Multibrand Retail in India: Where are our own big boys hiding?

Our indigenous retail changeover started a while back. Looking back it seems that what drove this change was the opening of imports on the back of which Indian packaged goods got “re-made” and priced. At least four of our biggest corporate brands started “department store” operations that resembled multibrand retailing, with fresh produce available along with a range of personal and household packaged goods.  Anjou pears sat alongside Nagpur oranges and we all felt lucky! The came Spanish olive oil, Italian pasta and Turkish dried apricots! And our lives felt richer.

These stores all had many problems.  Irregular stock, unacceptable pricing, bad customer service. There was confusion on which set of consumers to target: high end with all sorts of imported goods or middle class with routine middle priced Indian stuff. Most likely these operations lost money. But they are still around and hanging in there. So what do the owners of these operations need to do to turn things around and create our own multibrand retail chains that can offer the same economy of scale, brand choice and service excellence  that we are told only the multinationals can bring to India.

The argument goes that we do not have the back-end skills to organize ourselves for multibrand retailing. We do not have the backward linkages to bring produce from the farmer to the consumer sales counter. We do not have the logistical know how to streamline operations and make them work seamlessly. Alongside runs the economic argument…..we need the dollars. All hard to accept since our businesses have the skill to play on the global stage and can hire talent from anywhere they want. There is nothing here that cannot be brought into India by Indians. Why should the profits from one of the largest consumer markets in the world go out of this country with no benefit to business and labor in India.

This is not about the little grocer getting squashed it is about where profit from retailing should go: into Indian pockets or into American and French ones.

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