Thursday, March 30, 2023

Bazaars: Soul of Indian Retail

By Chanda Kumar | March 01, 2018

A steady mix of emotions, nostalgia, tactile sensations, story telling and humble business models is what makes the local shopkeeper and stores in the Indian bazaars click.

We shop at high-streets & malls, buy everything from grocery to smart phones online to tackle hunger pangs by ordering food on mobile apps. But the lure of the good ol’ local markets still remains. The soul of the Indian retail landscape, echoes in the thronging streets, alleys and bazaars of the country.

Serving a population of over 1.2 billion, the vast and diverse network of bustling local markets offer products at competitive prices, a mind boggling range and coupled with quick service & billing. Some of the legendary local stores across Indian cities have had a strong foothold in their respective markets since Independence itself.

In this article, I try to bring out three interesting stories from the streets of Bangalore that make these stores - a hit among the city’s population. How they up the ante in engaging with the consumer at the point-of-sale and stories of inspiration for modern trade retail formats in India.

Sights, Smells & Sounds: Befitting The Indian Cuisine

We still love our ingredients to be fresh, home-made and having an authentic taste. And while today’s Indian household squabble for time, unable to create the zillion condiments that go into our cuisine, there are the humble family-run condiment stores offering all this in the freshest & convenient way. Aroma of freshly ground curry powders, a kaleidoscope of vibrant spices shaped in neat pyramids and sound of snacks beings fried at the store entrance. It’s a treat to just visit these stores! One such legendary store is tucked away in the lanes of Gandhibazaar, in South Bangalore, which sells Subbamma ajji’s (grandmother in Kannada) secret recipes. Subbamma angadi, renamed as Subramanya condiments, is where you can get all you need for a South Indian feast. The freshly made snacks & sweets are even sold out by mid-day. Started more than 70 years ago, this store is known to stock its wares for just a few days, assuring its loyal customers the freshest of condiments and unmatched taste.

Variety Galore

Fashion, whether it is western apparel or ethnic, is predominantly dictated by films in India. And the latest in apparel and especially accessories make their fastest route to the hundreds of small retailers who call themselves as ‘fancy stores’ in the local markets. Unabashedly  showing off all that’s trending… there is no way that ‘little is more’ strategy works here. A great example here would be the decades old Sri Bhavani Kangan Store in Jayanagar, offering everything from make-up to costume jewellery and accessories, it is a one-stop-shop for a bridal party’s needs to dec-up for the occasion. Stacked from floor to ceiling, the store is always crowded but its efficient staff (who are quite skilled at jumping across counters and wading themselves through the crowd) are always keen to answer any customer query and pull out anything you need without hesitation. What started as a small match-box sized store has now evolved to a three-storey structure, offering its customers a wider assortment to shop from.

Remind Me Of The Good Ol’ Days

We love going back in time… reminiscing our childhood trips to the market, a simper time with cherished memories. Bangalore, which always had a thriving reading culture, had spruced up some iconic bookstores located on prominent areas to bylanes of the crowded Avenue Road. But one bookstore that still echoes the old school charm is the Blossom Bookstore on Church Street. Mind your head as you walk through this labyrinth, filled with rare gems from the literary world, offering great reads at great prices. Customers love to browse at pleasure and complete the visit by having a chat with the owner (who even recommends some good books that have come in). This goes to show that personal connect, that is almost dead in the modern retail formats, is vital in customer journey & purchase decision.

So, taking a bird’s eye view of the Indian retail landscape, we can say that it is as diverse as the land and the people itself. But the unique characteristics of all Indian consumers is that we love choices, connecting to our cultural roots, gung-ho about variety (we don't bother much about the clutter & crowd) and thrive on nostalgia.











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