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There really is nothing quite like the rush of picking up those brightly packaged products off the supermarket shelves and filling your cart with the month’s groceries—until you get to the half-hour-long weekend queue at the checkout counter.

But the sheen of the aisles is lost on Bangalore-based college lecturer Amrita Paul-Chakrabarty, who chanced upon online shopping a few months ago. “My weekends are now suddenly free," she gushes. She switched to shopping at BigBasket.com four months ago and now orders from there at least once a week.

“I was a bit apprehensive about getting fresh foodstuff online, but I had to try," says Paul-Chakrabarty. She was happy with what was delivered at her doorstep.

While she buys pulses and grains on a monthly basis from BigBasket, she logs on to the website every week to stock up on vegetables and fruits. “That I can get fresh and well-packed vegetables without leaving the house is a huge plus," she says.

Bangalore’s technologically literate, dual-income households love the convenience of shopping for groceries online, and start-ups are picking up on the needs of the market. “Young couples and people who have moved here for their jobs understand e-commerce, and they seem to be living off instant noodles and milk," says Bal Krishn Birla, who co-founded ZopNow.com in October. He says that at any given time, his warehouse stocks 400-500 packets of Maggi noodles.

Net gain: ZopNow has a warehouse. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

“There was a time in February when the orders far exceeded our capacity. We had no vans to deliver, and had to deal with some angry customers," says Menon, adding that BigBasket now has 21 vans compared with 10 in February and aims to increase that figure to 50 soon.

“The most important feature in the business is that people want things to come to them quickly," says Birla, who assures delivery within 3 hours in south Bangalore. “All delivery boys at ZopNow.com carry Android phones, making them traceable. The route to the customer’s house is mapped and recorded so that the next time deliveries are made in the same locality, a route map is auto-generated, ensuring time is not wasted," he adds.

Warehouses play a vital role in meeting on-time delivery promises, since vendors can be unreliable. Town Essentials—an-eight-year-old company which started supplying to retail customers only last year—and ZopNow both have warehouses, while BigBasket is in the process of acquiring one. At My Doorsteps sources most products from wholesale retailers Metro Cash and Carry.

In addition, the quality of delivery staff is vital. “The delivery boy is our only physical interaction with the client," says Birla.

Menon says, “We had to ask them to wear sandals instead of shoes, since most houses will require them to take off their footwear before they enter the house." He laughs and adds, “There is always a problem of sticky, smelly socks if they wear closed shoes."

But it is not all hunky-dory— several players have already exited the business.

Lounge placed an order with Adi Naturals (www.adinaturals.com), an organic online delivery store, only to receive an email three days later saying it had suspended deliveries. It has restarted deliveries since, but only for dry products such as pulses.

We checked out a few players in Bangalore to see if they really can make our lives easier.

AT MY DOORSTEPS

www.atmydoorsteps.com

Finding a particular product may take more than three clicks at times and browsing through pages in a subsection is tedious. For delivery on the same day, orders must be placed before 1pm. Otherwise, the items are delivered the next morning. At the moment, At My Doorsteps delivers only in south Bangalore. They accept cash, food coupons and card payment on delivery (the delivery person carries a wireless credit card machine). You can return anything that is damaged or of unsatisfactory quality. However, it is not a cashback policy: You will be given a credit note for the price of the item returned.

The delivery experience: The customer service called to confirm the order and ask for a convenient time for delivery. While the site mentions that deliveries below 500 will incur an extra delivery charge of 30, we weren’t allowed to proceed with an order below 500.

The quality of their in-house pulses is good. We ordered 1kg of chickpea and 1kg of peanuts. The packaging could be better, though—the groundnuts and chickpea came in plastic bags fastened with sticky tape that began to unravel. Though there was no spillage, it was not possible to store the packet as it was. We also ordered a kilogram of grapes; these were fresh and well-wrapped. The entire order came in a cloth bag, and was unloaded in our kitchen by the delivery person, who took the bag back.

BIGBASKET

Bigbasket.com

BigBasket currently has 21 delivery vans operating in Bangalore. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

The website has divided the day into slots customers can choose from, depending on the time of day they will be available at home. Slots are given on first-come, first-served basis. Payment can be made by cash or cheque on delivery or online, and via food coupons. It doesn’t have a pay-by-card on delivery facility. There is a 20 delivery charge on purchases below 1,000. Currently it has an under 15% discount scheme on about 15 items, including 2-litre Pepsi bottles and Tropicana tetra packs.

The delivery experience: Delivery was prompt and the staff was polite. The veggies— 1kg brinjal—were fresh. BigBasket obtains perishables from vendors like Safal, who are present at various hubs across the city, only after an order is placed and doesn’t stock vegetables and fruits. We ordered mint leaves and avocados that came in thermocol dishes which were shrink-wrapped. Our order arrived in a plastic crate that was unloaded in our kitchen. Using reusable crates, they say, is part of their effort to reduce their carbon footprint.

TOWN ESSENTIALS

www.towness.com

Buying from the website which started home delivery service in March 2011 can be tedious since it is not easy to navigate.

But the products are photographed well. The offerings are varied and they even have a section for Bengali products like patali gur and panch phoron, etc. The bakery section is fairly extensive and offers everything from bagels, apple strudel and ginger bread to panini. The products are packaged beautifully in brown paper bags and labelled neatly. Town Essentials has an in-house brand of pulses and rice that it procures, cleans and packages itself. Town Essentials accepts cash on delivery or online debit/credit transfers, and delivery timelines are long: within 36 hours, more than its competitors. No discount schemes are on currently. It replaces defective items and delivers across Bangalore.

The delivery experience: The service is not reliable. We cancelled an order because Town Essentials delivers only in the evenings.

ZOPNOW

www.zopnow.com

The website is easy to navigate, and has a smart search with auto-complete that makes it easier to reach the product you are looking for. ZopNow does not deal with perishables but stocks a range of consumer goods, including stationery, pet food, health drinks, packaged Indian sweets like chikki and tinned rasagullas, etc.

It delivers only in south Bangalore but plans to expand to other cities (Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai) in two-three years. It has three payment options: cash-on-delivery, food coupons and card payment. It has a points system to encourage customer loyalty; customers can earn “Zoppies" or points on registration and purchases, which can then be redeemed against purchases. It has a no questions asked return policy and discounts on more than 1,700 items currently.

The delivery experience: It has the most impressive delivery time, and this is its primary selling point. It ensures delivery within 3 hours of an order being placed (provided the order is made before 6pm) . The items are neatly sorted and packed in green cloth bags which are then carried in cardboard cartons.

pavitra.j@livemint.com

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