The Indian Retail RevolutionGovindan’s ‘Goodwill’ Grocery Shop in a South Indian suburb apparently lives upto its name though Govindan himself seems unsure of what the word means. Not least because every time Mr.Wilfred slows down his Ambassador in front of  the shop, Govindan comes out and hands over a packet of Wills cigarettes nor because he stocks used tennis balls from a nearby club to be sold to budding cricketers in the neighbourhood for a 2 Rs margin.

From small towns to big cities thousands of ‘Goodwill’ or ‘Mum’n’Dad shops’ as the media calls them now, have been catering to the needs of the local population in India for decades. Their know-how of the local populations wants and needs is immense – something that Mckinsey’s multi-coloured graphs or a management guru’s research report will never be able to match. Which is probably why Govindan is not worried about the much trumpeted arrival of Wal-Mart and the Retail Revolution in India though he is not prepared to dispel the idea that some of his loyal customers will give a cold shoulder to his Mysore Paks with a halo of flies when they see a neatly packed and branded Swiss roll in a glitzy mall.

But is there a market for Swiss rolls in India? Will Indians get used to the idea of pushing a shopping cart picking up vegetables instead of being told by the local grocer that the potatoes are ‘fresh’ and the bananas need a couple of days to ripen? Despite the vast experience that companies like Reliance and Bharti have  in the Indian market, addressing basic questions like these and forming a strategy that is flexible enough to be adapted to local conditions will determine how successful these big corporations are in the long run. The market might be big and varied enough to accommodate all the players including the small grocery shops, but the eventual market shares of each of these entities afer the market stablises will be interesting to follow.

As Govindan will reckon, the Wal-Marts and the Carrefours are yet to come up with a strategy that will address each of their customers in the neighbourhood by name nor will they have plans to sell second-hand tennis balls.