Disintermediation with Technology and the Indian phone booth

Three years ago I posted about the cell phone charging business in India and my friend Devinder the owner of the shack like structure here. This January, almost exactly three years later I decided to catch  up with Devinder as I found him mostly at his new photocopy center in  the regular brick and cement strip mall that is adjacent to his cell phone shack.

The last three years have been great  for Devinder. He expanded to buy a store space and had it renovated to  house a swanky men’s hair salon.A little alcove beneath the staircase facing the  walkway,is  his new heavy duty photocopier. The hair salon has six barbers who do a great job for Rs. 30 ( about 60 cents if you convert and about $4 if you consider purchasing power parity), and it seems to be always busy.Devinder just has to turn around and open a window to supervise the salon,when needed. The photocopy service is also booming at  1 Rupee a page  with the plethora of photocopies you need for almost anything. The original shack is managed by his kid brother.

There is a problem in the main cell phone re-charge business because now large segments of customers seem to be directly dealing with the cell phone companies via bank debit and the cell phone. So Devinder is attempting to find new opportunities in collecting courier mail in the main shack , another photocopier etc . Just like the long distance manned phone booths disappeared as long distance cell phone calling became cheaper, Devinder explained, he’s getting ready to cope with the dis-appearing retail in the cell phone re-charge business.

It’s sort of interesting how very small businesses like phone booths are trying to deal with the dis-intermediation problem caused by technology. Devinder’s customers are “bottom of the pyramid” and as they gain access to banking and cell phones they can directly deal with the cell phone companies, eliminating intermediaries. The cell phone companies are obviously eager to cut agents and commissions. One more example of disintermediation and technology and the entrepreneur’s attempts to diversify and innovate.

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