If you are looking at reducing your household budgets and at the same time interested in learning more on how the direct to seller with minimal middle-men concept works in India, then attend your friendly neighbourhood ‘haat’ or weekly market regularly
The FDI in retail or not debate continues, with most of the action being taken up for big and for small debates, while reality is that the smallest on the ground, the weekly ‘haats’ which are India’s equivalents of the “farmer's markets” elsewhere in the world, are rapidly gaining ground in an era of better roads, smaller trucks and mobile phone-based supply chains. A visit to one such weekly ‘haat’ just opposite Noida’s upscale and swanky Sector 50 and not far from the tony Noida Golf Course revealed prices at easily half or even lower than the going levels for everything from food items of all sorts to footwear both new and repaired to new and second hand electronic items.
More interestingly, the wide variety of upscale luxury motor vehicles parked in the vicinity and the familiarity that their occupants revealed with the merchants and their wares spread out on most everything from durries on the ground to hand-carts up front with mini-trucks as back-ends for more variety, was a revelation in itself. Frankly, there was hardly anything not available there which is not also found at prices way higher in Delhi - from foei gras to FabIndia knockoffs - all ostensibly from the same vendors who supply the bigger stores in town. Armani meets AR Mani, in a manner of speaking.
This is hardly rocket science or news anymore, but there is a generation of people who believed that the world began and ended in malls, who are now picking up brand new silk waistcoats otherwise retailing for Rs1,500 at about Rs300 and loading up on potatoes at Rs10 for 3-kg pre-packed paper bags is a sizeable saving on budgets. This is right next to the stack on the ground selling denim trousers in all sizes for Rs50 and upwards. And there is no dearth of newspaper ads and inserts of prices prevailing for the same items at bigger stores, for direct comparisons. Also, in one section, are vendors who will buy your scrap and ‘kabaddee’ at way higher rates than the gent going past your house on a cycle.
But then, it is not only about prices, either, though bargaining is an art form which also expands one’s forgotten humour horizons. The sheer range of knowledge that these sales persons display, micro-mini entrepreneurs, all is mind-boggling, and the rapid fire comments on how much customers can pick up for less than the cost of parking in a mall is sure to hit the correct spot—on weekends, parking rates at many of the malls have now gone into three-digit numbers, and perception is that if you go there in a smaller car, then you get a parking slot far away from the access points in the dingiest corner of the basement parking lots—while here you walk across or bring out the cycle for better deals, dressed in your pyjamas if you so desire.
There is the young man selling freshly ground ‘atta’ of all sorts and combinations, coarse and other grains mixed with everything from soya to dried vegetables and more, holding forth confidently on the subject of gluten free and why the older coarse grains are better for us in India. And giving small combo sample packs of different mixes good enough to make a dozen or more rotis for the impulse purchase price of Rs10. In reasonably decent English, the young man explains to potential customers how he sells these sample packs “at cost”, also because they have his mobile number and mini calendar inside for future, repeat and regular home delivery. And that he cares for people with diabetes, too.
Not too far is the young lady, confident that the world will be saved from lacto intolerance and much more with her range of tofu, again, the small Rs10 sample bag is an ice breaker. Here the story is on how intelligence as well as strength for adults is directly linked to the benefits from soya-based products, while milk is good too, but only for growing children. Does any adult animal drink milk is what she states and asks—and that’s logic which is unbeatable, probably has some scientific significance somewhere, too.
The dhaniya-pudhina-fresh lime-fresh chillies seller has his own pitch going—offering a small bag of free potatoes with his wares, with a ditty about changing times, to the effect that how his stuff used to be free with vegetables at one time, but is now soon going to offer free vegetables with his repertoire, so buy before the prices go up. Prod him further, and he reveals that in the back of his truck, he stores fresh herbs for those who know what they want—keeping it there to reduce spoilage by handling.
To add to the colour and fun, major MNC brands as well as multi-level-marketing products of the branded and packed variety of consumer goods are also available—often at prices below the “best deal” rates advertised by shops in the neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, pretty much everything that can be bought in a mainstream market or mall, is also available here—and if is not, they will offer to source it for you and deliver it to your home. There is the usual slew of “Chinese goods" too, of the glassware and electronic gadgetry kind, even spices from Pakistan and Afghanistan, reportedly picked up in bulk from the recent trade fair.
If you are looking at reducing your household budgets and at the same time interested in learning more on how the direct to seller with minimal middle-men concept works in India, then attend your friendly neighbourhood ‘haat’ or weekly market regularly. You don't have to buy, pavement-watching in lieu of window shopping is a well recognised sport here, and repeat visits will make you a regular with other benefits—including free sampling of products.
There are, of course, some caveats here which need to be made very clear:
- Bargaining is essential. If you do not know how to bargain, then hang around, tune in, identify and follow the experts around.
- Invest in a small portable weighing machine, with which you can re-confirm the weight of what you are buying.
- The issue of fakes in branded goods is as worrisome at regular outlets as it is at such locations.
- A good way of firming up a local warranty is by taking a photo of the vendor and his goods.
- Going for the first time with somebody who knows the market is a good idea.
- The later you go, the cheaper the prices for perishables, although the best may have been sold by then.
- You are not going to get a cash receipt for things, now will your plastic work here.
- Like in the real world, you will rub shoulders with all segments of society, and the single class Delhi Metro has fixed that.
- If in doubt, be direct about your queries, and decide on the response’s genuineness on your own.
Reducing expenditure is now a fact of life, across the board, and the haats take some of the bite away. Good luck.