“It changed my whole life.” 

That’s how Mohammad Ali, who owns a store in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market, describes the impact of a viral YouTube video made about his business. In the video, which now has over 400,000 views, Delhi-based YouTuber Aman Khurana introduces Ali’s shop and showcases some of his products, such as sherwanis (knee-length coats often worn as wedding attire by men), turbans, and beaded necklaces. Several times during the 18-minute-and-33-second clip, Ali claims, “Chaar hazaar mein doolha banaa ke denge” (We’ll make you a groom in 4,000 rupees, or $49).

Ali’s shop is among thousands of similar stores in the narrow bylanes of one of India’s biggest markets, Chandni Chowk. He opened this store in 2019 and struggled to find customers for the first couple of months. Then, in October 2019, he invited Khurana to shoot a video in the hope of attracting customers. Within days, the crowds at the shop were unmanageable, Ali told Rest of World.

“The whole street was filled with my customers,” said Ali. “There was a waiting [time] of two hours to enter my shop … My phone continuously rang with customers’ calls day and night. The phone rang even at 2 a.m., and I got so overwhelmed that I would have to switch it off.” Soon, he rented a bigger shop nearby. Now, even that one is often full, he said.

Like Ali, four other shop owners from Chandni Chowk told Rest of World that their traditional Indian ethnic wear stores have witnessed exponential growth after local YouTubers posted content about them. These videos, which frequently have hundreds of thousands — and sometimes even more than a million — views, have become alternative promotional channels for shopkeepers who compete in a market with several stores selling similar products.

Ali said that for Chandni Chowk’s sellers, going viral on YouTube is more effective than selling on e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart because the apparel has to be custom-tailored, and the videos bring customers directly into the stores.

“Sherwanis need to fit every individual perfectly and can’t have standardized sizes,” Ali said. “In the same size, let’s say size 42, someone will have a different shoulder length,  someone will have different biceps, and someone will have a different tummy size.” Connecting with customers via YouTube videos also saves the hassle of managing returns, he added.

For YouTubers, this is lucrative content. Khurana, the most sought-after YouTuber of Chandni Chowk, told Rest of World his videos earn between $1 and $2 per 1,000 views on YouTube. These creators also allegedly charge shop owners for the publicity that their videos provide. Khurana refused to comment on earnings from shop owners. Jeetesh Budhiraja, who runs a textile shop in Chandni Chowk and is planning to invite a YouTuber to his store, told Rest of World he has heard the starting rate for such creators is 10,000 rupees ($122). The price varies, depending on the number of subscribers the creator has.

Built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his daughter Jahanara in the 17th century, Chandni Chowk now attracts thousands of shoppers each day, looking to buy everything from traditional wear to spices and stationery.

Historically, the bulk of customers frequented a small number of established shops, which often served them for generations. Other stores tried to attract shoppers by parking employees at busy spots in the market, like the exits of metro stations, to lure in customers.

Now, YouTube is bridging the gap between shoppers and small, nondescript stores that sometimes don’t even have a street sign. “There used to be big shopkeepers with big names, but after these videos, many shops, which were rather unknown, also got very famous and got clients not just in India but internationally as well,” Khurana told Rest of World during a meeting at Chandni Chowk in late November, while he was shooting a video at a store.

The creators behind these videos — people like Khurana, Puneet Jain Vlogs, VanshMJ, and Sandeep Zone — often have more than a million subscribers. The crew typically includes a celebrity creator who hosts the video and a cameraperson.

Often, the videos include the store’s address and contact information, and banners like: “Ek piece bhi ghar baithe mangaayein” (“Get even one piece delivered home.”) Viewers can visit the store or reach out to the owner via phone to make a purchase.

Most of the creators, including Khurana, started shooting this content using a simple mobile phone, which was later upgraded to an iPhone. Now, many of them use professional Sony Alpha cameras, high-quality lenses, and gimbals for stable video. This high-end equipment ensures that all the details of ornate dresses are captured perfectly.

The creators spend anywhere between two and five hours shooting at a store, and visit two to three stores a day, working with salespersons who present their collections: handwoven bridal lehengas; golden, heavily embroidered sherwanis for grooms; replicas of the world’s most expensive sarees, similar to the ones that billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s wife Nita Ambani has worn; or the replica of a necklace worn by Bollywood actor Katrina Kaif.

These videos are edited and uploaded in under 15 days, Khurana said, and their impact can be transformative.

Shop owner Chandra Prakash Saini told Rest of World that ever since November 2021, when Khurana posted a video about his store Omjay Sarees, located at Nai Sarak near Chandni Chowk, “customers from outside Delhi have started to come to us in large numbers … People from a radius of 500–600 kilometers around Delhi, and even South India, have started pouring into Chandni Chowk. They come with their entire families to buy lehengas.”

With 1.51 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, Khurana has shot over 1,500 videos at more than 90 stores in the Old Delhi market. The total views on his channel are nearly 270 million.

The 24-year-old comes from a humble background, and was raised in a West Delhi neighborhood. He started making videos in 2017 as a hobby. “I had gone to Sadar Bazar with my family for Diwali shopping,” Khurana said. “I made two videos with my phone. One was of decoration items one could buy in Sadar Bazaar and another of firecrackers-shopping.”

He initially struggled to make content about local markets because most shop owners did not allow him to shoot. “Most of the shops had older people at the counter, and they had very little idea about the internet,” Khurana said. The shopkeepers would speak to him for hours, asking questions about why he made the videos and what was so special about their store that made him want to shoot there. “In the end, they used to send me back without allowing me to film,” he said.

“Whether someone buys something or not, at least they are looking at it.”

That changed in November 2017, when Khurana posted a two-part video about pants and shirts sold at Tank Road market in Delhi’s Karol Bagh. The combined views on the two videos crossed 100,000 within days. “That boosted my channel, and more than that, my YouTube monetization was turned on,” Khurana said. In 2018, Khurana decided to quit his studies midway and focus entirely on making such YouTube content.

One of his most popular YouTube videos, uploaded about two years ago, is about a shopkeeper showcasing lehengas priced as low as 300 rupees ($4). The video has over 15.3 million views, and over 7,200 comments from people all over the world.

Saini of Omjay Sarees said that he had initially been apprehensive about paying a YouTuber and shooting a video at his store. “My son also told me that but I refused to believe that customers will just come to shops [after] looking at some video on the internet,” said Saini, who had converted his family’s 103-year-old bookstore into an ethnic wear shop in 1983. “But when I saw my neighbor’s shop having a sea of customers, I thought, ‘This is magic!’”

“Whether someone buys something or not, at least they are looking at it,” Saini said. “Now even a 15-year-old girl is watching our videos every day. When she grows older to 25, or when she is getting married, it will come to her mind that she had seen lehengas from our shops.”