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As the nation looks forward to easing the lockdown and everyday work restarts slowly, the country needs solutions to maintain social distancing norms to slow the spread of the pandemic. While several large stores already have their online ordering apps, many local grocers do not have such apps. In the current situation, it would help in managing supply and the crowd if local vendors also have such online ordering apps. The Shopping Management App for LocaL Buyers And Grocers (SMALL BAG) app is an attempt by Prof. Bhaskaran Raman and Prof. KV Subrahmanyam to solve that particular problem.

Crowds at grocery stores became a common sight as people hoarded supplies for the lockdown
Source: The Guardian

How does it work?

The SMALL-BAG has two kinds of use; it can be used for online ordering as well as generate e-tokens for small vendors. This app takes care of the privacy of the individual vendor as multiple vendors could be using this app by linking the spreadsheet and other data to their Google account. The working of both the possible functions are explained below:-

App interface for SMALL BAG APP

Workflow for Online Ordering – 

Prep-step: SMALL-BAG team creates the necessary Google-docs for a vendor which includes one form for the customer to fill preferences, a spreadsheet for keeping a tally of orders, and other for product availability information.

Actual Usage

  1. Vendor advertises customer form URL (pasted in front of the shop or on any other medium)
  2. Optionally, fills spreadsheet with partial product availability information
  3. The customer fills Google form to place order
  4. Vendor sees order spreadsheet and accordingly packs the order
  5. Vendor marks the order as ‘ready’ on the same spreadsheet
  6. The customer gets an email saying ‘order ready’ and picks up the order

Workflow for E-Tokens – 

Workflow for Online Ordering

Prep-step: SMALL-BAG team creates the necessary Google-docs for a vendor (one customer form, one spreadsheet)

  1. Vendor advertises customer form URL (paste in front of the shop)
  2. The customer fills the form, gets an automated email with:
    • Auto-generated E-Token
    • URL for online checking of current token status
  3.   When the token is about to come, the customer goes to the shop
  4.   Vendor marks ‘y’ in the spreadsheet after serving that token
  5.   The vendor can also give ‘photo’ tokens or paper

Note: Even feature phones have a camera for photo token

Work Flow for SMS E-tokens ( vendor can issue a “photo token” for those customers who for some reason cannot or do not want to send SMS )

Current use and scope of expansion – 

While the developers believe that this app can be used even in normal times due to the problem of long queues faced by grocery shop, but the app was developed and deployed recently due to the emergency need caused by COVID-19. Vegetable Market organized by IITB Consumer Society is using the e-tokens. Further, the team has now introduced SMS-based E-Tokens, which is being used in the campus’s shopping centre vegetable shop. As most authorities are unclear on the way forward after the lockdown, the team has not talked to authorities for its use to be extended to other places or has been approached by external authorities.

The app can potentially smoothen the operation for many small grocery vendors that are already facing fierce competition against large grocery shops and online grocery ordering and revolutionize grocery shopping in the long term. In the short term, normalizing economic activity while maintaining social distancing norms seems the be the priority as the livelihood of millions depend on the economic revival. As the authorities struggle to find solutions to this problem, the SMALL BAG app could solve the issue as the country slowly comes out of this harsh but necessary lockdown. 

Namit Agrawal As an introvert, my natural habitat is my bed with Netflix giving me company and using memes to interact with the outer world. Always up for social and philosophical dialogue, I can be often found in my other home, debating.


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