India’s quick commerce market is poised for amazing growth. In this Spotlight India series, WARC India Editor Biprorshee Das examines the motivations and players that are driving this exciting delivery phenomenon, and whether the 10-minute promise is sustainable in the long run.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on quick commerce in India. Read more

As we were inching out of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns in 2022, and started to slowly and thankfully begin to leave the “new normal” behind, I merrily went back to doing one of my favourite things – grocery shopping.

However, like many, my habits have changed in the last two years. I realised that the short walk to the supermarket might not be all that fun after all when an app on my smartphone had been serving me well. And then I heard of groceries being delivered in 10 minutes.

Quick commerce or q-commerce has arrived and my daily needs were now promised at my doorstep quicker than a 30-minute Domino’s Pizza that had been doing “quick commerce” even before the term was invented. But the question is: Do I really need to be spoiled?

I love what a friend had to say about these Quicksilver-esque service providers - it is like they are hiding in your parking lot. This might not be quite far from the truth if you’d think. On the other hand, I remain old school - well almost. I might not be visiting the supermarket as often but I am happy with my online grocery orders being delivered within a day.

I could be in the minority because q-commerce in the recent past seems to have exploded in India. Hence, it made sense for us to look into quick commerce and its possible potential in the long term as our next Spotlight theme.

A RedSeer Consulting report estimates India’s quick commerce market will grow 15 times to touch US$5.5 billion by 2025. That is big and by no means can be called a flash in the pan.

Citing the Kantar Mobile Audience Measurement Panel, Kantar’s Soumi Mukherjee and Arnab Dutta shared in their knowledge paper for this edition, “Over the last year, quick commerce has seen exponential growth of 4x and currently contributes 7% of the overall 320 billion rupee online grocery market. The reach of these apps has grown by 30% from Q4 2021 to Q1 2022.”

However, both were quick to remind that in spite of the current growth spurt, quick commerce in India is still only 7% of the overall online grocery category and has a long road ahead.

For the doubting Thomas

There are questions aplenty posed by our contributors. There are environmental concerns, questions over the ethical treatment of delivery partners, quality of products being delivered, long-term promise and perhaps the biggest one – do we really need our groceries in 10 minutes?

Reports suggest consumers might not be willing to pay a premium for quick delivery and there are discussions over regulating these deliveries.

For every Zepto and Dunzo growing in this space in India, there are players that have tested the waters and decided to stay away. Ola, for instance, wound up its quick commerce business, Ola Dash, earlier this year.

The insatiable consumer

Can we live without quick delivery? Yes. Are we still being delighted by a 10-minute delivery of our orders? We probably are. One could say it is a behavioural change that is probably being forced and we will soon be left wondering how we ever lived without it. I mean, a pizza now coming to us in 35 minutes instead of 30? Blasphemy!

Ajeeta Bharadwaj, chief strategy officer of Wondrlab, brought up an important point in her article – impatience. Studies show how Indians are among the most impatient shoppers around and it is this quality that is fuelling the rise of quick commerce.

She said, “A Qwikcilver study in 2019 showed that Indians are the most impatient shoppers in the world. By beating every on-time delivery with an even more time-bound quickest-ever delivery, we are further fuelling this impatience. It is a short step from there to intolerance of anything that doesn’t meet these exacting standards.”

And while Bharadwaj cites a 2019 study, this is a point that has also been highlighted by the recent Future Shopper Report 2022 from Wunderman Thompson. Among the many points the report makes is that impatient Indian shoppers expect their orders to be delivered in less than two hours.

Time is not of the essence

The sceptic in me turned to two of the more successful players in the segment to be featured in this edition – Zepto and Dunzo. And much to my surprise, both agreed that perhaps quick delivery is really not all that necessary but it is only an option that is being provided as part of the entire service.

Amritansu Nanda, chief marketing officer of Zepto, said, “The idea is to provide a better alternative, something that forces consumers to switch their habits so they realise that life is better with this particular service.”

In our conversation, Nanda also said, “Beyond a point, the delivery time does not matter.” Imagine, a quick commerce major saying this.

He is betting on delivering better experiences over quick deliveries.

Dunzo’s CEO and co-founder Kabeer Biswas shared something similar. He said, “Our understanding is that users prefer selection, quality and price over speed only. We have figured that delivery needs to be done in line with an offline transaction of 30-45 minutes but we are actively encouraging users to pick slower delivery times so that we can build a robust business model.”

This had me scratching my head. Two of the most popular brands in Indian quick commerce share that “time” has less priority. How long can you sell the promise of rapid delivery? And will one brand eventually and quite literally race against the other? Most likely not. My understanding is this is how a brand will build loyalty and then calm things down.

Speaking to both Biswas and Nanda as well as the other strategists who contributed with knowledge papers, I was left with an important insight. I live in a metro and fortunately I don’t have to travel a lot for work, but then, there are those who do; most professionals living in a metro in fact. For them, something like a 10 to 20-minute grocery delivery makes a lot of sense. Different strokes for different folks perhaps.

Looking ahead

As Nanda said, my bet is that brands in the space will need to start thinking beyond speed – a sound customer experience will go a long way. Quick deliveries could then be a nice little cherry on the top.

Amaresh Godbole from Publicis Groupe summed it up simply. He said, “There is room and a need for convenience and speed but it needs to be realistic and sustainable from a profit, environmental and human perspective. It needs to balance the needs of VCs, founders, delivery partners and consumers.”

Azendor Brand Consulting’s Sourabh Mishra shared a similar thought. “Q-commerce brands only have the initial momentum, based on quick delivery as a product differentiator, which gives them the breathing space to create a customer base to establish themselves. They will ultimately have to measure up to consumers’ expectations of being a good retailer and be benchmarked against the traditional strong players in the retail space.”

Manoj Mansukhani, chief digital officer of Wunderman Thompson South Asia, added that brands will have to be consistent for them to enjoy a loyal customer base.

“Quick commerce brands need to ensure that they are able to maintain the same standard of service for their customers and their promise of delivery. As long as they are able to provide these two basic needs, they will see a loyal base of consumers.”

His advice: Catching the user right at the beginning is crucial as it is difficult to get users to switch brands later on. To retain them, deliver on promises.

I might see the point of quick commerce slightly better now but I would have to agree that the glass is still half empty. There is a spark of a movement here. Eventually, we could start taking it for granted like 30-minute pizza delivery (I really need to get over this example) or it could fizzle out just as quickly. Are you in a tearing hurry to find out?