India’s richest man to battle Amazon, Walmart in e-commerce

Mukesh Ambani, above, richest man in Asia, plans to expand his oil-to-commerce business to include e-commerce too. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019

India’s richest man to battle Amazon, Walmart in e-commerce

  • The businessman plans to start his e-commerce business in Gujarat and then expand into the rest of India
  • He says his new e-commerce platform will help enrich small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujart

MUMBAi: Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani announced details of a new online shopping platform Friday that will see his oil-to-telecoms conglomerate take on Amazon and Walmart in India’s burgeoning e-commerce market.
Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, said the company’s telecoms and consumer businesses planned to roll out the venture in the western state of Gujarat before expanding across India.
“Jio and Reliance Retail will launch a unique new commerce platform to empower and enrich our 12 lakh (1.2 million) small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujarat,” Ambani told a summit attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ambani, 61, has been drip-feeding his e-commerce plans for India over the past few months in announcements that are no doubt being keenly watched by US giants Amazon and Walmart.
Reliance shook up India’s telecoms market in September 2016 when it launched its 4G Jio network with free voice calls for life and vastly cheaper data.
The launch sent the profits of other mobile players spiralling downwards and sparked consolidation across the industry as rivals scrambled to match Reliance’s deep pockets.
Amazon and leading Indian e-tailer Flipkart, which was bought by Walmart for $16 billion last year, have been expanding aggressively to gain a bigger slice of India’s growing online customers.
They have incurred huge losses along the way, however, and analysts say that Reliance’s entry into the e-commerce sphere will make their jobs even harder.
India’s e-commerce sales are expected to triple between now and 2022, when they are likely to pass the $100 billion mark, according to recent research by industry body NASSCOM and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The rise is being fuelled by greater smartphone penetration, in part thanks to Jio, and a rising middle class with more disposable income.


India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

Updated 15 October 2019

India probes Flipkart, Amazon discounts after retailers complain

  • Products on Amazon, Flipkart listed at steep discounts in sale
  • Trader groups allege firms violating foreign investment rules

NEW DELHI: The Indian government is looking into whether hefty discounts offered on Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon.com during their online festive sales violate foreign investment rules, a commerce ministry official told Reuters.
India introduced new rules in February aimed at protecting the 130 million people dependent on small-scale retail by deterring big online discounts. The rules forced e-commerce firms to tweak their business structures and drew criticism from the United States, straining trade ties between New Delhi and Washington.
While Amazon and Flipkart say they’ve complied with the federal rules, local trader groups say the two companies are violating them by burning money to offer discounts — of more than 50 percent in some cases — during the ongoing festive sales.
Reuters reviewed emails and internal training material from Flipkart showing the company is in some cases offering to reduce, or forfeit, its sales commission from sellers that offer discounts.
The commerce ministry official said the government was reviewing complaints and evidence filed by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a group representing some 70 million brick-and-mortar retailers, alleging Amazon and Flipkart were violating the foreign investment rules.
The official declined to comment on possible action, but executives from Amazon and Flipkart were summoned to meet commerce ministry officials last week to discuss the matter.
Flipkart in a statement said it had a “good meeting” with government officials and it was “deeply committed to doing business the right way in India.”
Amazon said it had an “open & transparent discussion” with officials and has a high bar for compliance.
Seeking to attract shoppers around the key Hindu festival of Diwali, both retailers have placed full-page advertisements in top national daily the Times of India to showcase discount offerings stretching from Samsung and Apple phones to clothing and diapers.
“Customers are going online because of the unbelievable discounts. Because of this sales at offline businesses are down 30 percent to 40 percent this month,” CAIT’s secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said.
Two emails received by Flipkart sellers in September, just days ahead of the inaugural phase of the festive sales, showed it offering to partly fund discounts.
The company would “burn” 3 percent of the discount if a seller lowered a product price by 15 percent, or 9 percent if the seller discounted by 30 percent, said one of the emails.
In training material posted on Flipkart’s restricted website for its sellers, seen by Reuters, the company asks them to prepare for the festive season by saying “nothing is bigger than this” and explaining how they can benefit by discounting products for Flipkart’s premium customers.
“We want to ensure that you fetch as much profit from it as possible ... whatever the discount you are offering, half of that will be reimbursed to you by Flipkart,” a post said.
A Flipkart source said the incentives were compliant with Indian regulations and were aimed at promoting sellers’ earnings by effectively reducing the commission they pay.
All India Online Vendors Association, whose 3,500 members sell products on various online platforms including Flipkart, in a statement said fewer than 100 of its members benefitted from Flipkart’s partial discount funding, giving some sellers an unfair advantage.