Damodar Mall

Point of Purchase - - CONTENTS -

As the winds of change sweep across the re­tail-scape in the coun­try, we just might see it get­ting re­flected in many in­ter­est­ing as­pects of re­tail. As Damodar Mall, Di­rec­tor, Food Strat­egy at Fu­ture Group, fore­sees in this col­umn, one such as­pect might be the en­try of women shop­keep­ers. Read on...

IfBri­tain is the na­tion of shop­keep­ers, In­dia is the na­tion of male shop­keep­ers. From gro­ceries to lin­gerie, ev­ery­thing in In­dia is sold – by men. Friendly, knowl­edge­able, pa­tro­n­is­ing or kindly, but men! Women can be con­struc­tion or agri­cul­tural labour­ers, man­agers and re­cep­tion­ists, even priests, but the sight of a woman be­hind a cash counter is an anom­aly that can lead to raised eye­brows. A woman in a shop who isn’t the buyer is a cu­rios­ity. Bar­ring some cat­e­gories like fish and flow­ers sold on the streets, women never traded or “sold” things to strangers. They sold their ser­vices, their skills, man­aged money or bud­gets at home, but never got round to sell­ing a cake of soap. There’s a good rea­son why. Shop­keep­ing al­ways in­volved things only men could do. For ex­am­ple, apart from the cus­tomers, the en­tire shop­keep­ing ecosys­tem is male dom­i­nated. All whole­salers are men. In a small gro­cery store, the store has to deal with over 30 sup­pli­ers/sales and de­liv­ery per­sons ev­ery day – all of whom are rough and tough men. The shop­keeper has to ne­go­ti­ate with them, bond with them, talk the hard talk of cash, cheque, with or with­out bill and be on back slap­ping terms with them, to run his shop well. Small shops in In­dia are also sweat­shops that em­ploy un­e­d­u­cated work­ers, chil­dren, and re­main open for long hours, an at­mos­phere un­suited for women. Like many other parts of the In­dian ur­ban re­al­ity I see some com­pelling shifts in the way mi­cro retailing is done here. We will wit­ness in­creas­ing num­bers of women shop­keep­ers in our neigh­bour­hoods, within the next 3-5 years. Women’s ed­u­ca­tion, em­pow­er­ment, ex­po­sure are the ob­vi­ous back­drop for this change, but there are a cou­ple of re­tail spe­cific changes that are load­ing the dice in favour of women be­com­ing shop­keep­ers. A ma­jor change is hap­pen­ing within the store. As small stores in­creas­ingly adopt the self-ser­vice for­mat, the phys­i­cal labour of serv­ing the cus­tomer gets out­sourced to the cus­tomer her­self. The task of fetch­ing ev­ery sin­gle item from the racks to the cus­tomer sim­ply van­ishes with self ser­vice re­tail. This is cru­cial, es­pe­cially dur­ing peak sales times when mul­ti­ple cus­tomers can sim­ply ‘help them­selves’ with­out bur­den­ing the shop at­ten­dants. Bar-cod­ing, scan­ning, com­put­erised billing meth­ods make billing and money han­dling sim­pler, faster and more ac­cu­rate. From be­ing a stressed sweat­shop with har­ried shop at­ten­dants, the shop turns into a qui­eter, more or­gan­ised and less stress­ful place for the shop­keeper and his/her team. But the real big change in shop­keep­ing is shap­ing at the sourc­ing back­end. In many pock­ets of the coun­try, a new type of sin­gle point, or­gan­ised and cor­po­rate whole­salers is spring­ing up rapidly. These are the cash and carry stores like Metro, Wal­mart Best Price, Car­refour, etc. Buy­ing ac­tiv­ity for a small shop­keeper now trans­forms from han­dling 30 ne­go­ti­a­tions a day, with men, to a sim­ple trip to a cash-n carry whole­saler, who of­fers trans­par­ent prices and busi­ness terms for ev­ery­thing a small re­tail store needs. Also they of­ten de­liver to the store – one sin­gle point sup­plier, one cred­i­tor, one pay­ment ev­ery 2 days! As more and more shop­keep­ers turn to this method of pro­cure­ment, the bar­rier to women deal­ers is go­ing to col­lapse. These mod­ern whole­salers are gen­der-neu­tral, and at times even bi­ased to­wards women since a big share of sales staff in these places are them­selves women. So, with the front end of the re­tail busi­ness chang­ing to self ser­vice for­mat and back­end sourc­ing chang­ing to the new cor­po­ra­tised dis­tri­bu­tion and whole­sal­ing model for small re­tail­ers, the stage is set for a sig­nif­i­cant takeover of shop­keep­ing by women.

Come to think of it, women shop­keep­ers will be for­mi­da­ble com­peti­tors for men. Most cus­tomers are women and there will be greater nat­u­ral em­pa­thy at play, if shops are run by women. The locally fa­mous “Lad­kiyon waali dukaan” (store of the daugh­ters) in Galla Mandi near Go­rakh­pur rou­tinely asks its women cus­tomers if they are look­ing for saunf for mak­ing pick­les or for chew­ing af­ter meals. It’ll take a re­ally sea­soned man gro­cer to have the knowl­edge or the pa­tience to probe such nu­ances with cus­tomers. Amongst to­day’s homemak­ers, there are so many ed­u­cated and com­pe­tent women, who can­not take up for­mal work be­cause it means com­mut­ing away from home and in­flex­i­ble hours. The op­tion of own­ing/run­ning a shop near home will bring a large num­ber of women into the eco­nomic sphere. Our field work re­veals that most women shop­keep­ers took to the trade through force of cir­cum­stances – hus­band’s death, no one to look af­ter fam­ily shop, etc. Grad­u­ally, this will be­come a pos­i­tive work choice for women, near their homes. It has hap­pened else­where in Asia. In Ja­pan and Thai­land, be­tween 25-33 per­cent of neigh­bour­ing stores and fran­chises of 7 Eleven and Law­son cor­po­rate chains are owned and run by women. But how will women build their skills and ap­ti­tude for retailing? Most shop­keep­ers start their ‘pro­fes­sional’ life as ap­pren­tices in shops that be­long to a richer rel­a­tive. Af­ter work­ing hard for some years, they fi­nally grad­u­ate to own­ing their own es­tab­lish­ment. Men, there­fore, learn the trade from a very young age. Women, of course, had no such ex­pe­ri­ence. Un­til now. Lately girls and bahus are in­creas­ingly be­ing in­ducted into the fam­ily shops, per­haps be­cause the boy is busy with higher stud­ies, and labour is in­creas­ingly hard to get. Se­condly, the new fe­male equiv­a­lent of the male ap­pren­tice is the store as­sis­tant in the or­gan­ised re­tail sec­tor, where over 50 per­cent of the work­force, are women. That’s where a lot of shop­keep­ing skills and in­ter­est will be de­vel­oped amongst wom­en­folk. A more nu­anced but sig­nif­i­cantly greater tec­tonic shift will hap­pen within the trad­ing com­mu­ni­ties in In­dia. These com­mu­ni­ties are of­ten more con­ser­va­tive and harsh on keep­ing their women within the con­fines of the home. Those fam­i­lies who let their women work in their shops, will re­dou­ble their busi­ness band­width, tune their shops with the times much faster and com­pete well in the era of the mod­ern malls. And then, by 2015 or will it be 2018, an­other male bas­tion will be de­mol­ished. I am sure our shops and trade chan­nels will be bet­ter be­haved, bet­ter kept and gen­tler places as a re­sult! As a cus­tomer and a fel­low shop­keeper, I look for­ward to this change

Damodar Mall Di­rec­tor - Food Strat­egy Fu­ture Group

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