exploit. Players in the space simply need to convince local service-providers and establishments of the benefits of working with them. Being geo-location specific, service providers, shops and establishments that were hitherto unable to deliver products or services to consumers in their area, losing business in the process can now deliver great service to their customers and even expand their client base. The advent of e-commerce for the ‘niche’st of items had several local players doubting the sustainability of their business ventures in the long run. N-commerce gives local businesses a competitive edge, by augmenting their service delivery in a way that levels the playing field a fair bit.

N-commerce helps streamline offline, local businesses by compelling these otherwise lax players to start keeping stock of things, and organising themselves better. After all when an order comes in, a local participant store owner needs to have his act together in order to fulfil said order. A learning of this kind will stand the otherwise unorganised local sector in good stead. The use of data analytics in order to track trends will help shop owners improve their stocking practises. Fewer orders will be lost or dropped because of lack of stock, the paradigm will shift towards cost management and effective service delivery, which will come as a jolt of joy to both customers and participant store owners. Most importantly at long last, the feeling of helplessness, at being unable to compete with the big boys may soon become a thing of the past.

N-commerce and customer delight

N-commerce isn’t just good news and candy apples for the local retailers. It is actual manna from heaven for consumers as well. Imagine never having to leave your home after a tiring day’s work to buy rations that may not have been stockpiled. Better still, finding exactly what you’ve been looking for, and not having to substitute Brand Y for Brand X. More importantly, being able to de-stress and not having to think about the milk being there at office, or the ice cream you need to pick up on the way back home and so forth.

N-commerce is an emergent wave, whose presence is bound to disrupt (to the benefit and not the detriment) of e-commerce, m-commerce and franchising. Isn’t it just the best time to be a spoilt-for-choice consumer?

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