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GIS empowers retail business in India

Mumbai, India: Hindustan Unilever (HUL), a consumer goods company in India, is using GIS and relying on unconventional distribution channels to up its rural reach in a cost effective manner. Financial Chronicle reported that the company is using network of 68000 volunteers (known as Shaktimaans and Shakti ammas) to reach consumers in villages. This network has tripled its outreach in 2010-11, equalling what the company had done in the last 75 years of business in India.
The Shakti ammas and Shaktimaans are not paid employees of the company. HUL gives Shaktimaans (male members), a bicycle, to be able to service villages within a 3 to 5 kms radius and hence cover a larger area than a woman, Shakti amma, can cover on foot. “On an average a Shaktiman does approximately double the business of a Shakti amma and helps reach media-dark regions which no other large FMCG company has penetrated,” said a HUL official.
“Through GIS, villages around the ‘Shakti’ families are tracked and based on this, Shaktimaans are allotted five to six villages. They go to these villages and sell HUL products. Project Shakti contributes significantly to our rural sales and is growing in double digits,” the official said.
HUL estimated that India has more than 630,000 villages, most of which are ‘hard to reach’ and offer relatively lower business potential. Reaching them through the conventional distribution system is a challenge. Using Self-Help Group (SHG) members, HUL extended its direct reach into untapped markets and built its brands through local influencers. 
Harminder Sahni, MD at Wazir Advisors said, “All these initiatives were started to make rural distribution and access stronger. Some companies like M&M, TVS, DCM Shriram derive good volume sales through their rural initiatives too.”
This year, HUL will roll out its iQ solution, which will enable salesmen to record orders for outlets on an automated handheld device that connects directly to the system and helps retailers reduce the incidence of stock outs.
Source: Financial Chronicle