Srivats TS, Vice President, Marketing
Srivats TS heads Marketing at Swiggy, in just 5 years, the home-grown company has created and shaped the booming industry of food delivery. He discusses ways that Swiggy can continue to win in its core business even as it expands into initiatives like grocery and store delivery.
Pioneer and market leader in restaurant delivery moves to own the wider world of convenience.
The Category and Company
What core insights started Swiggy on its brand journey?
The change we wanted to bring in from the beginning was essentially, can we get people to order from the convenience of their homes? Eating out has always been a very big thing in India, but there was very little food delivery infrastructure in place. There was Dominos and its “30 minutes or free” offering, and there were dabbawalla’s in Mumbai, but other than that there was really no organized food delivery. Swiggy started with a very strong understanding of consumer pain points and an intense focus on consumer experience – making sure deliveries were reliable and fast, and that you had peace of mind from a consumer perspective. That’s what we brought to delivery, and that’s what really kickstarted the food ordering at home ecosystem in India. And now, when you look at the industry in which we operate, food ordering has become perhaps the hottest industry within hottest category [i.e., tech] in India.
What sets the brand apart from its competitors today?
One, an intense focus on consumer experience, and two, a strong investment in brand, technology, and logistics to support that consumer experience. Swiggy’s awareness is close to 100% with our target audience, and our spontaneous brand awareness is at almost 90%. Swiggy has pioneered a change in consumer behavior. Our business has kind of become the norm. There are now millions of consumers who order food every day.
If you think about Swiggy’s reach, Swiggy was in seven cities for a period of almost three years, in less than 2 years after that we’ve expanded to more than 300 cities. And we’ve seen a lot of demand not just from “A-CCA” urban consumers, but also a lot of demand from “Tier II” markets. So this is not just an urban, high-income consumer phenomenon.
From there, we have several innovations that we’ve brought to the market, like Swiggy Super and Swiggy POP, that set us apart – not to mention the iconic communications and campaigns we’ve launched, for example, around the IPL [Indian Premier League cricket series]. And behind the scenes, there’s also the cutting-edge technology we use to manage delivery routing and volume.
Where do you see Swiggy heading in the next five years?
First, the food delivery category is going to expand, and as it does, it’s important that Swiggy continues to drive the category. We need to be thinking about: what are the barriers to adoption, and how do we eliminate them? How can we promote habit formation?
But as a brand, we’re also thinking about how we can expand into new areas and categories of convenience. This flows from thinking about the core benefits that we can deliver to consumers. Right now, consumers know that we deliver meals to them that they love, but most people still have a more functional understanding of what Swiggy is.
Essentially, what we’re bringing consumers is not just food, it’s convenience. So going forward, the question is: how can we make consumers’ lives more convenient in a whole host of ways? How can we bring consumers fabulous convenience using our very hyperlocal understanding of the marketplace, as well as our very “here and now” operations? Anything that a consumer wants, and wants now – Swiggy should be in a position to offer that to consumers. It’s about making consumers’ lives so much better across a whole range of offerings.
Loyalty and Stability
Consumers have more choices than every before, in every area. How does Swiggy think about securing brand loyalty?
There’s always two conversations. The first is about functional benefits and functional superiority. It’s about delivering on key preference and performance– things like offering a great selection of iconic restaurants, providing an easy and personalized ordering experience. Does the app recognize and know the consumer so well that it’s going to give them what they want in a frictionless way? That’s the goal. Another functional key to loyalty is just being an efficiency machine: being reliable, and being fast. And then there is the related question of, how do we think about great value? Value means different things for different groups of consumers. For some it might mean a superior ordering experience. Others might over-index on affordability – especially, for instance, in smaller towns.
So that’s one part of it: All of the functional benefits that drive loyalty and habit. The other part of loyalty is moving beyond functionality to really establish the role of Swiggy in the consumer’s life. It’s about emphasizing the higher-order benefits of food delivery, and associating it with the larger concept of convenience. That what will carry Swiggy into the other areas it’s expanding to, like Swiggy Stores and Swiggy POP. It’s about emphasizing the higher benefit in people’s lives: whatever I need, I can get it now. Swiggy can do it for me. Swiggy is kind of my go-to companion that lifts my life, that elevates my life. It’s that emotional resonance that will enable Swiggy to define the future of the platform.
What does the concept of “stability” mean to a disruptive company like Swiggy?
We’re always thinking about how to ensure that consumers have a hassle-free experience when they place an order. For us, that breaks down into two experience phases: pre- and post-order. Pre-order is about making sure that our app stays seamless and friction-free. Post-ordering, stability means making sure that the order comes in within the promised time, and offering the consumer effortless tracking of where their delivery person is. If there are any consumer interactions with the delivery agent, it’s about making sure that’s a delightful experience.
We also look at sustainability from an ecosystem point of view. This includes our delivery and restaurant partners. As the largest player in the space, we want to give more opportunities for our delivery partners to make stable earnings with us. We also believe that enabling the success of our restaurant partners lies at the heart of our success. Since the start of the journey, Swiggy has invested heavily in the ecosystem’s stability and growth.
In the background, we do a lot of work with technology and data to ensure that we can balance supply and demand, all so that things seem perfect from the consumer perspective.
How can Swiggy position itself to win even in potential times of stable, slower, or even volatile growth?
Brands matter a lot globally, and brands matter a lot – if not more – in India. There’s a real value that consumers place on knowing and trusting a brand. To my mind, there’s already a very strong equity that Swiggy holds in consumers’ minds, and maintaining that is key. It’s about making sure that from a functional benefits perspective, we continue to provide what the consumer wants. And from an innovation perspective, it’s about changing in the ways that consumers want us to change. We’ve already created the perception that Swiggy is a brand that’s changing with the modern times to give consumers what they want. To me, maintaining this trusted perception is a necessary and perhaps even sufficient condition to not be too affected by macroeconomic challenges.
And also, if we think about the category that we operate in, the potential is still enormous. If you think about the number of people who go to restaurants and eat out, that’s about 300 million consumers. There’s still a huge amount of headroom for growth from where Swiggy is now– with tens of millions of users – to the 300 million consumer number. And even with existing users, think of about how there are about 90 meal occasions per month, and Swiggy is capturing a relatively tiny proportion of those meal occasions. So even with existing consumers there is tremendous room for growth. There are potentially areas where, for example, there’s a future where consumers will not have to set up kitchens in their own homes because everything that they do will become Swiggy. That’s the level of reliability that we need to provide over the next few years – to enable that future to happen.
Swiggy has received investment from a number of Chinese corporations, including Tencent (which is behind the app WeChat). What can Indian brands learn from China’s tech push?
With Chinese apps, we look at them and think about how a lot of them have evolved from single-category, single-service players to almost super-apps. That’s a very clear trend that’s happened in the Chinese ecosystem. You don’t necessarily have that trend in the Western ecosystem, where the super-app concept is not as strong among consumers and instead you see a lot of specialized apps. There are some aspects of our Indian ecosystem that could resemble how the Chinese ecosystem looks, there and some aspects that might resemble how Western apps developed. For me, it’s about picking up the best practices that we see, and then implementing them in a way that fits with your strategy, instead of just blinding copying.
Chat, Voice, AI – thanks to technology, the way that consumers interact with brands is changing. How is Swiggy adapting?
We’re taking steps to be AI-first across our organization. And as we think about expanding to the new consumers in India, perhaps there are new forms of engagement and UI that we can use to reach them. Voice could become a big thing, for example, if we’re thinking about how to work in new languages. It’s about anticipating what consumers need to easily use our apps, and how technology fits with those new paradigms of engagement.
How does Swiggy keep up with the changing landscape of payments in India?
There’s been a natural – and I would say irreversible – trend toward increasing percentage of online payments. At the same time, cash on delivery continues to remain one important component of payment, and I don’t think that will go away entirely. There’s more options than ever right now – credit cards, cash, and debit, but also digital wallets and UPI, which are becoming especially popular with our customers. And the payment formats are only going to be more seamless. For Swiggy, the position is, we’re going to give the consumers the option to transact however they want to transact, using whatever he or she feels most comfortable with.
What’s the secret to mastering “last mile” delivery in India?
What makes Swiggy unique is not just owning last mile delivery, but also, and relatedly, the very hyperlocal nature of our entire business. We don’t operate on a city level: we think about what the high-demand pockets of our business are in that city or town, and seek to understand the many clusters and areas that define our business within in a market. We analyze patterns with a hyperlocal lens, we develop offerings and marketing based on hyperlocal trends, and we perform supply-demand planning at a hyperlocal level. The result is a level of reliability and efficiency that was missing from the industry before Swiggy entered it.
Reaching Diverse Consumers
Is there a regional element to Swiggy’s expansion and marketing strategies?
Regionalism is absolutely a big component of how we think about communication and reaching out to consumers. And regionalism means more than languages. We’re currently in a place where our user base is largely comfortable with English. So for now, taking into account regional differences doesn’t necessarily mean operating in multiple languages. It’s about tapping into relevant consumer insights that might differ between a big city versus a small town, and location by location. Even something as simple as knowing what cities have hot summers versus moderate summers versus cool winters can yield actionable insights as we develop our offerings and communications.
It’s about really understanding local context. That happens on the level of the town as well as the region. For instance, consider the way food ordering is perceived in our metro cities versus in smaller towns, where the value proposition is very different. One of our offerings is Swiggy POP, which is essentially a single serve offering with quick checkout and a curated set of items from restaurants around you. So it’s meals for one with a very attractive price point. That’s an option that we think works extremely well for consumers in smaller towns who are more conscious of affordability, while also wanting a smooth experience
Another insight we picked up on when we began to move into smaller towns has to do with who is comfortable with ordering the food. In smaller towns, it’s somehow OK for either the father or the children to initiate food ordering, but not quite OK for the mother to initiate. That’s the cultural norm that is prevalent– but Swiggy can play a role in changing and shaping these attitudes in a positive, progressive way, we believe.
What about personalization?
Of course, one of the benefits of technology is that we can go deeper and not only tailor our offerings by region or city, but also offer personalization at the individual consumer level. That’s very important for Swiggy. Right at the app level, Swiggy has a fresh and easy-to-use interface that provides a snapshot of trending offers, new and popular options from the neighbourhood, and personalised suggestions for restaurants and dishes which are unique to each user. We can personalize the range of restaurants you initially see or respond to the context in which you’re ordering. For example, the innovation we launched with the streaming platform Hotstar integrated food ordering into the app people used to watch cricket. That brought access and awareness and affordability to consumers in a new and relevant way.
What’s different about young Millennial and Gen Z consumers?
They are all digital natives, which means the trends of convenience and the on-demand economy – “I want it here and now” – are all kind of natural cultural sentiments. They have grown up with apps and on-demand services. In terms of getting them to love and engage with the brand, it’s about having a point of view on the issues, on behaving responsibly as a brand, and showing what Swiggy’s about. I think there’s been outstanding work that we’ve done, for example the work that we’ve done telling the story of our women delivery partners. That’s a modern view of the brand that reflects well on the company and that resonates with younger consumers.