Boonbox, an e-comm platform reaching rural markets

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on December 21, 2019

R Ramanathan, CEO, Boonbox   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Have you ever heard of towns called Pendra or Kamalpura? Well, these are tier-three towns in Chattisgarh and Punjab where smartphones and white goods are delivered at the customer’s door steps thanks to the city-based Boonbox, a start-up providing rural assisted-commerce platform.

Customers such as Chandraprabha in Deopani, Assam; and Shashi in Hansdiha of Jharkhand are happy that they need not travel to large towns to buy smartphones, televisions, washing machines or grinders, but get them delivered at their doorsteps.

Boonbox offers goods to rural customers living in towns with a population of less than 20,000. “While major e-Commerce companies focus on the urban and semi-urban areas, our focus is only on rural markets,” said R Ramanathan, CEO and one of the three co-founders of Boonbox.

Since its inception in 2011, Boonbox has sold over 1.5 million durables to more than one million households spread across 15,000 villages, he added.

Nearly 70 per cent of India’s population lives in rural India. Contrary to popular belief, the rural population across India is extremely aspirational and has the disposable income to purchase white goods. It is brand-conscious and buys only those products that are seen on television. However, the demands are usually unfulfilled, because other e-commerce players restrict their distribution networks in rural areas to places with a population of at least 20,000, he told BusinessLine.

Urban market

The urban market is too crowded while the rural market is under-penetrated and provides a huge opportunity with a proper last mile connectivity. “We have built a strong network in rural markets,” he said.

Boonbox delivers around 50,000 shipments a month with 35 per cent being mobile phones; 35 per cent white goods and 30 per cent cookware. In value terms, it could be around ₹25 crore per month. It covers nearly 7,000 pin codes in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Chattissgarh, Assam, Jharkhand, Punjab and Haryana, he said.

The company has identified influencers at Panchayat level in villages and appointed them as associates. Over 750 associates serve over 15,000 villages with direct access to 150 million consumers. They are given Android tablets with Boonbox app. They show the eCatalogue (over 6,000 SKUs) to consumers; book orders; collect cash and transfer them to Boonbox. The product is delivered to customer’s home in 10-15 days. Finance is also arranged, he added.

Most of the villages do not have any last-mile connectivity and each village cluster is unique. Based on the geography and existing network, the company has set up a hub-and-spoke logistics network to to deliver products to the end consumer. The company has set up multilingual call centres to help consumers either directly or through associates. Call centres in turn coordinate with respective suppliers to sort these out, he said.

Funded by Ventureast, Orios and IAN Fund, the start-up raised $4 million in 2018. The founders identified the untapped potential of the rural Indian market and decided to convert all the challenges associated with it into possible growth opportunities.

The company is now looking for second round funding of around $20 million to expand warehouses and improve technology, Ramanathan said.

Published on December 21, 2019

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