For most people, going out to buy vegetables and other daily needs is a painful experience — the arduous walk, the wading through slush and traffic, parking troubles for those with a car, and having to carry the heavy bags on the return journey. But Hemanth Krishna Singh just sits in front of the computer in his bedroom almost every single Monday, clicks a few buttons and all his greens are delivered to his doorstep.

A resident of Gopalapuram, Mr. Singh says that before he chanced upon ‘Veggie Bazaar', an online fruits and vegetable retailer, he used to drive to a store a good 10 minutes away and spend 45 minutes on buying vegetables each week. “Buying online was convenient and made a lot of sense. I do not have to set aside an hour, search for a parking space or stand in a queue,” he adds. He buys vegetables worth about Rs.1,000 online each week.

People like him are the early adopters of what might yet turn out to be the next big revolution in retail. While an online portal may never fully replace a neighbourhood store or a supermarket, the real question is: will consumers even consider buying perishable goods such as groceries and vegetables online?

"Some elements of the shopping experience are definitely going to move online,” says G.Subramanium, Managing Director of Easy Purchase. Positioning web presence as a value addition to a physical store, Easy Purchase has tied up with 24 stores across Chennai to offer a user-friendly visual store. One such person is Pavithraa Suresh, who says that many newly emerging residential areas in the city do not have any neighbourhood mom and pop stores. “Though my house is near Koyambedu, it is kind of a remote area. There are only tyre and hardware stores in the vicinity. There are no shops around, but we have 24/7 Internet access. I am constantly online and do all the household shopping while I browse,” Ms.Suresh says.

However, experts such as P.Vijayaraghavan, a Management Studies Professor at IIT-Madras, doubt if online retail, especially when it comes to perishable items, can ever be sustainable. “In a country like India, where you have vegetable push carts and street-side vendors, there might not be much room for an online vegetable or grocery seller. There are just so many distribution points. Unless retailers bring in some strong value proposition, apart from offering the novelty of a web-based store, people won't shift.”

Which is why sites such as chennaionlinegrocery.com allow NRIs to order food items for their parents back home and Veggie Bazaar delivers vegetables after cutting, dicing and cleaning them. Their service guarantees could turn out to be the difference, says Ms.Suresh. “Once it was pouring outside and I urgently required some grocery items. They came and delivered; she adds.

Keywords: Veggie Bazaar

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