A new TV commercial in India features white-clad mourners grieving at the funeral rites of a departed loved one. The object of their grief is a refrigerator. “Ab fridge ka kya kaam hai?”—or “What use is a refrigerator?”—ask matching full-page ads for the campaign touting instant grocery brand Dunzo, which offers delivery of fresh items in minutes.
India is fast emerging as a global leader in a new type of online retailing: quick commerce. Big investors including Google, Reliance Industries, and SoftBank Group have poured billions of dollars into startups promising to bring that next order of curry-ready chicken, cat food, or crunchy aloo bhujia chickpea snacks within minutes, rather than hours or days. Relying on discounts and free delivery to woo customers who make purchases through mobile apps, the companies fill orders at neighborhood warehouses called dark stores, then use algorithms to send drivers on the fastest routes through the crowded roads of Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru (formerly known as Bangalore), and other cities.