Friday, December 23, 2011

Main Bazaar, Pondy Bazaar, Big Bazaar, and the stalled retail revolution in India

A few weeks ago, a friend in Eugene reminded me about the bazaar at her church, for fundraising activities.

"You owe the British for having imported the word "bazaar" into the English language, thanks to their adventures in India and the Middle East" I commented with my half-baked understanding of the etymology in this context. 

Well, perhaps whatever I know is half-baked, eh!

In the small industrial town where I grew up, the Main Bazaar was the commercial part of town. From clothes to electronics to bakery, it had them in a bazaar-styled layout.  It is the bazaar air that the pedestrian single-story mall of contemporary new urbanism tries to capture too.

With the high school reunion only a few days away, I suppose I will soon find out how much that old Main Bazaar has changed, and how much of that old layout remains.

Here in Chennai, I went with my sister to a multi-level store that is like a Wal-Mart Superstore in Pondy Bazaar.  This fancy new place is called "Big Bazaar" and is one happening place in the evenings. 

Turns out that as is the case with the Wal-Mart kind of big box stores, this Big Bazaar also offers products at prices that are lower than those charged by the smaller stores.  At least, that was the case with the few things we purchased at Big Bazaar.

If the prices in the sampling of merchandise are not any outliers, and are more typical in terms of lower prices than the smaller "mom and pop stores" then I have ground-level evidence on why the stalled openness in retailing might not be advantageous to the consumer.  
While the Government is still hesitant about the next step, it's wrong to assume that global retailers will wait forever, say retail experts. “The Government is sending the wrong signals to global players. While they are wary of the policymaking process in the country, these retailers also now realise it will be a challenging task to tackle each State Government on APMC rules if FDI is ever allowed,” says Mr Arvind Singhal, Chairman, Technopak Advisors.
Global retailer Walmart has indicated that India allowing 51 per cent FDI in retail had actually exceeded its expectations. In view of the political sensitivity, the company was comfortable with a 49 per cent FDI.
Mr Raj Jain, Managing Director and CEO, Bharti Walmart, had said in November that while the FDI nod was welcome, the company will need to study the conditions and the finer details of the new policy and the impact it will have on its ability to do business in India.
I worry that the problem is not merely about India opening up to a Tesco or Walmart.  But that this is a serious symptom of acute problems in India.  Fareed Zakaria also seems to worry about the same:

Last week marked exactly 10 years since the term BRIC was coined. The catchy acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China used to describe the new powerhouse emerging markets. But the man who invented the moniker now says one of the four has been a great disappointment. No, not Russia, with all its recent troubles; not Brazil, whose economy contracted in the last quarter; and certainly not China, which continues to power on.
Goldman Sachs' Jim O'Neill says that the country that has been the biggest letdown has been India. He pointed out last week that India's inability to attract foreign investment could actually lead to a balance of payments crisis. From BRIC to basket case, "What in the World?" is going on?
Well, some numbers tell a troubling story. Growth has dipped below 7% for the first time in two years. The Indian rupee is Asia's worst performing currency this year, falling to a historic low against the dollar.
India's deficits are soaring and funding is drying up. India received less than $20 billion in foreign direct investment in the first six months of 2011. China got three times that amount. Even Russia, with the smaller GDP, took in more.
Why is India struggling? Sadly, the real problem isn't economics. India has a very dynamic private sector - probably the most dynamic in the emerging markets. But it has a government that simply doesn't work.
I hope India will soon correct its course; else, Indians might have to worry a lot about the Mayan prophesy!

No comments:

Most read this past month