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Princes to paupers: India’s salesmen face ruin as tycoon Ambani targets mom-and-pop stores

  • Reliance billionaire’s JioMart app geared toward ‘kirana’ stores
  • Tiny retailers account for 4/5ths of India’s $900 bln retail sector
  • Kirana swap to JioMart slams conventional salesmen, channels
  • ‘See how a lot you’ve got been ripping us off!’ -storekeeper
  • Distributors problem Ambani, block JioMart deliveries

SANGLI, India, Nov 22 (Reuters) – For eight straight days, family items salesman Vipresh Shah has failed to promote a single pack of Dettol cleaning soap to the storekeepers who’ve been shopping for from him ever since he took over his household enterprise as a teen, 14 years in the past.

Shah is an official distributor for Britain’s Reckitt Benckiser in Vita, close to Sangli metropolis, round 200 miles south of Mumbai. But he mentioned once-loyal clients now level to an app – JioMart Partner – on their smartphones displaying costs up to 15% decrease, as an alternative of putting orders.

“As Reckitt’s distributor, I used to be like a prince in the market,” mentioned Shah. “Now the buyer tells me, ‘See how much you’ve been ripping us off!'”

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The 31-year-old mentioned he misplaced $2,000 of his personal cash as he discounted merchandise to match costs on JioMart, the app rolled out by Reliance Industries billionaire Mukesh Ambani in his drive to revolutionise retail distribution in India.

Up and down India in locations like small city Vita, the mom-and-pop stores that account for four-fifths of a near-$900 billion retail market – greater than $700 billion – are more and more turning to JioMart to top off on overseas and home manufacturers.

Just as Ambani, India’s richest man, has disrupted the nation’s telecoms business, the tycoon is intent on shaking up retail distribution, taking over U.S. e-commerce giants like Amazon (AMZN.O) and Walmart Inc (WMT.N), increasing quick in India.

The nation has round 450,000 conventional distributors, who’ve legions of salespeople to service each nook of the huge nation, together with 600,000 villages. They sometimes earn a margin of 3-5% on product costs and largely take orders bodily as soon as every week, making deliveries to retailers inside a few days.

But Reliance’s mannequin throws a wrench in that provide chain: the mom-and-pop stores, identified as ‘kiranas’, can order items on JioMart Partner with deliveries promised inside 24 hours. Reliance additionally affords coaching on ordering, credit score amenities and free product samples for affiliated kiranas’ clients.

That means a whole lot of 1000’s of salesmen representing shopper giants like Reckitt, Unilever (ULVR.L) and Colgate-Palmolive (CL.N), face an existential menace to their enterprise, in accordance to interviews with salespeople, 20 distributors and a dealer group with members throughout India.

Many of the distributors contacted by Reuters mentioned they’ve slashed their workforce or automobile fleet, seeing their gross sales from door-to-door brokers drop 20-25% within the final 12 months as shopkeepers associate with Reliance.

In Vita, salesman Shah mentioned he has had to lay off half of his workers of 4. He fears the 50-year-old household agency won’t final past the following six months.


The scale and velocity of the disruption have triggered tensions between conventional distributors and Reliance which have boiled over into bodily confrontation in some circumstances.

In Maharashtra state within the west – house to Vita – and Tamil Nadu in south, conventional salesmen have organised blockades of some JioMart supply autos.

“We will employ guerrilla tactics,” mentioned Dhairyashil Patil, president of the All India Consumer Products Distributors Federation, which represents 400,000 brokers of native and overseas shopper corporations. “We will continue to agitate,” he advised Reuters, “we want (consumer goods) companies to realise our value.”

Reliance stays undeterred in pushing forward with Ambani’s “new commerce” retail enterprise, first introduced in 2018.

Last 12 months it raised funds from marquee traders together with Silver Lake Partners and KKR & Co Inc (KKR.N) as it seeks to combine mom-and-pop stores in what it has touted as a extra inclusive method to digital commerce. That push is broadly seen countering the likes of Amazon, which have for years confronted – and denied – claims in India of favouring choose massive sellers on the expense of smaller retailers.

A supply shut to Reliance mentioned the corporate was decided to preserve increasing its enterprise for mom-and-pop stores. It believes its mannequin can co-exist alongside the normal method in one of many world’s greatest retail markets, the particular person mentioned, declining to be recognized due to lack of authority to disclose firm plans.

Ambani in 2018 mentioned he ultimately wished to join 30 million small retailers to the Reliance community. So far, it has 300,000 service provider companions in 150 cities who order shopper items from Reliance, however the transformation will likely be magnified many occasions over if it meets a goal of including 10 million associate stores by 2024.

Reliance didn’t reply to requests for remark for this text.

Colgate declined to remark, whereas Reckitt mentioned its clients and distributors had been an integral a part of its enterprise nevertheless it doesn’t touch upon its relationship with them. Unilever’s India arm, Hindustan Unilever, (HLL.NS) didn’t reply to a request for remark.


The conventional distribution strategies stay vital to the patron items makers, even amid the disruption, business watchers say.

Himanshu Bajaj, former Asia shopper and retail head at consulting agency Kearney, mentioned CEOs of shopper corporations he met in September raised considerations about Reliance’s technique upsetting the normal distribution chain.

“The companies don’t want to kill their own distributors. The worry is real,” he mentioned.

Asked about Reliance’s mannequin and considerations amongst distributors, Sunil D’Souza, CEO of India’s Tata Consumer Products (TACN.NS), advised Reuters in an interview final month it “can’t afford to sit back and ignore” any main distribution channel, however Tata was attempting to minimise battle and strike a steadiness.

Jefferies in March estimated kiranas will “steadily increase the share of procurement” from Reliance “at the cost of traditional distributors”. Such gross sales for Reliance might mushroom to $10.4 billion by 2025 from simply $200 million in 2021-22, Jefferies estimates.

One government who works for a rival to Reliance mentioned Ambani “was spreading his wings very fast” in servicing kiranas and already has an edge on negotiating costs, due to long-standing relationships with shopper good makers which have for years counted Reliance and its 1,100 supermarkets as a giant consumer.

With kirana companions, Ambani is including one other, main vertical. “Brands cannot afford to sideline Reliance, it’s just their sheer purchasing power,” mentioned the chief, who declined to be recognized as he wasn’t authorised to converse with media.


Many kiranas are cramped retailers in ageing buildings, the place branded merchandise are positioned on picket cabinets and small sachets dangle from the ceiling. Such retailers are embracing Reliance as a method to increase revenue margins.

When Reuters accompanied Anuruddh Mishra, a gross sales agent for Colgate, throughout a area journey in Mumbai’s Dharavi space, he struggled to persuade Shivkumar Singh, the 50-year-old proprietor of a dilapidated retailer, to make purchases. Dharavi is house to 1 million individuals and rated one of many world’s greatest slums.

Singh opened his JioMart app and confirmed the far decrease costs on provide. “How can I order from traditional distributors?” he mentioned. “The difference in price is huge. Now I order mostly from Reliance.”

A Reuters overview of buy offers on the JioMart Partner app confirmed the Dharavi retailer might bulk purchase a two-tube combo of Colgate MaxFresh toothpaste for about 115 rupees ($1.55). Salesman Mishra’s distribution firm will get it for 145 rupees, and his final provide to the Dharavi retailer was 154 rupees – nonetheless greater than a 3rd larger than the Reliance worth.

Back in Sangli, conventional distributors mentioned they’ve at occasions chased down Reliance autos and confronted drivers, alleging unauthorised deliveries.

Sunil Pujari, who works within the metropolis for one JioMart supply agent, mentioned he had been warned by his supervisors to instantly alert them if offended distributors stopped autos.

But enterprise stays brisk.

“Prices offered by JioMart cannot be matched by anyone,” he mentioned, making one other supply in a crowded market.

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Reporting by Abhirup Roy in Sangli and Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

A shopkeeper selling consumer goods shows Reliance's JioMart Partner app on his mobile phone that he uses to order supplies for his store in Sangli, in the western state of Maharashtra, India, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Abhirup Roy

Shivkumar Singh, an owner of a store selling consumer goods, speaks with a sales representative at his store in Dharavi, Mumbai, in the western state of Maharashtra, India, September 16, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

A worker inspects boxes of Reckitt's Dettol handwash at a distributor?s warehouse before loading them onto a truck for delivery to retailers in Mumbai, India, September 17, 2021. Picture taken September 17, 2021 REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

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