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Posted at: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM; last updated: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM (IST)

From Mom and Pop stores to e-tailing

From Mom and Pop stores to e-tailing
Illustration: Vishu Verma

Harvinder Khetal

“THIS is the highest price any foreign company has paid for a stake in an Indian company.” “Flipkart’s journey in value from $30 million seven years ago to $22 billion is overwhelming.” “US retail giant Walmart would pay $16 billion for a 77 per cent stake in Flipkart, India's biggest online retailer, making this the world's largest ever e-commerce acquisition.” These mindboggling figures held me in awe of the tech industry that has grown astronomically in the past around two decades, leaving many of us with the feeling of having missed the bus. I looked back to my humble, basic paying-over-the-counter kind of acquisitions.

At the risk of sounding technologically unsavvy, let me confess that I have not e-shopped on Flipkart or any other web portal. That is, apart from booking movie, air or rail tickets online or paying phone bills and transferring money through the Internet. Only once, just so to keep up with the Joneses (to want to own the same expensive objects and do the same things as your friends or neighbours, because you are worried about seeming less important socially than they are), around a year back, my sister and I ordered a piece of clothing through a popular e-company. 

That day, while enjoying coffee in a coffee shop, talk veered to how most of our associates were buying things online and feeling smug about the ‘steals’ and ‘deals’. On a whim, we decided to take the plunge, one that we had been resisting for long, despite the tempting page one jacket advertisements by Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon etc, tom-tomming the heavy discounts on arrays of items up for sale. 

And, yes, we were quite excited about that transaction: first, there was a sense of achievement as the ‘order’ went through, without the help of any tech-savvy youngster. Then we smiled when the consignment arrived home promptly by courier. Finally, as the top fitted us perfectly, we were beaming and ready to show off — both the shirt and our tech skills. 

All was well! So, why did we not continue with the merry, trendy, easy trading? That’s because, perhaps, we are the old-school sticklers for the brick-and-mortar shopping. Till we ‘see’ and ‘feel’ an item, we don’t feel quite comfortable about buying it. Though, some friends have told me that to overcome this hesitation and at the same time also take advantage of the appealing price tags of web portals, they go to shops first to check out the products and then go online to place orders. 

Of course, the millennials (people who turned adults around the year 2000, the turn of this millennium) have no such compunctions. They are cool with ordering online and returning the merchandise if not found up to the mark. They have neither the inclination nor the time to go to a shop and try out that shoe or shirt or cart the grocery from the mart, or queue up at the bank to withdraw cash. For them, gravitating towards e-commerce for all this is the normal.

And, not surprisingly, it is to capture this burgeoning market that Walmart has decided to invest so much in Flipkart. The company president and CEO Doug McMillon stated: “India is one of the most attractive retail markets in the world, given its size and growth rate.” Walmart is betting on the fact that India's e-commerce market, pegged at a $38 billion today, is anticipated to grow up to $200 billion by the next 10 years. What turn the market takes and whether this really happens, only time will tell. And correspondingly, the panning out of the fate awaiting the traditional order of things would also be fascinating to watch.

For now, let us explore the terms that define the older ways of dealings that this era of virtual ways of interactions, communications and transactions has thrown open. For example, did you know that the shops you have been visiting all this while are brick and mortar (in contrast to the virtual online stores)? They are the traditional businesses that deal with customers face to face in an office or store, such as your corner grocery store and the local bank branch. The name is a metonym derived from the traditional building materials (bricks and mortar) associated with physical buildings. Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with it, such as "the bench" for the judicial profession.

The online shopping phenomenon brings to fore more such phrases: mom-and-pop store, cash-and-carry shop. So, what are they? Well, a cash-and-carry is a large shop where you buy goods in larger quantities and at lower prices than in ordinary shops. It is a self-service wholesale store, especially for groceries, at which customers pay cash and carry the goods bought with them. By the way, Walmart, till now, is a cash-and-carry store in India. It proposes to enter the retail segment with its stake in Flipkart.

No wonder established Indian retailers are worried and wondering what impact Walmart’s entry would have on mom and pop stores. Will the many neighbourhood shops turn unviable? As the name implies, a mom and pop store is a small, local, independent, usually family-owned, controlled, and operated business that has a minimum amount of employees and a small amount of business volume.

Indeed, we have come a long way from mom-and pop to e-tailing in a very short time. Short for "electronic retailing, e-tailing is the selling of retail goods on the Net. 

But, no matter what form shopping takes, this old joke will always ring a bell:

After years of scrimping and saving, a husband told his wife the good news: “Honey, we’ve finally got enough money to buy what we started saving for in 1979.”

“You mean a brand new BMW?” she asked eagerly.

“No,” said the husband, “a 1979 BMW.”


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