BigBasket's Head HR on How the E-Grocery Industry Is Being Transformed by the Pandemic

BigBasket's Head HR on How the E-Grocery Industry Is Being Transformed by the Pandemic

In an exclusive interaction with Human Capital, Hari T.N., Head HR, BigBasket, shares his views on how the e-grocery industry is being transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how the new labour codes have brought about long-overdue reforms. 



Online grocery, which was a $1.9 billion market in 2019, is poised to reach $18 billion-plus in India by 2024 with the catalyst of the pandemic, according to a joint report by RedSeer Consulting and BigBasket. How do you see the job market in the e-grocery industry now and after COVID-19 abates? Which are certain in-demand skills that will be the top job drivers?



About 90% of the workforce is unskilled or semi-skilled, traditionally referred to as blue-collar. Growth in these jobs is almost linearly related to growth in the revenue.


We believe that COVID-19 has helped move some demand permanently from offline grocery stores to online grocery companies like Bigbasket. A good number of these new customers will continue to shop online. So, COVID-19 helped accelerate the movement from offline to online. What may have taken a few years was accomplished overnight, resulting in a one-time reset.


Online grocery/commerce tends to rely a lot more than the offline grocery/ retail on technology, analytics, data sciences, product and digital marketing. These skills will be the top job drivers.



Over the last few months, the breadth, depth, and scale of the novel talent challenges experienced by e-grocers have been astounding—be it addressing workforce shortages to meet the massive demand surge or motivating people to come to work during the course of the lockdown. What are the biggest pain points for the sector right now? How do they need to be tackled?



All the initial challenges have been overcome. In the early days of lockdown when there was a surge in demand coupled with a huge shortage of manpower, we rejigged several processes, including the assortment, to increase labour productivity multifold. This helped us serve the spike in demand.


People have been returning to work, and companies have been strengthening safety and hygiene standards at the workplaces. There are no particular pain points now worth calling out, except for the regular problems that any business faces.



How do you see the impact of the labour codes—which have been recently cleared by Parliament—on e-grocery startups? For an industry with a business model relying on the gig economy, do you believe the Social Security Code, which brings informal workers, gig workers and platform workers under a social security net, will come about as a boon?


The labour reforms have been long overdue. These reforms address three major issues:


(a) By bringing a few hundred labour laws under four broad codes, simplification has been achieved. Compliance is easy, and the contradictions and inconsistencies in definitions across different labour laws are mostly a thing of the past.


(b) Bringing 85% of the unorganised workforce under the purview of these laws has ensured that they are now covered and provided adequate protection.


(c) The ease of doing business has been significantly enhanced by a variety of measures, including making it difficult to resort to strikes and lockouts. Shutting down unviable businesses has also been made much easier.



We still need to see how the provisions of extending social security to the gig workforce will actually work on the ground without jeopardising the fundamental beauty of this win-win model that aligns the interests of the gig workers with those of their associated companies.



When it comes to addressing key concerns such as changing business needs and boosting employee morale, what are the vital points that function as an imperative for an organisation in your sector?


We are fortunately part of a sunrise sector and hence do not have problems with employee morale. Employee morale is usually a problem with sectors that are fading into the sunset or being decimated by social distancing (e.g., restaurants, malls, physical stores, airlines, hospitality, etc.).



What, according to you, is the biggest transformation that the pandemic has brought forth for your sector?


The biggest transformation that the pandemic brought to this sector is undoubtedly accelerating the migration of shoppers from offline to online retail. What may have taken years was achieved overnight. Suddenly, many people have realised that their bias against online shopping was misplaced. The lure of convenience plus a lower price point that online grocery offers is an unbeatable and irresistible proposition.



With 5+ years of experience, Ankita has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire. She is currently Deputy Editor at Human Capital.


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