#Asia This startup is using emojis to disrupt online groceries in India


Photo credit: Wikipedia

Photo credit: Wikipedia

In hindsight, the maddening rush in 2015 towards grocery delivery startups in India made a lot of sense. The beautiful – but abstract – vision of a customer swiping his finger a few times in order to have groceries summoned to his doorstep was infectious. The sector seemed ripe with potential – until the big, bad logistics monster once again reared its ugly head. Planning pickups, warehousing, and deliveries was much more difficult than people thought it would be. Would startups stock inventory in warehouses or pick them up from stores? If they did pick up from stores, how would they ensure successful partnerships that would neither overestimate their own sales or coincide with that of offline customers?

While some grocery delivery startups have managed to make the most of the chaos – Big Basket, Grofers, and ZopNow to name a few – the founder of Divum Labs, Vaideeswaran Sethuraman, explains that there’s still a long way to go. According to him, the inherently consumer-facing world of grocery delivery startups has wasted too much time focusing on its operational aspects.

Photo credit: Kerala Tourism Logistics in India can be tough.

Photo credit: Kerala Tourism
Logistics in India can be tough.

Perhaps this is why he waited for the crowd to clear before launching Terraa. Until now, Divum has focused on building apps and cloud-based solutions for other startups and has worked with the likes of Mahindra Tata’s Babyoye and travel portal Makemytrip. Terraa is its first foray into the product space.

So far, Terraa has managed to successfully tackle the major problems that typically afflict grocery delivery startups in India. It has tied up with Gojavas, a logistics management company with connectivity to over 300 cities. This means that aspects like pickup, drop off, and collecting cash on delivery will be entirely handled by gojavas. “While we’ve also tied up a bank and a payment wallet, we realized that this cash economy would require handling cash on delivery seamlessly,” says Vaideeswaran.

Its first grocery stores – virtual warehouses, as Vaideeswaran calls them – are sourced through their partnership with Reliance Fresh, a chain that currently has 453 stores across the country. “In any city, we have at least 50 stores,” he explains. “Let’s say you order groceries. We already have four to eight stores to choose from to give you what you want, depending on the stock and availability.”

Gamification, social shopping, and chat

So… if not logistics or procurement, what’s left to focus on? “Marketing and bringing the best product to our consumers,” Vaideeswaran says. “Conventionally, grocery shopping has been a social thing,” he explains. “Families go to stores together and there are so many psychological things that have come with that. That’s an inherently social thing. Think of loyalty to a certain store, or the exciting feeling of getting rewards or discounts. That’s gamification. Our question was: why can’t we bring these aspects to an app?”

In my opinion, the Terraa app is the startup’s crown jewel. It’s equipped with a chat-like interface where users can select “prodicons”, or easy to load, emoticon-esque pictures of groceries that are carefully hand-drawn by Terraa’s design team.

“The only prodicons that aren’t hand drawn are the fruits and vegetables,” says Vaideeswaran. “We know that customers like to see real photos of their produce. We’ve only made an exception for the lemons.”

The chatbox acts like a shopping basket that collects and stores these prodicons. Because Terraa focuses deeply on customer data, Vaideeswaran explains that a user’s grocery experience becomes streamlined. “We use analytics and past data to figure out what you might want to order next. Every once in a while, we suggest products that the user might want next inside the chatbox.”


I’m using prodicons to order a balanced meal.

Users can also create “house carts”, or group chats with the friends and family that they usually shop with. “Once you add people to your house cart, you can collaborate real time with your groceries,” Vaideeswaran explains. “For example, my wife just added cereal to our house cart. I don’t think we need this brand so I can delete it and send her a prodicon of a healthier version.”

Still, entirely replacing grocery shopping with an app remains difficult. “We’ve had challenges getting those that are thirty and above to use our app,” he explains. “Emoticons just don’t excite them in the same way.”

Keep it moving

Photo credit: Patrick Savalle

Photo credit: Patrick Savalle

While Terraa has only been live in Bangalore for a little over a month, Vaideeswaran has plans to move rapidly. “We want to prove that our business model can scale to multiple cities much faster,” Vaideeswaran explains. “We really believe in using our partnerships to their full capacity.” In the future, the startup hopes to partner with more grocery store franchises.

Whether or not Terraa will achieve success is yet to be seen. Still, it’s clear that Vaideeswaran has the right attitude to survive in India’s dynamic and intuition led grocery delivery environment. When I explained to him that I rarely ordered groceries online because the basket size was often too big to order just for myself, he immediately changed the minimum payment from INR 300 (US$4.50) to INR 200 (US$3). “Just for the weekend,” he laughs. “We’ll see how it turns out.”

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