The Walmart management explained to analysts it would over time pursue an omni-channel strategy; it has 21 cash-and-carry stores and can leverage the relationship it has built up with retailers.
Walmart announced on Wednesday it was buying a 77% stake in Flipkart for approximately $16 billion, of which $2 billion would be added to the e-retailer’s equity capital. The world’s biggest retailer, which throws up $20 billion of cash every year, told analysts Flipkart was a unique opportunity and not just an e-commerce platform but also a payments system, a logistics outfit and a fashion vertical in what was one of the biggest and fastest-growing e-retailing markets in the world. “We’ve been in India for a while and we know the market. We will do everything we need to to grow the business,” the management said, adding that it would race to build scale. Flipkart, it asserted, had the infrastructure, technology and management capability to cash in on the opportunity though the deal will not be value accretive immediately.
The transaction saw Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal, who held a near-6% stake, walking off with $1.2 billion while SoftBank and Naspers also exited. Binny Bansal, also co-founder, remains invested, as do Tiger Global, Tencent and Microsoft. The $2-billion infusion will help Flipkart in its war with Amazon India for a bigger market share. Amazon, which has so far invested some $3.5 billion in India of the committed $5 billion, and has picked up a 5% stake in Shoppers Stop, is expected to up the ante. Between them, Flipkart and Amazon own 70% of the e-retailing market, estimated at just about 5% of the total retailing market in India.
The Walmart management explained to analysts it would over time pursue an omni-channel strategy; it has 21 cash-and-carry stores and can leverage the relationship it has built up with retailers. Experts pointed out Walmart’s expertise in sourcing, logistics and category management — especially in food — is widely expected to give Flipkart the edge it has been looking for. Once the retailer starts sourcing fresh produce from the farm gate it could lift the fortunes of farmers, they said.
The transaction has been largely viewed as a win-win for all, Walmart, investors in Flipkart and Indian vendors and consumers. The acquisition will impact the Indian start-up ecosystem in several ways, sector watchers observed. For one, it would be harder for general marketplaces, such as those run by Amazon or Flipkart, to post market-share gains. They pointed out that Paytm’s marketplace had not gone very far despite the fact that it had been promoted by China’s Alibaba. However, local players such as Reliance Retail could pose some competition.
Consolidation is likely as investors will take sure-fire bets rather than experiment. While niche players stand a chance, these too would need to be financially backed for a long period for them to be viable. Indian law permits foreign direct investment (FDI) only in the B2B sector, which is where Flipkart claims it operates. Local multi-brand brick-and-mortar retailers allege e-retailers have an unfair edge in that they are accessing foreign capital; FDI is not allowed in multi-brand retail. Walmart’s experience in India so far has been mixed — it had a run-in with the government on issues of graft and called off a joint venture with the Bharti Group; it now runs a chain of 21 cash-and-carry stores.