An app for independent vendors to sell directly to apartments?

In April 2020, I had written about the rise of apartments/residents welfare associations as a sales channel worth exploiting. The larger brands took to this channel smoothly since they simply needed to reroute their existing system to cater to his new channel.

But what about non-branded independent sellers? How can they sell directly to apartments?

In August 2020, I had written about a grated coconut brand that was primarily selling to B2B customers (hotel industry and airline hospitality), but was severely impacted by the COVID-related lockdown and slowdown (closure of all the B2B buyers’ businesses). The brand started selling directly, like a D2C brand, to apartments.

I’m sure every one of us would have a story like this – a vegetable/fruit vendor selling directly to apartments, a fresh greens producer selling directly to apartments, a fresh idly/dosa batter producer (not packaged ones like iD) selling directly to apartments, a pickle maker selling directly to apartments and so on – as an aftermath of the pandemic-induced lockdown. Many of us may have become regular customers of such non-branded sellers and products too.

While my earlier post focused only on the B2B to D2C movement, there is another angle to that story worth observing – that of the ease of the selling process and buying process.

The average process goes like this:

  • The seller contacts one apartment resident (through contacts/referrals)
  • The seller informs what is on sale, the price, minimum quantity that the apartment needs to order for the seller to deliver etc.
  • The resident forwards the seller’s WhatsApp message (it is always/usually a WhatsApp message!) to the apartment’s WhatsApp Group and asks who else wants to buy
  • Many/some other residents evince interest and share their required quantity
  • The first resident totals/tallies the orders and shares them with the seller
  • The seller informs the resident about the date of delivery and delivers on the said date by setting up his van inside/outside the apartment.
  • Upon informing through the WhatsApp group, people come down from their flats, get the product and pay digitally via Google Pay/PhonePe/Paytm etc.

Besides the seller’s efforts, an often overlooked effort is that of the first resident who wants to buy but needs a quorum (set by the seller) for the order to be feasible with the least delivery charge. That resident almost works like an extension of the seller in promoting, gathering information, and sending the order to the seller to enable the delivery process.

WhatsApp, being merely a messaging platform, doesn’t help in gathering responses or adding up the total (orders X price per unit). Many apartments/residents create a Google Form for that purpose. But there are too many hand-offs – from WhatsApp to Google Form to a payment gateway and so on.

I sense that this is a good enough need to enable more independent sellers to be able to seamlessly sell to apartments, with or without the minimum order criteria (they could scale up to deliver smaller orders too provided they have the backing of a delivery partner and are able to manage the costs in a beneficial way).

What the product needs to do is as follows:

  • Allow the seller to add his/her limited product catalog (usually one or two kinds of products)
  • Send a single link via WhatsApp to a resident in an apartment (based on prior contact/referral) with an expiry time (after which orders cannot be accepted)
  • The resident could forward that message to the apartment WhatsApp group
  • Every resident could click on the link, see the product available for sale, select the quantity he/she wants, get to see the total cost, pay via the service’s online payment module if payment is needed in advance; for instance, for freshly cooked-on-demand products)
  • The total amount and order reaches the seller for him/her to fulfill the order
  • Good to have: An option for the seller to pick a delivery partner to handle deliveries if they are not geared to do it themselves.

(This is simply the online equivalent of how it works offline – a seller contacts the apartment complex’s manager/contact person, requests to set up a stall and sell products on a given day)

I came to know from a friend that one such solution is Helo Protocol. I notice that Helo started as a ‘LinkedIn for blue-collared workers’ till mid-2020, but pivoted to becoming a hyperlocal seller enabler in December that allows a vendor to set-up a temporary store, collect orders, get paid digitally, and pick delivery partners to fulfill the order.

I feel this could be thought of as an add-on for hyperlocal delivery players like Dunzo too. Dunzo starts from the angle of connecting local shops to local buyers, but if they let any seller be onboarded as a seller (a temporary/one-time/less frequent than a ‘shop’; after the necessary checks and balances, of course), they could add a lot more sellers. Dunzo currently onboards what I see as ‘retail outlets’ of any kind. But if they could also onboard an individual (without a brand/shop) for a one-time sale of a specific product/produce to a targeted set of buyers in a cluster/area, then that complex WhatsApp-Google Form process could be simplified to a great degree.

Needless to add, this is possibly an opportunity for Swiggy’s hyperlocal division too.

Another angle to approach this as a service line is from the payment side. A Google Pay or a PhonePe could become the platform where an individual could set-up a one-time/limited-time ‘shop’ of sorts, get a link that he/she can forward to a contact in an apartment, and complete the flow. The payment app becomes the default payment gateway in this case, though that may restrict choice for the users (so they need to have options to pay in a way they want).

Yet another angle to approach this service is from the perspective of discoverability – apps/start-ups that work with apartments for one or more purposes – MyGate, Apartment Adda etc. could add this as a line of service (since many of them have a payment mechanism to collect maintenance fees and so on) and offer the extra value of apartment discoverability to sellers.

Cover image courtesy: Freepik from Flaticon

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