Retail in India and China

WSJ outlines the differences:

Sales of high-volume packaged goods in urban China grew 9% from a year earlier to $13.6 billion in the year ended April 30, while sales of similar goods in urban India grew just 2.2% to $7.36 billion. ACNielsen tracks retail sales in most key towns and cities in both countries on a continuing basis.

India’s retail sector, which is still dominated by mom-and-pop stores and has few modern shopping malls, has stifled the industry from keeping pace with its counterpart in booming China, according to Russell Farmery, ACNielsen’s managing director for India. Modern retail outlets account for 46% of fast-moving consumer goods sold in Chinese cities, in terms of value. In India, modern stores account for 7% of urban sales.

The disparity in growth rates for the consumer items surveyed is notable, in particular, because China and India both recorded among the world’s highest rates of economic growth in the past year. China’s inflation-adjusted gross domestic product expanded 9.1% in 2003, while India’s economy grew 8.2% in the year ended March 31.

According to retail business analysts, consumers tend to buy more when they shop at “modern trade channels,” such as hypermarkets, supermarkets and retail chains, which offer a wider selection, slicker marketing, a more pleasant shopping experience and — most importantly — cheaper prices.

But such outlets are few in India.

There is another reason retail receipts in India haven’t grown much. Feisty local competitors of foreign-run manufacturers such as Proctor & Gamble Co. of the U.S. and Hindustan Lever Ltd., the Indian unit of Anglo-Dutch company Unilever PLC, have also driven down prices of everyday products such as shampoo and toothpaste in the past few years.

Energy’s Hybrid Future

Newsweek has an extensive collection of reports discussing the future of energy in the context of our dependence on oil:

“Solutions wanted. No idea too weird.” If a classified ad could sum up the world’s energy problem, this would be it. Experts generally agree that our current reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable. Already oil is near $50 per barrel, and the great millions of Chinese and Indians destined to take to the road in the next decades have not yet gotten behind the wheel. If the clamor over global warming seems apocalyptic now, just wait until those two countries are as developed as the West.

At the same time, even with higher oil prices, clean energy sources like wind and solarnot to mention hydrogen, an unproven technology barely off the drawing boardsdon’t yet make enough economic sense to replace oil. That’s why many experts are starting to talk of building a hybrid economy. Rather than replacing hydrocarbons entirely, what we need to do is find ways to use less oiland use it more efficiently. This means changing everything from the kinds of cars we drive, to the homes we live in, to the way we make and distribute electricity. It’s a revolution in thoughtand in the making.

Wi-Fi Cities

News.com writes about Amsterdam:

Amsterdam’s Web surfers could soon be liberated from their home computers and Internet cafes, as a start-up company plans to make their city the first European capital where laptops can hook up anywhere to the Web.

HotSpot Amsterdam launched a wireless computer network on Monday with a supercharged version of the Wi-Fi technology that is used to turn homes, airports, hotels and cafes into Web-connected “hot spots.”

The first seven base stations are up and running, connecting historic areas that date back to the 13th century, and the entire city center will be covered by 40 to 60 antennas within three months, HotSpot Amsterdam founder Carl Harper said.

“We’ll go on to cover all of Amsterdam with 125 base stations. The idea is to prove to the big boys that it can be done and that consumers can live with a mobile phone and mobile Internet. The landline is dead,” he said. Many computer makers build Wi-Fi chips and access cards into their products.

HotSpot Amsterdam charges 4.95 euros ($5.98) a day or 14.95 euros a month for a connection of 256 kilobits per second–equivalent in price and speed to a low-end home broadband connection–while 24.95 euros a month will buy a connection twice that fast.

HotSpot Amsterdam estimates it will invest around 200,000 euros (about $240,000) for the initial network covering Amsterdam’s city center and a handful of surrounding areas.

CNN writes about Philadelphia’s plans to invest $10 million to convert all its 135 sq miles into one large hotspot:

The ambitious plan, now in the works, would involve placing hundreds, or maybe thousands of small transmitters around the city — probably atop lampposts. Each would be capable of communicating with the wireless networking cards that now come standard with many computers.

Once complete, the network would deliver broadband Internet almost anywhere radio waves can travel — including poor neighborhoods where high-speed Internet access is now rare.

And the city would likely offer the service either for free, or at costs far lower than the $35 to $60 a month charged by commercial providers, said the city’s chief information officer, Dianah Neff.

The new “wireless mesh” technology under consideration in Philadelphia has made it possible to expand those similar networks over entire neighborhoods, with the help of relatively cheap antennas.

This is exactly what Indian cities need.

Internet at 35

CNN has an AP report on the still-evolving Internet:

While engineers tinker with the Internet’s core framework, some university researchers looking for more speed are developing separate systems that parallel the Internet. That way, data-intensive applications like video conferencing, brain imaging and global climate research won’t have to compete with e-mail and e-commerce.

nternet2, with speeds 100 times the typical broadband service at home, is now limited to selected universities, companies and institutions, but researchers expect any breakthroughs to ultimately migrate to the main Internet.

While Internet2 and LambdaRail seek to move data faster and faster, researchers with the World Wide Web Consortium are trying to make information smarter and smarter. Semantic Web is a next-generation Web designed to make more kinds of data easier for computers to locate and process.

Consider the separate teams of scientists who study genes, proteins and chemical pathways. With the Semantic Web, tags are added to information in databases describing gene and protein sequences. One group may use one scheme and another team something else; the Semantic Web could help link the two. Ultimately, software could be written to process the data and make inferences that previously required human intervention.

With the same principles, searching to buy an automobile in Massachusetts will also incorporate listings for cars in Boston.

Radio Decline?

Barron’s has a story which discusses the “long-term decline” of radio in the US: “there’s increasing concern that radio is entering a long-term decline, the result of new competition and technologies and changing consumer tastes. Younger adults — the key targets of radio advertising — have clearly been losing their ardor for the medium. By one key measure, the number of listeners ages 18 to 34 has declined by about 8% in the past five years, as portable digital-music players, Internet radio programming and other innovations have started to take hold. And while the dollars spent on radio advertising have been essentially flat for the past few years, competing media like cable TV, the ‘Net and outdoor advertising have been gaining steadily.”

Radio is another market where the opportunities may lie more in the Eastern markets than in the West. In India, radio is growing – especially if the government approves the revenue sharing plan for FM operators.

TECH TALK: An American Journey: Travel Vignettes (Part 2)

Continuing with some of my travel-related thoughts:

Round-The-World (RTW) Air Ticket: I normally take an RTW ticket when I fly to the US, especially if I know I have to travel to both the coasts. An RTW allows a lot of flexibility in terms of destinations across Asia, Europe and the US as long as one keep traveling in the same direction no backtracking is allowed. The other condition for an RTW is a trip duration of a minimum of 10 days. The options that the RTW allows has encouraged me to see new places, especially in Asia. Try it out the next time you travel.

Airlines: I can categorically make a statement the Asian carriers are way ahead of their US and European counterparts in the inflight travel experience. From the seats to the entertainment choices, the Asian airlines proffer a much better all-round experience. Just for the record, my RTW had Singapore Airlines from India to the US, United Airlines in the US, and Lufthansa from the US to India.

Hotels: Priceline.com works well when there is flexibility where you want to stay. If you have a specific choice of hotel, then it is not the best option. Other choices for hotels in the US include Hotels.com and Expedia.com. Many hotel chains also offer savings for Internet bookings. Some of my recommendations: San Francisco (King George Hotel, very close to Union Square), Bay Area (Sunnyvale Corporate Inn), Boston (Doubletree Guest Suites). In New York, unless you are there as a tourist, do not stay at Hotel Pennsylvania!

Vegetarian Meals: A couple of tips for those who have food restrictions: make sure you order the Asian/Indian vegetarian meal on the flight. For good measure, carry theplas or khakras with you the bread choices inflight arent great. Khakras can stay fresh for a long time. Also beware of Naans in most restaurants they have egg in them. Stick to the tandoori roti or the paratha. To be safe, check with the chef.

Yahoo Maps: Make sure that before you go for any meeting (even if you are taking a cab), you get the exact directions to the venue by looking up Yahoo Maps (or Mapquest). There is little margin for error a few minutes invested ahead of time can save some grief later.

Homework: I would make sure that I did two things: send a brief note about what we are working on ahead of time to the people I was meeting so that they would have a good background and it would save me precious minutes trying to explain the vision in the face-to-face session, and do a check on the company and person I was meeting. Company websites and Google have plenty of information we need to make sure we invest the time. Together, these two help in making for a more productive session. I would keep about 60-75 minutes for each meeting, and then budget for the travel time. We were punctual for all the meetings except one (late by five minutes, because I noted down one of the turnings incorrectly!)

Tomorrow: Silicon Valley Observations

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