Barren Shelves Greet Shoppers At Several Big Bazaar Outlets This Festive Season 
Empty shelves at a Big Bazaar store in Noida. (Source: BloombergQuint)

Barren Shelves Greet Shoppers At Several Big Bazaar Outlets This Festive Season 

The shelves are almost bare, alleys deserted, shopping carts empty and there’s hardly anyone at checkout—that’s how several outlets of Big Bazaar, India’s biggest hypermarket chain, look during the festival season.

Not just because consumers are hesitant to go out during the pandemic. BloombergQuint found that the debt-ridden chain, which Asia's richest man Mukesh Ambani has agreed to buy, is running out of stock as some vendors, with their payments stuck, have stopped supplies.

Biyani, India’s big-box retail pioneer, started in 1996 and set up Big Bazaar, Future Lifestyle and other retail outlets in the next decade and a half, betting on growing incomes in Asia’s third largest economy. He also piled on debt, which now stands at Rs 15,313 crore. The situation worsened during the Covid-19 lockdown as malls remained shut. The group, PTI reported quoting Kishore Biyani, lost nearly Rs 7,000 crore in income in the first three to four months of the pandemic, worsening its cash crunch.

There has been no re-stocking ever since the outlet opened after the lockdown restrictions were eased, a Big Bazaar store employee in Noida said. The person, who didn't want to be identified out of employment concerns, said some vendors have stopped providing stock. The employee, working with the company for three years, said this was the first time they were facing such a severe inventory crunch.

Big Bazaar store at Inifinti Mall, Malad. (Source: BloombergQuint)

BloombergQuint found a similar situation in at least four other stores in Mumbai and Noida.

Two vendors confirmed that they have stopped selling goods to the retailer as they are yet to receive pending payments. They spoke on the condition of anonymity out of business concerns.

One of them, who stopped providing inventory in March, said he has received part of his dues but won’t release fresh stock till all his outstanding payments are cleared.

Emailed queries to Future Group remained unanswered.

After Future Group announced sale of retail and wholesale business to Reliance Retail Ltd. on Aug. 29, the All-India Consumer Products Distributors Federation, a lobby of distributors and dealers of consumer goods, wrote to Biyani saying that many vendors have not received payment for 45-180 days.

A deal with Reliance Retail would have helped Biyani pare debt. But earlier this month, Amazon.com, which had acquired 49% in Biyani’s Future Coupons, took the Indian retailer to Singapore International Arbitration Centre for allegedly violating the agreement. The tribunal has asked Biyani to put the deal with Asia’s richest man on hold. At least for now.

So, customers won’t get to see the usual commotion at several Big Bazaar stores this festive season.

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