The enablers: These changemakers are helping millions, breaking barriers


Ramesh, a daily wage labourer from Gaya (Bihar) works in a brick kiln factory in Madhya Pradesh that is situated in a region that does not have any bank or ATM in its 10 km vicinity. As a result, he finds it extremely hard to obtain money, unless he decides to skip half a day’s work – just to visit the nearest bank branch.

A large section of the society has been bypassed by formal channels of banking and finance and most find it difficult to access or understand such services. It’s precisely in such scenarios wherein, a number of fintech players are now playing a crucial role in bridging the physical distance and the information asymmetry.

Payworld, one such digital-led finance player, targets a large number of individuals in the Bottom of the Pyramid (BTP) section of the society. Since 2006, Payworld has been operating with the idea of assisted ecommerce across the country, particularly in far-flung regions where access to many of the basic financial solutions is still few and far in between.

Clocking 200,000-250,000 transactions on a daily basis, enabled via its 200,000 retail points across the country, the platform’s existing basket of offerings include the most basic of utility services, such as domestic money remittance, mobile and DTH recharges, rail, air and bus reservation, insurance facilities, utility bill collections, digital wallets and cash withdrawal points.

Noteworthy is, that for facilitating these services, the enterprise does not charge anything from its customer, but instead charges various service providers that are on-board its platform. “Service providers such as insurance companies, investment portfolio companies give us a margin that we share with the retailer,” tells Praveen Dhabhai, the fintech’s COO

Fuelling entrepreneurship
One quite visible benefit of the unique modus operandi of the enterprise means that while taking the idea of assisted ecommerce to nation’s tier 2-3 regions, it has also produced thousands of new age entrepreneurs. This is evident from the fact that the company today boasts of more than 200,000 retail points across the country, thereby acting as a source of (additional) revenue for thousands of rural-based entrepreneurs.

As Dhabani puts it, “Since inception, the key motivation behind Payworld has been to facilitate an additional revenue stream for small shop owners, entrepreneurs and SMEs, besides accelerating their financial inclusion.”

The platform also provides Aadhaar enabled payment service to a large number of MSMEs, thereby addressing their working capital requirements – an acute problem for MSMEs based out of India’s hinterlands.

“Under our definition of assisted ecommerce, Payworld also facilitate SME’s loans. It also acts as a Composite Corporate Agent to provide small-ticket insurance solutions, besides facilitating various investment options in portfolios,” he adds.

Payworld says it is filling an important space where it did about 35 million transactions with 22 million unique customers last year. Dhabhani says using data analytics, the firm can even analyse if a customer coming for remittance is a good fit for loans (from various NBFCs on its platform), or if a would-be-borrower is a good potential for insurance schemes/mutual fund products too.

Shiprocket: Making business shipping easy
Shiprocket wants to drive efficiency in India’s ecommerce logistics by connecting online retailers with logistics providers along the supply chain. The digital platform aims at collaboratively connecting online retailers, logistics companies and consumers on an all-in-one platform. Boasting of a nationwide network, with 26,000 pin codes available for pickups, deliveries and cash-on-delivery (COD), Goel says that the platform’s core ..

Backed by business analytics to help sellers make informed decisions, the logistics aggregator currently has 15,000 sellers in its platform.

“We operate in the ecommerce enablement space. We are living in a time where on one end of the spectrum you may have housewives selling on WhatsApp, and on Instagram, and on the other, an SMB trader operating out of (say) Surat, who could be selling items directly via his own website. Shiprocket caters to the needs of both such individuals,” says Goel.

Cutting costs
Backed by data analytics and API integration solutions, Goel says that the aggregator can manage the entire shipping cycle of SMEs on one platform, leading to a significant reduction to their logistics costs.
Experts say, the Indian ecommerce space is in the nascent stage and requires protection from major foreign brands that have often been accused of violating competition norms and predatory pricing. Goel believes that his platform acts as a springboard f ..

Terming logistics costs as the biggest Achilles heel of small entrepreneurs, Goel says if a typical SMB today is selling an item worth Rs 600, then his logistics costs will be around Rs 200 – a significant 30% of the total amount of the order. Goel, thus believes, Indian SMBs are not able to compete with big etailers on the price front. Shiprocket wants to turnaround the situation for them.

“What we bring is that we a similar cost structure and a similar technology that the global players boast of – at a much lower rate, without compromising on the consumer experience, thereby helping Indian SMEs reach a level playing field,” he adds.

ShopX: offering unique solutions for a unique India
Useful to MSMEs, Nandan Nilekani-backed ShopX is an omnichannel retail operating platform that acts as a hub for connecting brands, retailers, and consumers – all at one place.

As aspirations rise across India, consumers in smaller towns and cities want to purchase brands considered desirable. However, for major brands selling in Tier 2 and 3 towns is a costly proposition, which means local shopkeepers often miss out on what consumer want. The startup aims to connect thousand of mom-and-pop shop owners with FMCG brands directly. Through a digital catalogue, small retailers spread across India can directly order from brands like Unilever, L’oreal and even Apple. ShopX h ..

With more than one lakh retailers across the country signed up on its shop network, the business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce platform claims to execute $400 million of annualised business. The startup claims to manage over 50,000 transactions per day and power a deeply integrated supply chain.

“We realised that India is different. It’s neither the US nor China and needs its own principles-based answers. We observed that India has a beautiful and widespread network of small merchants across the country, and by digitising them, we can create something akin to an Uber for retail – a shared economy model which utilises pre-existing infrastructure,” says Sharma.

While holding the view that the main mechanism of organising retail in the future will neither be the large format retail paradigm, nor the traditional B2C ecommerce model, he opines that although both of the before-mentioned models have been heavily funded, they together still amounted to less than 10% of retail.

Sharma believes that when one extends the concept of how traditional retail works for the benefit of ecommerce players, the outcome is a model where customer specific customisation is lost. Citing an anomaly in the existing e-retailing framework, he goes on to highlight how a customer logging in from Bangalore on a cold December morning can see the same sweatshirts as someone logging in from a far colder Delhi.

“At ShopX, our omnichannel strategy focusses on customisation, localisation and personalisation. We ensure that every retailer gets a unique view of the merchandise on offer from brands. Present in over 300 towns across India, our technology platform ensures that a Kirana owner in South Bangalore gets to see a different range of products and offers from a Kirana store in Belgaum,” elaborates Sharma.

The founder also cites ‘discoverability’ as their other USP, saying this differentiator allows shoppers to discover the best prices and products available in their vicinity and connect with retailers digitally. The startup has a consumer facing app for this. It has also recently acquired two entities – GabbarDeals and PriceMap. The founding duo believes that with these moves, they have simplified the buying and selling experience for retailers, besides making it easier for consumers to shop.

Maintaining that ShopX has been able to add more than 15,000 retailers to its network each month in recent times, Sharma adds that the startup is targeting one million small retailers to enable ordering, delivery, returns and customer servicing for 400 million consumers. “We are targeting a billion-dollar scale within the next 12 months.”