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Originally published in TechInAsia.

 

Love Your Local Store, But Want To Shop Online? Now Have Your Cake And Eat It Too.
BY PALOMA GANGULY

 

Six months ago, my favorite grocery store closed down. I felt abandoned. I loved its freshly pounded spices and aromatic rice that made all the difference to the meals at home. Then a neighbor came to my rescue.

She directed me to a hole-in-the-wall, family-run store from where she had been buying for 30 years. There was barely a board to announce its existence. The owner was a grandfatherly man in pajamas who took the grains out of a burly sack, measured the quantity carefully, and poured it into a bag – over a delightful conversation on why I was buying what I was. The stuff turned out to be first-rate.

Could I ever get the same experience online? Could an ecommerce firm offer me the same knowledge, advice, and warmth that I got from “Lalaji” – a term for many a local shopkeeper in India?

Yes, if Mumbai-based ShopLyne can help it. A mobile-only marketplace, the app promises to let you buy products you love from the stores you trust.
“In a city where you are constantly bombarded with brand messaging and visuals, it’s easy to overlook your local stores that actually have everything you need,” says co-founder Amit Mehta. ShopLyne curates these stores.

It’s a bit of a shopping boulevard. You can get clued in on Mumbai’s shopping scene, and grab some cool deals and discounts. The product categories it lays out include beauty and cosmetics, personal grooming, gadget accessories and electronics, home décor, fitness and nutrition, sports, pet essentials, and stationery.

But its USP lies in bringing some key features of offline retailing – like trust, familiarity, and sense of community – to the mobile shopping experience. Most importantly, human-to-human contact.

The startup was founded in October last year by a bunch of advertizing and media professionals – Amit, Deepak Dhingra, Pallavi Dhingra, Malvika Tegta, and Uttarika Kumaran.

They had launched another product in 2012 called Real Reviews. It was a video review platform where the actual consumer talked about his or her user experience to help other consumers decide what to buy. It is still running, but monetization is tricky because they want to keep the reviews and reviewers authentic.

ShopLyne evolved from the team’s experience with Real Reviews. Last October, they launched the Android app on Google Play store for a pilot run. Since then, they have been quietly onboarding stores, adding products, and gathering feedback from early adopters to refine the app.

In four months, the app has onboarded 80 local stores in Mumbai and seen 600 downloads, say the founders. ShopLyne plans to tie up with 200 local sellers in Mumbai in the next three months.

 

For The Faceless Seller

Ecommerce retail is expected to grow at a rate of 52 percent to reach US$36.7 billion by 2020.
In this billion plus country, there could be millions of shopkeepers waiting for an opportunity like that. The funny thing is many online orders are sourced from local stores, but the shopkeeper remains an unseen entity.

“We want to move away from the faceless seller phenomenon that’s prevalent online and give local retailers a mobile platform they can call their own,” says Uttarika, head of marketing communications.

ShopLyne allows sellers direct contact with buyers. They can upload their own inventory, control the pricing, and manage the orders themselves.

The company monetizes through a commission of 5 to 10 percent on every sale.

Its ‘app-within-an-app’ model allows every store its own navigation area for personalized branding and promotion. Users can ‘enter’ a store, browse products by category, and even call up the seller directly in case of queries.

The startup also offers a way to marry the convenience of online shopping with the pleasures of buying from your favorite store. “We’re essentially a platform where users who’ve been buying from their trusted local stores for years can now order from them through our app,” says Uttarika.

That’s a good space to be in. For offline is how most of India still shops, even as mobile shopping is set to explode. A KPMG report last year stated that online retail is only six percent of the organized retail trade and is estimated to reach 14 percent by 2020.

Competition

But then several local shopping apps are jumping into the bandwagon. There’s Purplista, Scootsy, and Zopper, to name a few. How does ShopLyne hope to stay ahead?

The founders say unlike some of the others it is not about search and discounts alone. “Scootsy is the closest to us in that it is about curation. However, ShopLyne spans more categories, addresses the needs of a wider audience, and sells everything – from everyday needs to high-value durables,” says Malvika.

While other local shopping apps coordinate pick-up and delivery between the seller and the buyer, ShopLyne stores manage all orders personally and deliver directly to customers. So if a user orders from a store in his neighbourhood, he will get free delivery under 30 minutes.

The app is high on design and navigation. A friend raved to me about its localization feature, which helps you choose a store in a particular neighborhood.

“Sitting in Bangalore, I wanted to order a gift for my friend in Mumbai. So I used the app to find a store in her Mahim West area. I actually picked up a high-quality Sri Lankan spa kit in a shop in her own neighborhood!” she says.

The app’s ‘Love The Local’ feature showcases seller stories and handpicked products. Take for instance Arunodaya Stores in Dadar, where the salespersons could beat any online encyclopedia when it comes to crockery and home appliances. Or you might love to browse through a 150-year-old store, possibly India’s oldest sports shop.

Unlike other local shopping apps, users are not limited to a single location while shopping. Orders can be placed at multiple stores anywhere in the city, followed by a single payment on checkout.

But will they be able to match ecommerce giants when it comes to speedy delivery?

“Yes, our deliveries are fast, but that’s just a natural upshot of shopping locally. There’s so much more to a local shopping experience that people crave, like personalized service and a sense of community. That is where we want to excel,” says Deepak.

Uttarika Kumaran

A former reluctant journalist and always aspiring word-weaver, Uttarika Kumaran is also Co-Founder, ShopLyne.

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