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A Mumbai-Based E-Commerce Startup Is Paving Its Way During The Lockdown

In the era of e-commerce essentials, startups like Near.Store are gearing up to bring in new solutions onboard to provide a better customer experience

During times when only essential services are doing business, both old and new companies are taking to e-commerce in a big way. A Mumbai-based startup, Near.Store enables Kirana stores to go online without any friction or cognitive adaptation by using AI-driven software. While more than 12 million Kirana stores need to get online to compete with e-commerce sites, Near.Store is using AI technology to ease buying online. 

“We started installing the Near.Store boxes in January 2020 and before the lockdown had close to 126 shops onboarded. Many of these shops were forced to shut down due to lack of staff or lack of products to sell. We decided to use a two-pronged strategy to keep transactions on through our platform. First, we used our resources and business networks to facilitate product availability. We initiated e-passes for wholesale delivery of certain essential products and made them available to the shops enrolled with us,” said Ashish Kumar, Co-Founder of Near.Store.

Near.Store is currently delivering to 55 housing societies in Mumbai giving access to more than 22,000 people across the city. 

Kumar stated, “On the second phase, we tied-up with housing societies in Mumbai and used our tech platform to connect individual brands like Epigama, Raw Pressery and And Nothing Else to accept bulk orders from the societies. We have also recently tied-up with a Mumbai based ready-to-eat snack brand and have seen phenomenal response since ready to eat products such as wafers etc. are not available even at the warehouses.” 

The Team

Ashish Kumar, Ramakrishnan A and Diwakar Mitr are the three founding members of Near.Store, all of them have valuable and blended experiences. Ashish Kumar a former investment banker, has closely studied the consumer sector and also has experience as an entrepreneur. Ramakrishnan A, former Mindtree techie and Diwakar Mitr a former investment banker bring in the experience of technology and business management.

How does it stand out  

While there haven’t been a lot of startups coming out as clear leaders in terms of front-facing, various firms are making successful progress with inventory management. Near.Store focused on this grey area. From creating a catalogue for online discovery, placement and digital payments, Near.store is working as a one-stop-shop for e-commerce shopping.  The startup has a database of close to 2 lakh products along with an image, description, product tags and price. “When a shop scans a product mostly of a consumer brand, the product gets listed under the individual shop’s page. A shop owner has access to the price points and can customise price/product offers,” said Kumar. With more visibility online on the search engines, the local shops can also feature in the search results along with other results from popular e-commerce websites. This will help the shops increase their business beyond the current customer base.

Digitisation and sales analysis

In the era of digitization, startups are turning towards digital inventory as well. Near.Store, in order to ease its customers and store owners, provides periodic sales and inventory reports on popular messaging apps such as Whatsapp, text messages or email.  Kumar said, “In the bygone era, store owners found it cumbersome to use the complicated POS-based software to generate reports about their business performance. At the same time, using Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, we can also advise the store owners on which stock-keeping units (SKUs) or flavours would sell better in the coming weeks based on predictions. This we believe will enhance the overall efficiency of the shops and will reduce their working capital requirements.” 

Challenges

“Because of the lockdown, our onboarding process came to a standstill since it requires a physical presence at the shops. Also, many of the shops had to shut down because they were not able to get product supplies, ”  stated Kumar. To solve these issues, the team helped the shop owners source products in bulk and maintain their business flow.

In the next phase, Near.Store tied-up with Kirana stores to facilitate direct delivery to the housing societies.

Revenue visibility and future plans

Due to social distancing, offline stores have to take precautions. “We cannot physically install our boxes at any new stores, however, we have seen an increase in the total number of shops inquiries and are certain of meeting the target of over 2,000 shops within 6 months. Near.Store with a future of positive unit economics charges nothing from the offline shop owners. “We charge the customers a small facilitation fee and nothing from the shop owners. For direct product delivery, we get a share of revenue as well. Our unit economics are positive for each order, ” said Kumar. 

Near.store also has Shripad Nadkarni, a former marketing head of Coca Cola India as a senior advisor and has raised $300,000 as funds from Sauce.VC in January 2020.



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