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The in-house developed app that’s transforming a traditional sales model

Hindustan Unilever has developed an app that’s enabling millions of small-scale retailers in India to ‘go digital’. It helps them to buy smarter, make their day-to-day operations more efficient and improve the overall profitability of their business.


India’s market for consumer goods is largely reliant on sales from millions of Kirana stores. These small-scale shops, which sit at the heart of local communities, play an important role in serving the daily needs of consumers.

However, to stock their shelves, these outlets rely on visits from sales reps to take their order or they have to spend time away from the store, going to the local wholesale market to buy products, typically with cash.

To help improve these inefficiencies, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) came up with an innovative solution – the Shikhar app. This digital platform allows the outlets to directly connect with HUL sellers and place orders 24/7.

For example, when their stock is running low or they don’t have a product that a customer wants, the store owner can open the app and instantly place an order, which is then fulfilled quickly and often delivered the next day.

Packed with features to make life easier

In addition to placing orders, retailers can use the app to browse the full portfolio of HUL products, see relevant trade promotions that are running and learn about which products sell well in their catchment area.

All of this valuable information helps retailers significantly reduce the time spent managing their business so they can focus on their customers and sales.

The more retailers engage with the platform, the better Shikhar understands them. This enables HUL to personalise the experience to their specific needs. For example, for a chemist outlet, we can curate the portfolio the owner sees, focusing on our nutrition and personal care products, rather than detergents.

In developing the app, ease of use was an important consideration since most of these retailers are still digitally naïve or hesitant. So features such as voice search and multilingual support provide a familiar environment for them.

At the other end of the scale, for digitally savvy users, advanced functionality such as its integration with ShopKhata, enables the retailer to keep track of the credit they’ve extended to their customers.

So far, the app has been adopted by over a million retail stores and now covers around a quarter of our general trade business in India.

“With the rapid growth of smartphones in India in the past five years, we needed to innovate and digitise our business-to-business routes to market to help solve the pain points for our customers and avoid our value chain being disrupted by the new tech-first players,” says HUL MD Sanjiv Mehta.

“HUL has put its Shikhar app to good use to not only drive sales for the company, but also to help retailers maximise their sales potential by entering the world of digitisation.”

Easy access to credit

The one-stop app also solves another big challenge for retailers: credit. HUL has partnered with Indian banks and microfinance providers to offer easy access to a credit facility to help the local retailers grow to their true potential.

Shikhar has the potential to accelerate financial inclusion for the country’s 10 million+ Kirana outlets, many of whom don’t have the paperwork required by banks to extend credit in the usual way.

As of 2021 (our latest published figures), our eB2B platforms co-created and owned by Unilever – such as Shikhar in India, Compra Agora in Brazil and GoToko in Indonesia – had reached half of the 4.7 million small stores in the Asia, Latin America and Africa markets we directly serve.

Even more potential for the future

As the technology landscape continues to rapidly evolve, the team is regularly updating the app with new features to make it even more interactive and engaging for the user.

And in terms of coverage, we’re delighted to have reached the 1 million retailer milestone, but the potential is still enormous. After all, we directly serve 2.2 million Kirana stores in India alone.

As Sanjiv says: “Shikhar provides a unique, inclusive model which is a win-win for retailer and distributor, and complements the work of our sales reps. With smartphone penetration increasing in India, we expect more retailers to embrace online ordering in the near future.”

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