Amazon announces $250 million venture fund for Indian startups

Amazon on Thursday announced a $250 million venture fund to invest in Indian startups and entrepreneurs focusing on digitization of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the key overseas market.

The announcement comes at a time when the American e-commerce group, which has previously invested over $6.5 billion in its India business, faces heat from government bodies, and the small and medium-sized businesses that it purports to serve.

Through the new venture fund, called Amazon Smbhav Venture Fund, Amazon said it wants to invest in startups that focus on helping small businesses come online, sell online, automate and digitize their operations, and expand to customers worldwide.

Agriculture and healthcare are two additional areas Amazon is focusing on with its new venture fund, but it said it is open to looking at tech startups from other sectors if their work intersects with SMBs.

In the agri-tech sector, Amazon is looking to invest in Indian startups that are using technology to make agri-inputs more accessible to farmers, provide credit and insurance to farmers, reduce food wastage, and improve the quality of produce to consumers. In the healthcare sector, Amazon said it will invest in startups that are enabling healthcare providers to leverage telemedicine, e-diagnosis, AI powered treatment recommendations.

The announcement was made at Amazon’s annual event, called Sambhav, that focuses on India-based SMBs. At the virtual event, Amazon also unveiled ‘Spotlight North East’, an initiative to bring 50,000 artisans, weavers and small businesses online from the eight states in the North East region of India by 2025 and to boost exports of key commodities like tea, spices and honey from the region.

In the first edition of Sambhav last year, Amazon announced it would be investing $1 billion to help digitize 10 million small and medium sized businesses. Amazon said earlier this month that it had created 300,000 jobs in India since January 2020, and enabled exports for Indian-made goods worth $3 billion.

The company said more than 50,000 offline retailers and neighborhood stores — called kirana locally — are using Amazon marketplace and about 250,000 new sellers have also joined the platform. The company said today it aims to onboard 1 million offline retailers and neighbourhood stores by 2025 through the Local Shops on Amazon program.

Not far from Sambhav’s first event last year, which was attended by Amazon chief executive and founder Jeff Bezos, tens of thousands of protesters marched on the street and expressed their concerns about what they alleged was unfair practices employed by Amazon to crush them.

A similar protest was seen today. You can hear some of their stories here. It’s an ongoing challenge for Amazon, which has long struggled to stay out of controversy in India.

An influential India trader group that represents tens of millions of brick-and-mortar retailers called New Delhi to ban Amazon in the country in February this year after a report claimed that the American e-commerce group had given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers in India, publicly misrepresented its ties with those sellers and used them to circumvent foreign investment rules in the country.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) “demanded” serious action from the Indian government against Amazon following revelations made in a Reuters story. “For years, CAIT has been maintaining that Amazon has been circumventing FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] laws of India to conduct unfair and unethical trade,” it said.

Several international technology giants including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have invested in Indian startups in recent years. Amazon, too, has backed a number of firms including ride-hailing startup Shuttl, and consumer brand MyGlamm. Last month, it acquired retail startup Perpule for about $20 million.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #india

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Amazon expands its food delivery service across Bangalore

Amazon said on Monday it has expanded its food delivery service, called Amazon Food, across 62 zip codes in Bangalore, in what is the first public update since entering the new category in India last May.

The American e-commerce group said Amazon Food now reaches key localities in Bangalore such as Whitefield, HSR, Sarjapur, Koramangala, Indiranagar, MG Road, Jayanagar, JP Nagar, Frazer Town, Malleshwaram, Rajajinagar, and Vijayanaga.

At the time of the launch in May last year, Amazon Food was available in just four zip codes in Bangalore.

Even as Amazon Food remains limited to one key market in India, the company is aggressively trying to undercut the competition — heavily funded startups Zomato and Swiggy — in the city.

Food delivery is free to Prime members, while others have to pay a fee of 19 Indian rupees (26 cents) — cheaper than fees levied by Swiggy and Zomato.

The company, which has committed to investing $6.5 billion in its India operations, said it has amassed 2,5000 restaurants and cloud kitchens in Bangalore — also referred as Bengaluru. Amazon Food customers can enjoy “offers” from these restaurants as well as cashbacks from Amazon, the company said.

It, however, did not share why it has been uncharacteristically so slow with the expansion of Amazon Food in the country.

(Well, I mean, there is a global pandemic — but Amazon also makes a number of what its employees say “one-way door” and “two-way door” bets. Two-way door bets are those that the company has not fully committed to and is just attempting to test the waters before making a concrete decision. Think of Amazon Prime as a one-way door bet. So it’s not clear from day 1 how committed Amazon is to any new service.)

“With the expansion of Amazon Food in Bengaluru, we continue in our endeavor to offer unmatched convenience and value while being a part of their everyday lives. Amazon Food brings some of the city’s top restaurants including national outlets and as well as local favorites which are popular and follow strict delivery and safety protocols,” said Sameer Khetarpal, Director of Category Management at Amazon India, in a statement.

Ant Financial-backed Zomato and Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy have established duopoly in the food delivery market in India, with analysts at Bank of America estimating their combined market share to be over 90%. (Uber exited the Indian food delivery market early last year after selling its local food business to Zomato.)

The expansion of Amazon Food also comes at a time when Zomato, which according to analysts leads the market, is preparing to file for an IPO.

India’s food delivery market is especially tough to crack because of local conditions. Unlike in the developed markets such as the U.S., where the value of each delivery item is about $33, in India, a similar item carries the price tag of $4, according to research firms. Both Zomato and Swiggy have significantly improved their unit economics in the past year.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #food, #swiggy, #zomato

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Walmart’s Flipkart to deploy over 25,000 electric vehicles in India by 2030

India’s Flipkart said on Wednesday it will deploy more than 25,000 electric vehicles in its supply chain by 2030 as the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant looks to achieve a 100% transition to electric mobility in the next 10 years.

The Bangalore-headquartered firm said it has partnered with leading EV makers including Hero Electric, Mahindra Electric, and Piaggio to build vehicles for its first and last mile delivery fleets across the country.

The announcement comes a day after rival Amazon said it had partnered with Mahindra Electric to develop “close to hundred” electric three-wheeler in India. The American e-commerce giant last year pledged to deploy 10,000 electric vehicles in the country by 2025.

Flipkart said its electric fleet will include two-wheeler, three-wheeler, and four-wheeler vehicles, all of which will be designed and assembled in India. The company said it has already started to pilot two-wheeler and three-wheeler electric vehicles in “multiple locations” in India including Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Guwahati.

In recent years, New Delhi has pushed to replace gasoline and diesel vehicles in India with environmentally friendly electric vehicles. Reuters reported in 2019 that the Indian government was planning to order ride-hailing firms such as Ola and Uber to convert 40% of their fleets to electric by April 2026.

“Electrification of the logistics fleet is a key part of Flipkart’s larger sustainability goal and in line with our commitment to the Climate Group’s EV100 initiative,” said Amitesh Jha, SVP of Ekart and Marketplace at Flipkart, in a statement.

“In this journey of making our logistics fleet completely electric by 2030, we will collaborate and work with leading local players to procure and deploy electric vehicles while supporting the required infrastructure growth. We understand the relevance of electric mobility in achieving both business and sustainability goals and are committed to paving the way for greater adoption of EVs across the country,” he added.

The company said over the past year it has worked to create a network of ecosystem partners across charging providers, skill development agencies, aggregators, and original equipment manufacturers.

The company, which is expected to publicly list later this year, identified three models that will feature in its electric vehicles fleet: Nyx series by Hero Electric, which offers extended driving range of up to 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) per charge; Treo Zor by Mahindra Electric, which features “highest-in-class payload of 550kg (1212.5 pounds)”; and Ape’ E Xtra FX by Piaggio.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #flipkart, #piaggio, #transportation, #walmart

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Indian trader group calls for ban on Amazon following explosive report

An influential India trader group that represents tens of millions of brick-and-mortar retailers called New Delhi to ban Amazon in the country after a report claimed that the American e-commerce group had given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers in India, publicly misrepresented its ties with those sellers, and used them to circumvent foreign investment rules in the country.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) on Wednesday “demanded” serious action from the Indian government against Amazon following revelations made in a Reuters story. “For years, CAIT has been maintaining that Amazon has been circumventing FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] laws of India to conduct unfair and unethical trade,” it said.

Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary General of CAIT, which claims to represent 80 million retailers and 40,000 trade associations in India, said, “It’s an open and shut case that Amazon is wilfully playing with rules. What more we are waiting for. It should be banned in India with immediate effect.”

CAIT has for years expressed concerns over what they allege are unlawful business practices employed by Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart in the country. They say these actions are posing existential threats to small merchants.

India is a key overseas market for Amazon, which has committed to invest over $6.5 billion in its operations in the world’s second largest internet market.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company cannot confirm the veracity or otherwise information and claims made in the Reuters story as it has not seen the documents. “The article appears to be based on unsubstantiated, incomplete, and/or factually incorrect information, likely supplied with the intention of creating sensation and discrediting Amazon,” the spokesperson said.

“Amazon remains compliant with all Indian laws. In the last several years, there have been number of changes in regulations governing the marketplaces and Amazon has, on each occasion taken rapid action to ensure compliance. The story therefore seems to have outdated information and does not show any non-compliance. We continue to focus on delivering first class service to India’s consumers, and helping India’s manufacturers and SMB’s reach customers across India and around the world,” it added.

Long-standing laws in India have constrained Amazon and other e-commerce firms to not hold inventory or sell items directly to consumers. To bypass this, the company has operated through a maze of joint ventures with local companies that operate as inventory-holding firms. India got around to fixing this loophole in late 2018.

Citing private company documents, Reuters said that Amazon had exercised significant control over the inventory of some of the biggest sellers. The report claimed that 33 Amazon sellers accounted for about a third of the value of all goods sold on Amazon, and two sellers in which Amazon had an indirect stake accounted for around 35% of the platform’s sales revenue in early 2019.

The new report — and its potential repercussions — is just the latest headache for Amazon in India.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #india

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Forget winning, can Amazon survive in India?

During a visit to India in 2014, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos made a splashy announcement: His firm was investing $2 billion in the South Asian nation, just a year after beginning operations in the country.

Amazon’s announcement underscored how far India had come to open up to foreign firms. The nation, which had largely kept doors shut to international giants between its independence in 1947 to liberalization in 1991, has slowly transformed itself into the world’s largest open market.

In a televised interview in 2014, Bezos said that there was a perception about India not being an easy place to do business. But Amazon’s growth in the country, he said, was proof that this belief is not accurate.

“Are there obstacles? There are always obstacles. Anywhere you go, every country has its own regulations and rules,” he said.

Six years, and more than $4.5 billion of additional investments later, Amazon today appears to be facing more obstacles than ever in India, the second-largest internet market with more than 600 million users.

Long-standing laws in India have constrained Amazon, which has yet to turn a profit in the country, and other e-commerce firms to not hold inventory or sell items directly to consumers. To bypass this, firms have operated through a maze of joint ventures with local companies that operate as inventory-holding firms.

India got around to fixing this loophole in late 2018 in a move that was widely seen as the biggest blowback to the American firm in the country at the time. Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart scrambled to delist hundreds of thousands of items from their stores and made their investments in affiliated firms way more indirect.

Now the nation is set to further toughen this approach. Reuters reported last week that New Delhi is considering making adjustments to some provisions that would prevent affiliated firms to hold even an indirect stake in a seller through their parent.

The Confederation of All India Traders, an Indian trade body that claims to represent over 80 million businesses, told the publication that Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal has assured the organization that it is working to shortly address concerns about alleged violations of current rules.

The forthcoming policy change is only one of the many headaches for the world’s largest e-commerce firm in India.

Offline retailers in India have long expressed concerns about what they allege to be unfair practices employed by Amazon in India. Last year, during Bezos’ visit to the country, they held several protests. (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Amazon is aggressively fighting a battle to block a deal between its estranged partner Future Group and Reliance Retail, the two largest retail chains in India.

Last year, Future Group announced that it would sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses to Reliance Retail for $3.4 billion. Amazon, which in 2019 bought stakes in one of Future Group’s unlisted firms, says that the Indian firm has breached its contract (which would have given Amazon the right to first refusal) and engaged in insider trading.

Despite technology giants and investors ploughing more than $20 billion to create an e-commerce market in India in the past decade, online retail still accounts for only a single-digit pie of all retail in the country.

In recent years, Amazon, Walmart and scores of other startups have embraced this realization and sought to work with neighborhood stores that dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India.

With Reliance Retail and telecom giant Jio Platforms, two subsidiaries of one of India’s largest corporates (Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries) entering the e-commerce market, and receiving the backing of global giants including Facebook and Google last year, cornering a big stake in Future Group is one of the few ways Amazon can accelerate its growth in India.

The American e-commerce firm has had little luck so far in overturning the deal between the Indian firms. Last year, Amazon reached out to Indian antitrust body Competition Commission of India, and market regulator SEBI to block this transaction. Both the bodies have ruled in favor of Future Group and Reliance Retail.

Amazon must have foreseen this outcome because it initiated the legal proceedings at an arbitration court in Singapore. It’s no surprise that the firm chose to also pursue its legal argument outside of India.

Most cases that reach the Singapore International Arbitration Court have come from India in recent years. Vodafone, which has invested more than $20 billion in India, and has been dealt with billions of dollars in unpaid taxes by the country, is another high-profile name to have knocked on the door in Singapore. After losing in India, it emerged victorious in the Singapore arbitration court last year.

Amazon on Monday filed a new petition in Delhi High Court in which it is seeking to enforce SIAC’s ruling (which ordered last year that the deal should be temporarily halted) and prevent the Indian firm from going ahead with the deal based on CCI and SEBI’s judgements.

The company alleges that Future Group “deliberately and maliciously” disobeyed the international arbitration ruling from SIAC. In its petition, Amazon is also seeking detention of Kishore Biyani, the founder and chairman of Future Group.

“Vocal for Local”

As India grappled with containing the spread of the coronavirus last year, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the 1.3 billion citizens to make the country “self-reliant” and “be vocal for local.”

The move to turn inwards contrasts with his major promise in the first few years of assuming power in 2014 when he pledged to make India more welcoming to foreign firms than before. In recent years, India has proposed or enforced several regulations that hurt American firms, though none appear to suffer as much as Amazon.

Last year, New Delhi started to enforce a 2% tax on all foreign billings for digital services provided in the country. The U.S. Trade Representative said earlier this month that India was taxing numerous categories of digital services that are “not leviable under other digital services taxes adopted around the world.”

The aggregate tax bill for U.S. companies could exceed $30 million per year in India, USTR’s investigation found. In conclusion, it found India’s digital tax move to be inconsistent with international tax principles, unreasonable and burdening or restricting U.S. commerce.

Modi’s new way of life for India will be music to the ears of Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Industries, an ally of the prime minister and India’s richest man.

Before selling stakes worth over $20 billion in Jio Platforms and more than $6 billion in Reliance Retail to marquee foreign investors, Ambani famously made a speech in 2019 in which he urged the need to protect Indians’ data in patriotic terms.

“We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” he said.

Why so many international firms have invested in one of Reliance’s properties remains a big question. A senior executive at an American firm told TechCrunch on the condition of anonymity (out of fear of retribution) that the investments in Jio Platforms, which is India’s largest telecom network with nearly 410 million subscribers, and Reliance Retail is a déjà vu moment for the nation, where a few decades ago one of the only ways to do business in the nation was to partner with a local firm with massive political clout.

In a series of tweets, Raman Chima, a former policy executive at Google and who now works at nonprofit digital advocacy group Access Now, alleged that the Android-maker had weighed in 2011-12 partnering and investing in a firm like Reliance to “turn-the-page on Indian political risks.”

The idea prompted concerns about Google’s values, he claimed. “More than one executive involved in those discussions flagged concerns around Reliance’s reputation, particularly around problematic approaches towards gaining influence with policymaking civil servants and politicians, money, ethics in govt-business relationships.”

Amazon itself was rumored to be interested in getting a multi-billion-dollar stake in Reliance Retail last year, but it appears the two firms have stopped engaging on any matter.

BJP MLA Ram Kadam and his party workers protest against the Amazon Prime web series Tandav outside Bandra-Kurla Police station, on January 18, 2021 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

While Amazon sorts out these issues, last week delivered another blow to the firm. A senior executive with the firm as well as Indian makers of a mini-series for Amazon Prime Video are under threat of criminal prosecution in the country after Modi’s ruling party deemed the show offensive to the country’s Hindu majority.

A Hindu nationalist group, politicians with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and a BJP group representing members of India’s lower castes, were among those who had filed police reports against the nine-part mini-series “Tandav” and Amazon. The company bowed to the pressure and edited out some scenes.

“The true reason for the complaints against ‘Tandav’ may be that the show holds up a mirror uncomfortably close to Indian society and some of the problems blamed on Mr. Modi’s administration. In the opening episode, the show features protesting students and disgruntled farmers, echoing events that have taken place in recent months,” The New York Times wrote.

“Mirzapur,” another show of Amazon, also attracted a criminal complaint in India last week for hurting religious and regional sentiments and defaming the Indian town. The Indian Supreme Court has issued notices to the makers of “Mirzapur” and has sought responses.

In the aforementioned interview, Bezos said Amazon’s job was to follow all the unique rules various countries require it to comply with and “adapt our business practice to those rules.”

In India, the company is increasingly being asked how far it is willing to adapt its business practice. How far is it willing to bend that it’s no longer the Amazon people cared for.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #entertainment, #flipkart, #government, #india, #jio-platforms, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-retail, #walmart

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Indian stock exchanges approve $3.4B Reliance and Future deal in setback for Amazon

Indian stock exchanges approved the $3.4 billion deal between retail giants Reliance Retail and Future Group on late Wednesday in yet another setback for Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in the world’s second largest internet market and sought to block the aforementioned deal.

The Bombay Stock Exchange said in a notification that it had spoken with India’s markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), and had no objection or adverse observation on the deal.

Wednesday’s notification is the latest setback for Amazon, which had written to SEBI and Indian antitrust watchdog to block the multi-billion deal between Future Group and Reliance Retail, the two largest retail chains in India. Last year, India’s antitrust group gave a go ahead to the deal to the Indian firms.

“We hereby advise that we have no adverse observations with limited reference to those matters having a bearing on listing/de-listing/continuous listing requirements within the provisions of Listing Agreement, so as to enable the company to file the scheme with Hon’ble NCLT [National Company Law Tribunal],” the notification read. SEBI has advised Future to share various aspects of its ongoing litigation with Amazon to NCLT, whose approval for the deal is pending.

Amazon bought 49% stake in one of Future’s unlisted firms in 2019 in a deal that was valued at over $100 million. As part of the deal, Future could not have sold assets to rivals, Amazon has said in court filings.

Things changed last year after the coronavirus pandemic starved the Indian firm of cash, Future Group chief executive and founder Kishore Biyani said at a recent virtual conference. In August, Future Group said that it had reached an agreement with Ambani’s Reliance Industries, which runs India’s largest retail chain, to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics and warehousing businesses for $3.4 billion.

Amazon later protested the deal by reaching an arbitrator in Singapore and asked the court to block the deal between the Indian retail giants. Amazon secured emergency relief from the arbitration court in Singapore in late October that temporarily halted Future Group from going ahead with the sale.

The two estranged partners also fought at the Delhi High Court last year, which in a rare glimmer of hope for the American giant rejected Future’s plea for an ad-interim injunction to restrain Amazon from writing to regulators and other authorities to raise concerns over — and halt — the deal between the two Indian giants.

An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that the firm will continue to pursue legal remedies. “The letters issued by BSE & NSE clearly state that the comments of SEBI on the ‘draft scheme of arrangement’ (proposed transaction) are subject to the outcome of the ongoing Arbitration and any other legal proceedings. We will continue to pursue our legal remedies to enforce our rights,” the spokesperson said.

At stake is India’s retail market that is estimated to balloon to $1.3 trillion by 2025, up from $700 billion in 2019, according to consultancy firm BCG and local trade group Retailers’ Association India. Online shopping accounts for about 3% of all retail in India.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #future-group, #future-retail, #reliance-industries, #reliance-retail

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Amazon makes education push in India with JEE preparation app

Amazon on Wednesday launched Amazon Academy, a service that will aim to help students in India prepare for entry into the nation’s prestigious engineering college. The American firm is the latest entrant to this market where scores of startups and institutes have launched digital offerings in recent years.

The e-commerce giant, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in the world’s second largest internet market, said Amazon Academy offers curated learning material, live lectures, mock tests, and comprehensive assessments to help students learn and practice Math, Physics and Chemistry and prepare for the Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE), an engineering entrance assessment conducted in India for admission to various engineering colleges in the country. Millions of students take JEE test each year.

“These tests are designed to mirror the JEE experience helping students understand the nuances of the examination. Students will also benefit from shortcuts, mnemonics, tips, and tricks, equipping them with the necessary tools to retain concepts and solve questions effectively,” the company said.

Amazon began testing Amazon Academy, previously known as JEE Ready, in India in mid-2019. Amazon Academy, available to download from Google Play Store and App Store, is free and will remain so for the “next few months,” the company said.

More than 260 million children go to school in India and much of the population sees education as a key to economic progress and a better life. TechCrunch reported last month that Amazon was also hiring people in India to launch Amazon Future Engineer, a program through which it aims to bring computer science education to underserved and underrepresented children and young adults, in India by this year.

“Amazon Academy aims to bring high quality, affordable education to all, starting with those preparing for engineering entrance examinations. Our mission is to help students achieve their outcomes while also empowering educators and content partners reach millions of students. Our primary focus has been on content quality, deep learning analytics and student experience. This launch will help engineering aspirants prepare better and achieve the winning edge in JEE,” said Amol Gurwara, Director, Education at Amazon India, in a statement.

Amazon’s global rivals, Facebook and Google, have also made push in India’s education market in recent years. Last year, Facebook partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators.

Facebook also invested in Unacademy, a Bangalore-based startup that offers online learning classes. Google, which invested in Indian edtech startup Cuemath, also partnered with CBSE to train more than 1 million teachers in India and offer a range of free tools such as G Suite for Education, Google Classroom and YouTube to help digitize the education experience in the nation.

India’s top edtech startups — Byju’s, Unacademy, and Vedantu — also offer students classes to prepare for JEE test. Last year, these startups onboarded tens of millions of students to their platform after the coronavirus outbreak prompted New Delhi to shut down schools across the nation. Byju’s, which became the world’s most valuable edtech startup last year, is in talks to buy decades-old Aakash Educational Services Aakash Educational Services, which owns and operates more than 200 physical tutoring centres across the country aimed at students preparing to qualify for top engineering and medical colleges, for $1 billion, Bloomberg reported this week.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #education

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Amazon eyes launching its computer science education program in India

Amazon is planning to extend its computer science program Future Engineer to India, demonstrating its growing interest in the education space in the world’s second largest internet market.

In a job recruitment post, the company said that initial research for Amazon Future Engineer, through which it aims to bring computer science education to underserved and underrepresented children and young adults, in India is “currently underway” and the chosen candidate would be tasked with working with local nonprofits and government officials.

The company said in the post that it plans to launch the program in India in 2021. The childhood-to-career program is currently operational in the United States, where the company serves more than 5,000 schools and 550,000 students with computer science coursework, it said in a press release earlier this week.

“Amazon India has a specific focus on equipping children and young adults from underserved and underprivileged communities to build better futures for themselves,” the company said in the description. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The American e-commerce giant, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in India so far, has been exploring the education space in the country for a few years. Last year, it launched JEE Ready, an app aimed at helping students who are preparing for entry into India’s prestigious technology institutes. JEE Ready, which has since been rebranded as Amazon Academy, offers free online classes and analyzes students’ performance in mock tests.

Image: Amazon

Amazon isn’t the only American firm that is paying attention to India’s growing education market, where more than 260 million children go to school and much of the population sees education as a key to economic progress and a better life.

Earlier this year, Facebook partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), a government body that oversees education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators.

Facebook this year also invested in Unacademy, a Bangalore-based startup that offers online learning classes. Google, which invested in Indian edtech startup Cuemath this year, has also partnered with CBSE to train more than 1 million teachers in India and offer a range of free tools such as G Suite for Education, Google Classroom and YouTube to help digitize the education experience in the nation.

Microsoft has also collaborated with several Indian government and industry bodies including National Skill Development Corporation, and Nasscom to help more than 1 million people upskill themselves.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #education, #facebook, #google, #india, #microsoft

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Indian court rejects retail giant Future Group’s plea against Amazon

An Indian court rejected Future Group’s plea that sought to prevent its partner Amazon from raising objections and interfering in the Indian retail giant’s $3.4 billion asset sale deal to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, delivering a glimmer of hope to the American e-commerce firm that has invested more than $6.5 billion in the world’s second largest internet market.

Future Group was seeking an ad-interim injunction to restrain its partner Amazon from writing to regulators and other authorities to raise concerns over — and halt — the deal between the two Indian giants. The Delhi High Court ruled on Monday that Amazon cannot be barred from writing to regulators on account of “potentially irreparable damage.”

The ruling is the latest episode in the high-stake battle between partners Amazon and Future Group. Amazon bought 49% in one of Future’s unlisted firms last year in a deal that was valued at over $100 million. As part of that deal, Future could not have sold assets to rivals, Amazon said in court filings.

Things changed this year after the coronavirus pandemic starved the Indian firm of cash, Future Group chief executive and founder Kishore Biyani said at a recent virtual conference. In August, Future Group said that it had reached an agreement with Ambani’s Reliance Industries, which runs India’s largest retail chain, to sell its retail, wholesale, logistics, and warehousing businesses for $3.4 billion.

Months later, Amazon protested the deal by reaching an arbitrator in Singapore and asked the court to block the deal between the Indian retail giants. Amazon secured emergency relief from the arbitration court in Singapore in late October that temporarily halted Future Group from going ahead with the sale.

Until Monday, it remained unclear whether that ruling would hold any water in front of Indian courts. So much so that hours after the Singapore arbitration court announced its verdict, Future Group and Reliance said in a statement that will be going ahead with the deal “without any delay.”

Amazon had also reached out to the Competition Commission of India, the Indian watchdog, to block the deal. Competition Commission of India, however, approved the deal between the Indian firms. In earlier hearings, lawyers for Future Group likened Amazon’s effort to block Future Group’s deal to the East India Company, the British trading house whose arrival in India kicked off nearly 200 years of colonial rule.

At stake is India’s retail market that is estimated to balloon to $1.3 trillion by 2025, up from $700 billion last year, according to consultancy firm BCG and local trade group Retailers’ Association India. Online shopping accounts for about 3% of all retail in India.

Future Group and Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is a developing story. More details to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #future-group, #india, #jeff-bezos

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India approves Reliance’s $3.4 billion deal with Future Group, brings a new headache to Amazon

The Indian watchdog said on Friday it has approved the $3.4 billion deal between the nation’s two largest retail giants, Future Group and Reliance Retail, posing a new headache for American e-commerce group Amazon in the key overseas market.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI), the Indian watchdog, said in a brief statement that it had approved the proposed acquisition of retail, wholesale, logistics, and warehousing businesses of Future Group, India’s second largest retail chain, by Reliance Retail, the largest.

Reliance Retail and Future Group announced their proposed deal, worth $3.4 billion, in late August. Amazon, which owns a stake in a Future Group’s subsidiary, has protested the deal, alleging the Indian firm of engaging in insider trading and violating contracts.

Late last month, a Singapore arbitration court issued an order to temporarily halt the deal between the two Indian retail giants, but it has been unclear ever since how much water that order holds in India. Shortly after the court issued the order, Future Group and Reliance Retail said they were working to complete their deal “without any delay.”

Friday’s announcement is crucial. Amazon, which has invested over $6.5 billion in its India business, had requested the CCI and SEBI, the regulator of the securities and commodity market in India, to consider Singapore International Arbitration Centre’s order and block the deal.

Future Group is currently fighting with Amazon in a court in Delhi, where a lawyer for the Indian firm has used bizarre language to charge the American firm. On several occasions, the lawyer has likened Amazon’s effort to block Future Group’s deal to the East India Company, the British trading house whose arrival in India kicked off nearly 200 years of colonial rule.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

More to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #future-group, #government, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance, #reliance-retail

0

Reliance Retail buys Urban Ladder for $24.4 million

Reliance Retail has acquired a majority stake in furniture and decor platform Urban Ladder, making a broader push into e-commerce as the largest retail chain in India gears up to fight Amazon and Flipkart.

In a filing to the local stock exchange, Reliance Retail said it had acquired a 96% stake in Urban Ladder for about $24.43 million. The Indian retail giant, which retains the option to acquire the remainder stake in the seven-and-a-half-years-old startup, said it has proposed to invest up to $10.06 million more in Urban Ladder by December 2023.

Founded in early 2012, Urban Ladder sells home furniture and decor products online. It also operates a chain of physical retail stores in several Indian cities. The deal size suggests that it was a fire sale.

The startup had raised about $115 million from Sequoia Capital, SAIF Partners, Steadview Capital, and MIT and other investors, according to Crunchbase and Tracxn. In the financial year that ended in March, the Indian startup reported a loss of $6.63 million on a turnover of $58.2 million.

Reliance Retail said (PDF) the investment “will further enable the group’s digital and new commerce initiatives and widen the bouquet of consumer products provided by the group, while enhancing user engagement and experience across its retail offerings.”

Urban Ladder is the latest acquisition for Reliance Retail, which earlier this year said it had entered into a $3.4 billion deal with Future Group to buy several of India’s second largest retail chain’s businesses. In August, Reliance acquired a 60% stake in pharma marketplace Netmeds’ parent firm Vitalic for about $83.2 million.

Reliance Retail, which is part of Reliance Industries (India’s most valued firm), has raised about $6.4 billion in recent months after its sister subsidiary, Jio Platforms, secured over $20 billion this year from Facebook and Google among other high-profile investors.

Reliance Retail, which serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country, entered the e-commerce space with JioMart through a joint venture with Jio Platforms. JioMart now has a presence in over 200 Indian cities and towns, and it also maintains a partnership with Facebook for WhatsApp integration.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #fundings-exits, #india, #reliance-retail, #urban-ladder, #walmart

0

Indian logistics startup Xpressbees raises $110 million

Xpressbees, an Indian logistics firm that works with several e-commerce firms in the country, said on Monday it has raised $110 million in a new financing round as online shopping booms in the world’s second largest internet market.

The Pune-headquartered startup’s Series E financing round was led by private equity firms Investcorp, Norwest Venture Partners and Gaja Capital, the five-year-old startup said. Xpressbees, which concluded its Series D round three years ago, has raised $175.8 million to date, according to research firm Tracxn. The new round valued the startup at more than $350 million.

Xpressbees helps more than 1,000 customers — including financial and e-commerce services giant Paytm, social commerce startup Meesho, eyewear seller Lenskart, phone maker Xiaomi, online pharmacy NetMeds and online marketplace Snapdeal — deliver their products across the country. It has presence in over 2,000 cities and towns, and it processes more than 2.5 million orders a day — up from about 600,000 daily orders last year.

“We have been truly impressed by their strong customer centricity and capital efficiency which has resulted in exceptional feedback from top players in the e-commerce sector!” said Niren Shah, managing director and head of Norwest Venture Partners in India, in a statement.

Xpressbees started its journey within FirstCry, an e-commerce for baby products, in 2012. But in 2015, it became an independent company with Amitava Saha, co-founder and chief operating officer of FirstCry, moving out of FirstCry to become chief executive of Xpressbees. Supam Maheshwari, who co-founded FirstCry and serves as its chief executive, is the other co-founder of Xpressbees.

The startup said it plans to deploy the fresh capital to further automate its hubs and sorting centres, and expand its delivery footprint to cover the entire country. “I am delighted to see the impact we are making in the logistics ecosystem in the country,” said Saha in a statement.

At stake is India’s growing logistics industry, which NVP’s Shah estimated to be worth $200 billion. “We continue to believe that new age technology led logistics players such as Xpressbees will continue to play a pivotal role both in the growth of the e-commerce sector in India,” he added.

E-commerce sales, which account for less than 5% of all retail sales in India, skyrocketed during the pandemic after New Delhi enforced a two-month nationwide lockdown. During their festival sales last month, Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart reported a record surge in their sales. The firms have created more than 150,000 seasonal jobs to accommodate the growing demand of orders. Xpressbees works with over 30,000 delivery staff.

Xpressbees competes with a handful of established firms and startups, including SoftBank-backed Delhivery, which became a unicorn last year, and Ecom Express, which has presence in about 2,400 Indian cities and towns. 

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #delhivery, #flipkart, #funding, #gaja-capital, #india, #investcorp, #logistics, #norwest-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #walmart, #xpressbees

0

India’s Flipkart buys over $200 million stake in Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail

Flipkart is acquiring a 7.8% stake in Aditya Birla Fashion as the Walmart-owned Indian e-commerce firm makes further push into the fashion category in one of the world’s largest retail markets.

The e-commerce group will pay $203.8 million for its stake in Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail, a conglomerate that operates over 3,000 stores including the Pantaloons brand. As part of the “landmark partnership,” Flipkart will also sell and distribute various Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail’s brands products.

“This partnership is an emphatic endorsement of the growth potential of India,” said Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Aditya Birla Group, which operates the fashion retail firm in a filing to the stock exchange. “It also reflects our strong conviction in the future of the apparel industry in India, which is poised to touch $100 billion in the next 5 years.”

Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of Flipkart Group, said the two companies will work toward “making available a wide range of products for fashion-conscious consumers across different retail formats across the country. We look forward to working with ABFRL and its well established and comprehensive fashion and retail infrastructure as we address the promising opportunity of the apparel industry in India.”

In July, Flipkart also invested $35 million in $35 million in Arvind Fashions, one of the decades-old Indian firm’s subsidiaries.

More to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #flipkart, #india

0

Amazon sends legal notice to India’s Future Group over deal with Ambani’s Reliance Retail

Amazon has sent a legal notice to Future Retail, India’s second largest retail chain, for breaching the terms of its contract by selling a significant portion of the business to Ambani’s Reliance Retail.

Future Group announced in late August that it was selling its retail and wholesale business, as well as its logistics and warehousing business to Reliance Retail for $3.4 billion.

But before Reliance Retail came into the picture, Future Group and Amazon also had a deal.

Last year, Amazon acquired a 49% stake in Future Coupons, a group entity owned by Future Group’s retail business. The deal gave Amazon a 3.58% stake in Future Retail, and the right of first refusal to purchase more stake in Future Retail both directly as well as via entities, Future Group said in a filing at the time.

According to TV network ET Now, which first reported about the legal notice, the deal between Amazon and Future Retail also restricted the Indian firm from entering into a deal with certain firms.

Future Group, which kickstarted its journey as a stonewashed-fabric seller in the 1980s, served millions of customers through more than 1,500 stores in more than 400 cities as of earlier this year.

The legal notice has puzzled many in India, as Amazon is reportedly preparing to acquire a multi-billion-dollar stake in Reliance Retail, India’s largest retail chain, according to earlier reports by ET Now and Bloomberg.

With e-commerce commanding only between 3 to 7% of all retail sales in India — and Reliance Retail launching its own e-commerce business to fight Amazon and Flipkart — Amazon’s deal with Reliance Retail is seen as crucial for the American e-commerce firm’s future in India by many industry analysts. Amazon, which kickstarted its journey in India seven years ago, has invested over $6.5 billion in its local business in the country.

Amazon confirmed that it had filed a legal notice. Reliance Retail and Future Group did not comment. As of Wednesday midnight (local time), Future Group had not disclosed the notice on the stock exchange.

Founded in 2006, Reliance Retail serves more than 3.5 million customers each week (as of early this year) through its nearly 12,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country.

The retail chain, run by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, has raised about $5.14 billion by selling about an 8.5% stake in its business to Silver Lake, Singapore’s GIC, General Atlantic and others in the past four weeks.

Ambani’s other venture, Jio Platforms, this year raised over $20 billion from more than a dozen marquee investors including Google and Facebook.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #future-group, #india, #reliance-retail

0

Amazon adds support for Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu in local Indian languages push ahead of Diwali

More than seven years after Amazon began its e-commerce operations in India, and two years after its shopping service added support for Hindi, the most popular language in the country, the American giant is embracing more local languages to court hundreds of millions of new users.

Amazon announced on Tuesday its website and apps now support Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu in a move that it said would help it reach an additional 200-300 million users in the country.

Localization is one of the most crucial — and popular — steps for companies to expand their potential reach in India. Netflix added support for Hindi last month, and Amazon’s Alexa started conversing in the Indian language last year. (Amazon’s on-demand video streaming service, Prime Video, also supports Hindi, in addition to Tamil and Telugu.)

The company said the usage of Hindi, which it rolled out on its website and apps in India in 2018, has grown by three times in the past five months, and “hundreds of thousands” of Amazon customers have switched to Hindi shopping experience.

Amazon’s further language push comes months after its chief rival in India, Walmart -owned Flipkart, added support for Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, three languages that are spoken by roughly 200 million people in India.

Like Flipkart, Amazon worked with expert linguists to develop an accurate and comprehensible experience in each of the languages, the American e-commerce firm said.

But simple translation is not enough to make inroads with users in India. YouTube and YouTube Music, for instance, understand when Bollywood fans in India search for music by the name of the movie character or actor who played the part instead of the actual musician or song title — a phenomenon unique among Indian users.

Amazon appears to have incorporated similar learnings into its shopping experience. The company said for translations it preferred using commonly used terms from daily life over perfectly translated words.

Kishore Thota, Director of Customer Experience and Marketing at Amazon India, termed the availability of Amazon India shopping experience in four new languages a “major milestone.”

The move comes weeks ahead of Diwali, the biggest festival in India that sees hundreds of millions of Indians spend lavishly. “We are super excited to do this ahead of the upcoming festive season,” said Thota.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #walmart

0

India’s Reliance Retail acquires a majority stake in online pharmacy Nedmeds for $83.2M

Reliance Retail has bought a 60% stake in pharma marketplace Netmeds for about $83.2 million, it said today as India’s largest retail chain looks to expand into new categories and compete more closely with American e-commerce group Amazon.

The all-cash deal valued Netmeds, which serves 5.7 million customers in more than 670 cities and towns and online, at about $134 million. Consumers get access to more than 70,000 prescription drugs for chronic and recurring ailments as well as enhanced lifestyle drugs and thousands of non-prescription goods for wellness, health, and personal care through Netmeds.

“This investment is aligned with our commitment to provide digital access for everyone in India. The addition of Netmeds enhances Reliance Retail’s ability to provide good quality and affordable health care products and services, and also broadens its digital commerce proposition to include most daily essential needs of consumers,” said Isha Ambani, Director of Reliance Retail, in a statement.

Reliance Retail, like its sister telecom venture Jio Platforms, is a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India. Reliance Industries is run by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man.

The announcement late Tuesday evening (local time) comes days after Amazon struck a deal with NetMeds, 1mg, PharmEasy and Medlife to sell medicines online in Bangalore. It was the first time Amazon had expanded into this category, it said. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telemedicine and pharma marketplaces in the country, analysts said.

Online sales of medicine in India, for which New Delhi currently does not have clear regulations, presents yet another major opportunity for Reliance Retail, which has expanded its new e-commerce venture — called JioMart — to more than 200 cities and towns in the recent quarters.

Local media has reported that Reliance is also in talks to acquire online furniture store Urban Ladder, milk delivery startup MilkBasket and Bangalore-based lingerie maker Zivame. TechCrunch reported last week that Reliance Industries was also in talks to acquire the India business of TikTok.

More to follow…

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #funding, #health, #india, #reliance-retail

0

Amazon launches online pharmacy in India

Amazon has launched an online pharmacy in Bangalore, the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state, as the e-commerce group looks to spread its tentacles in more categories in one of its key overseas markets.

The company said on Friday its new service, called Amazon Pharmacy, has started accepting orders for both over-the-counter and prescription-based medicines in Bangalore. (In India, antibiotics and several other drugs can often be purchased from pharmacies without prescriptions.)

Amazon Pharmacy is also selling traditional herbal medicines and some health devices such as glucose meters, nebulisers, and handheld massagers.

“This is particularly relevant in present times as it will help customers meet their essential needs while staying safe at home,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.

Online sales of medicine in India, for which New Delhi currently does not have clear regulations, presents yet another major opportunity for Amazon that has invested more than $6.5 million to date into its India operations and where it competes with Walmart-owned Flipkart.

For Amazon, pharmacy is not a new idea. The company, which has hired several health experts in recent years, acquired online pharmacy startup PillPack for nearly $1 billion in 2018.

Scores of startups such as 1mg, Netmeds, Medlife, and PharmEasy currently sell medicines in India online and deliver to most parts of the country. 1mg, which has raised more than $170 million, today delivers orders in more than a 1,000 cities in the country, for instance.

These startups, as with any e-commerce player, offer enticing discounts to customers on each order to increase their market share. On that front, Amazon says it is also offering up to 20% discount on all orders.

In recent months, Amazon has expanded into a handful of new categories in India. It launched its food delivery service in parts of Bangalore in May and received approval to sell and deliver alcohol in the state of West Bengal a month later.

Last month, the company started to sell auto-insurance in India and said it planned to expand its insurance service to offer coverage on health, flight and cabs in the future.

Its expansion into more categories comes as Flipkart is also entering new spaces including hyperlocal delivery that it piloted in Bangalore late last month.

Both the firms are now facing an emerging challenger: India’s richest man. Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail, the largest retail chain in India, began testing e-commerce venture JioMart late last year.

The service, which is now operational in over 200 cities and towns across India, reported selling over 400,000 orders a day last month, surpassing daily peak figures of grocery delivery startups BigBasket and Grofers.

Local media has reported that Amazon is eyeing a multi-billion dollar stake in Reliance Retail. Ambani’s other venture, telecoms giant Jio Platforms, has raised about $20 billion from Facebook, Google, and 11 other high-profile investors in recent months. Ambani said last month that the company had concluded fundraise for Jio Platforms and is looking forward to “induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #jiomart, #mukesh-ambani, #online-pharmacy, #pharmacy, #reliance-jio, #reliance-retail, #walmart

0

Amazon tops 1 million Prime subscribers in India; reports record seller participation in Prime Day

Amazon has amassed at least 1 million subscribers for its Prime loyalty service in India, the e-commerce giant revealed today in a long rundown of how its platform fared during last week’s Prime Day in the world’s second largest internet market.

More than a million Prime subscribers in India shopped from small businesses in the two weeks leading up to 48-hour Prime Day event last week, the company said in a blog post. Factoring in the ongoing global pandemic, Amazon last month chose India as the first market for Prime Day this year.

This is the first time Amazon has even vaguely disclosed how many of its users in India have signed up for the Prime subscription that costs $13.3 a year in the country and bundles Prime Video and Prime Music services. Amazon launched Prime in India four years ago. Globally, Amazon has over 150 million Prime subscribers.

More than 91,000 small businesses (sellers) in India — a record for the company — participated in the local Prime Day, and sold to customers living in 5,900 zip codes (covering more than 97% of the country). Over 4,000 of these businesses clocked sales of more than $13,350 (slightly below 4,500 businesses during last year’s Prime Day), and overall 31,000 sellers reported the two-day period last week as their best selling on the platform.

Chinese firms Xiaomi and OnePlus continued to command dominance in the smartphone category, one of the top three selling categories on Amazon, during Prime Day and also attracted customers to their accessories, laptops, and television sets, Amazon disclosed. The reception stands in contrast with the all-time high anti-China sentiments swirling across India in recent months.

Amit Agarwal, SVP and Country Manager of Amazon India, said in a televised interview that last week’s Prime Day also illustrated an “increasing trend of local Indian sellers use Amazon as a starting point to launch products and reach customers globally” but he declined to share any figures.

“This Prime Day was dedicated to our small business (SMB) partners, who have been increasingly looking to Amazon to keep their businesses running. We are humbled that we were able to help as this was our biggest Prime Day ever for small businesses,” he said in a statement.

Prime Day is one of the biggest sales events for Amazon globally. In India, the e-commerce giant has historically sold more goods during sales events scheduled around the festival of Diwali, which is when local residents peak their spendings.

But the participation of 91,000 sellers in last week’s Prime Day is the highest Amazon has ever witnessed during any sales period in India. During the sale around Diwali last year, for instance, the company had reported the participation of 65,000 sellers.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has visibly rushed to expand its base of sellers in the country in recent quarters. Earlier this year, Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said the company would invest $1 billion in India to help digitize local small businesses and increase their cumulative exports on Amazon to $10 billion by 2025.

The company revealed today that it has amassed 650,000 sellers in India, up from 500,000 it disclosed in January this year.

Amazon has also been focusing on tie-ups with neighborhood stores across the country, leveraging their vast reach to drive more people to shop online. The company said over a thousand such shops from more than 100 cities made their debut on Prime Day last week.

Amazon also claimed that during Prime Day, the number of requests people made to Alexa exceeded one million. The company also shared a wide-range of other stats such as a claim that twice as many customers signed up for a Prime membership during last week’s Prime Day compared to last year’s. But without any concrete figures, these numbers are bereft of meaning.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #amazon-prime-day, #asia, #china, #ecommerce, #india, #oneplus, #xiaomi

0

Amazon inks cloud deal with Airtel in India

Amazon has found a new partner to expand the reach of its cloud services business — AWS — in India, the world’s second largest internet market.

On Wednesday, the e-commerce giant announced it has partnered with Bharti Airtel, the third-largest telecom operator in India with more than 300 million subscribers, to sell a wide-range of AWS offerings under Airtel Cloud brand to small, medium, and large-sized businesses in the country.

The deal could help AWS, which leads the cloud market in India, further expand its dominance in the country. The move follows a similar deal Reliance Jio — India’s largest telecom operator and which has raised more than $20 billion in recent months from Google, Facebook and a roster of other high-profile investors — struck with Microsoft last year to sell cloud services to small businesses. The two announced a 10-year partnership to “serve millions of customers.”

Airtel, which serves over 2,500 large enterprises and more than a million emerging businesses, itself signed a similar cloud deal with Google in January this year. That partnership is still in place, Airtel said.

“AWS brings over 175 services to the table. We pretty much support any workload on the cloud. We have the largest and the most vibrant community of customers,” said Puneet Chandok, President of AWS in India and South Asia, on a call with reporters Wednesday noon.

The two companies, which signed a similar agreement in 2015, will also collaborate on building new services and help existing customers migrate to Airtel Cloud, they said.

Today’s deal illustrates Airtel’s push to build businesses beyond its telecom venture, said Harmeen Mehta, Global CIO and Head of Cloud and Security Business at Airtel, on the call. Last month, Airtel partnered with Verizon — TechCrunch’s parent company — to sell BlueJeans video conferencing service to business customers in India.

Deals with carriers were very common a decade ago in India as tech giants rushed to amass users in the country. Replicating a similar strategy now illustrates the phase of the cloud adoption in the nation.

Nearly half a billion people in India came online last decade. And slowly, small businesses and merchants are also beginning to use digital tools, storage services, and accept online payments.

India has emerged as one of the emerging leading grounds for cloud services. The public cloud services market of the country is estimated to reach $7.1 billion by 2024, according to research firm IDC.

#airtel, #amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #aws, #azure, #bharti-airtel, #cloud, #enterprise, #g-suite, #google, #india, #microsoft

0

India’s Flipkart gives hyperlocal delivery service another try

Flipkart on Tuesday launched a hyperlocal service in suburbs of Bangalore, four years after the e-commerce group abruptly concluded its previous foray into this category.

The e-commerce group, owned by Walmart, said Flipkart Quick leverages the company’s supply chain infrastructure and a new location mapping technology framework to deliver more than 2,000 products across grocery, perishables, smartphones, electronics accessories, and stationary items within 90 minutes to customers.

When a customer places an order, the items are sourced from local neighborhood stores, warehouses and retail chains. Flipkart Quick — initially operational in Whitefield, Panathur, HSR Layout, BTM Layout, Banashankari, KR Puram and Indiranagar among other suburbs of Bangalore — allows customers to book a convenient two-hour slot between 6am to midnight for delivery.

The company, which is working with a range of partnered firms, is levying a delivery charge starting 29 Indian rupees (39 cents) on servicing these orders, it said.

The launch of Quick stands to provide Flipkart an opportunity to reach a new set of users, especially those who otherwise see no reason to buy online, and also become a headache for some existing startups such as Dunzo that already operate in a similar space. It also marks Flipkart’s foray into servicing fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and milk orders.

“This is a great model for India as households of all sizes are already used to their neighbourhood Kirana stores. In fact, Indian families are so comfortable with what we call the ‘hyperlocal context’, that there is a tendency to develop deep, familial ties with vendors, shopkeepers and service providers – now with the convenience of e-commerce,” said Sandeep Karwa, a VP at Flipkart, in a statement.

“While we start with our dark store (no-walkin) model, wherein we enable sellers to store inventory close to the consumer; this model has the potential of encouraging local entrepreneurship and enabling new business strategies and partnerships. Today, with Flipkart Quick – our Hyperlocal capability, we have the potential to bring together the whole network of neighbourhood Kirana stores onto our platform with just a click,” he added.

This isn’t the first time Flipkart has explored the hyperlocal delivery category. In late 2015, Flipkart launched Nearby to deliver perishables, grocery, wellbeing, and household items within 60 minutes. But the company abruptly discontinued Nearby reportedly because of poor demand and thin margin.

Flipkart did not reference Nearby today, but talked about the efforts it has made to build Quick and the opportunities it sees in the market. A Flipkart spokeswoman told TechCrunch that the company plans to expand Quick hyperlocal delivery service outside of Bangalore in a few months.

Flipkart said for Quick, it is also moving away from the traditional model of using zip code system to identify delivery location and instead using a latitude and longitude approach. This model enables the company to “not only narrow down the location” but also be “more precise” and deliver more efficiently.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #walmart

0

Amazon now sells auto insurance in India

Amazon’s India business said on Thursday it has begun offering auto insurance to cover two and four-wheeler in the country, marking American giant’s first foray into this financial services category globally.

The e-commerce giant said it had inked a deal with Mumbai-headquartered Acko General Insurance to offer customers car and motor-bike insurance. Amazon is also an investor in Acko.

Mahendra Nerurkar, chief executive and director of Amazon Pay in India, said on Wednesday evening at a fintech conference that the company was planning to expand its insurance service to offer coverage on health, flight, and cabs.

The auto insurance is available to customers through Amazon Pay on e-commerce giant’s website and app. The company said buying insurance will take less than two minutes and requires no paperwork.

“This coupled with services like hassle-free claims with zero paperwork, one-hour pick-up, 3-day assured claim servicing and 1 year repair warranty – in select cities, as well as an option for instant cash settlements for low value claims, making it beneficial for customers,” it added.

Customers who have subscribed to Amazon Prime, the company’s loyalty program that costs about $13 a year in India, will be able to access additional benefits and discounts, Amazon said without identifying those benefits.

India’s insurance market is the latest financial services sector that has attracted the attention of local and international tech giants. Paytm, India’s most valued startup, and its chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma, acquired insurance firm Raheja QBE for a sum of $76 million earlier this month.

In India only a fraction of the nation’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance and some analysts say that digital firms could prove crucial in bringing these services to the masses.

According to rating agency ICRA, insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017. An average Indian makes about $2,100 a year, according to the World Bank. Of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017, ICRA estimated.

“Our vision is to make Amazon Pay the most, trusted, convenient and rewarding way to pay for our customers. Delighted by this experience, there has been a growing demand for more services. In line with this need, we are excited to launch an auto insurance product that is affordable, convenient, and provides a seamless claims experience,” said Vikas Bansal, director and head of financial services at Amazon Pay in India, in a statement.

Though Amazon Pay is available in several markets, the payments service’s offering in India remains unmatched. The company has used the world’s second largest internet market, where it has invested more than $6.5 billion to date, as testbed to explore various unique opportunities. Amazon Pay app in India, for instance, also sells movie and flight tickets.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #automotive, #finance, #flipkart, #india, #insurance, #paytm, #walmart

0

Flipkart buys Walmart’s India wholesale business to reach mom and pop stores

Flipkart said on Thursday it is launching a wholesale marketplace to serve small and medium-sized businesses and neighborhood stores in India, entering an increasingly crowded space that has attracted several players including India’s richest man, Lightspeed-backed Udaan, Amazon, and Facebook in recent years.

To launch the wholesale marketplace, called Flipkart Wholesale, the e-commerce giant said it was acquiring a 100% stake in Walmart’s India business, which had limited standalone presence in the country and operated Best Price cash-and-carry business that runs 28 stores across the country and has amassed more than 1.5 million members.

Flipkart, which has sold more than 80% of the business to U.S. retail giant Walmart, did not disclose the financial terms of the acquisition. Earlier this month, Walmart led a $1.2 billion financing round in Flipkart to increase its majority stake in the Indian firm.

Flipkart Wholesale, which will become operational next month, will use the e-commerce giant’s existing vast supply chain infrastructure and offer an “exhaustive” range of products and merchandise, as well as easy credit options and opportunities for additional income generation to neighborhood stores (locally known as kiranas) and other small businesses, the company said, adding it will also help these businesses with insights so that they can plan their inventory needs more effectively.

Kalyan Krishnamurthy, chief executive of Flipkart Group, said the acquisition of Walmart India “adds a strong talent pool with deep expertise in the wholesale business that will strengthen our position to address the needs of kiranas and MSMEs uniquely. With this development, the Flipkart Group will further build upon the synergies across its businesses to drive greater value and choice for end-consumers and businesses alike.”

Flipkart said it has already signed up top Indian brands, local manufacturers, and sellers across the country. The wholesale business — to be overseen by Adarsh Menon, a veteran at Flipkart, and Sameer Aggarwal, chief executive at Walmart India — will pilot services for the grocery and fashion categories next month. Aggarwal will leave his current position after the transition and will serve in a new role within Walmart.

“For over a decade, we’ve been committed to India’s prosperity by serving kiranas and MSMEs, supporting smallholder farmers and building global sourcing and technology hubs throughout the country. Today marks the next big step as Walmart India’s pioneering cash-and-carry legacy meets Flipkart’s culture of innovation in the launch of Flipkart Wholesale,” said Judith McKenna, president and chief executive of Walmart International, in a statement.

A handful of startups have attempted to build business-to-business marketplaces in India over the years. Lightspeed-backed Udaan has emerged as the largest player in this space, with its logistics network reaching 600 cities in India (and an additional 300 with third-party logistics providers). It was joined by a new contender this year.

India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani’s JioMart, a new e-commerce venture between the nation’s largest retail chain (Reliance Retail) and telecom network (Reliance Jio Platforms), began limited operations this April and has since expanded to over 200 cities and towns across India.

Facebook, which invested $5.7 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms earlier this year, said the two companies will explore ways to serve the nation’s 60 million small and medium sized businesses.

“These small businesses are critical to the Indian economy. If you look at Facebook as a company, there has always been a focus on helping these businesses,” Facebook India head Ajit Mohan told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. “These small businesses, first-time entrepreneurs and new ventures leverage the Facebook platform to find new customers and expand to additional markets.”

On Wednesday, WhatsApp said it plans to help digitize small businesses in India.

Neighborhood stores dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India. They have survived — and thrived, despite — retail giants’ billions of investment in the country. In recent quarters, both Flipkart and Amazon have rushed to collaborate with these mom and pop.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #udaan, #walmart

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Flipkart invests $35 million in Indian fashion brand to target youth

Flipkart, which competes with Amazon in India, is doubling down on an area where it has established a clear lead: Fashion.

On Thursday, the Flipkart Group announced it had invested $35 million in Arvind Fashions for a significant minority stake in one the decades-old Indian firm’s subsidiaries as the Walmart -owned firm looks to tighten its grip on fashion apparels in the world’s second largest internet market.

Through acquisition of Myntra and Jabong over the years, Flipkart has already established dominance in India’s fashion e-commerce market. The company said today it was acquiring a stake in Arvind Fashions‘ Arvind Youth Brands, which operates Flying Machine brand in India.

The two companies said the new investment strengthens their partnership as they look to serve demands and needs of the “fashion-conscious youth” in India. Arvind Fashions began selling items on Flipkart six years ago.

91-year-old Arvind Fashions runs of the nation’s largest fashion brands, and also manufactures and carries apparels of international brands including Polo Assn, Arrow, GAP, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Aeropostale, the Children’s Place and Ed Hardy among other local and international firms.

The investment comes at a time when both Flipkart and Amazon have been expanding their private labels ecosystem in India. And by courting Arvind Fashions, Flipkart could look to replicate a similar strategy in the fashion space. The Indian e-commerce market for fashion products was worth $7 billion last year, research firm Forrester told TechCrunch.

“Flying Machine is a brand that is known in households across India, popular with the youth and synonymous with value and style. Through this investment, we look forward to partnering with the team at Arvind Youth Brands to continue to grow the market for its portfolio of products and enhance the strong brand equity that has been built over the last few decades,” said Kalyan Krishnamurthy, chief executive officer of Flipkart Group, in a statement.

The partnership with the Flipkart Group is aimed at helping Arvind Fashions accelerate its online growth strategy, said J. Suresh, managing director and chief executive of Arvind Fashions.

“Given the strong existing relationship with the Flipkart Group, and their presence in online fashion, it was an obvious choice for us to enter into this engagement through which Flipkart and Myntra will be our preferred online partner for the Flying Machine brand, while we continue to grow our offline sales through channels like exclusive brand stores, department stores and multi-brand stores,” he said in a statement.

More to follow…

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Amazon launches ‘Smart Stores’ in India to win mom and pop

For Amazon, it’s never too late to try something in India. The e-commerce giant is exploring ways to further spread its tentacles in the largely offline, technology-free neighborhood stores in one of its key overseas markets.

The American firm’s latest attempt is called “Smart Stores.” For this India-specific program, Amazon is providing physical stores with software to maintain a digital log of the inventory they have in the shop, and supplying them with a QR code.

When consumers walk to the store and scan this QR code with the Amazon app, they see everything the shop has to offer, as well as any discounts and past reviews from customers. They can select the items and pay for it using Amazon Pay. Amazon Pay in India supports a range of payments services including the popular UPI, and debit and credit cards.

Amazon told TechCrunch that it piloted this project two months ago and is formally launching it now after seeing the early feedback. More than 10,000 shops, ranging from mom and pop stores to big retail chains including Big Bazaar, MedPlus and More Supermarkets have deployed the company’s system, it said.

The company said these “digital storefronts” are a win-win for both consumers and shop owners. Consumers do not need to stay inside the store and worry about handling plastic cards or cash — that is, to maintain social distance  — and they will also get rewards for using Amazon Pay.

Amazon’s QR code at display at a store. Photo: Amazon

Customers also get the ability to use Amazon’s Pay Later feature that enables them to pay for their purchases in installments. All of this means that merchants, most of whom shut stores until recent weeks to comply with New Delhi’s lockdown order in late March, are seeing increased footfalls and improving their sales. Amazon said it is not taking any cut from merchants or customers.

The company has been aggressively engaging with physical stores in India in recent quarters, using their vast presence in the nation to expand its delivery network and warehouses and even just relying on their inventory to drive sales.

The company’s push in the physical retails, which accounts for the vast majority of sales in India, comes as Facebook, Flipkart, Google, and Reliance Jio Platforms, which recently raised $15.2 billion, also race to capture this market. On Thursday, Google said it plans to offer loans to merchants in India by the end of this year.

These mom-and-pop stores offer all kinds of items, are family-run and pay low wages and little to no rent. Since they are ubiquitous — there are more than 30 million neighborhood stores in India, according to industry estimates — no retail giant can offer a faster delivery. And on top of that, their economics are often better than most of their digital counterparts.

“Amazon Pay is already accepted at millions of local shops, we are trying to make customers’ buying experience at local shops even more convenient and safe through Smart Stores. Further, through EMIs, bank offers and rewards, we seek to make these purchases more affordable and rewarding for customers, and help increase sales for merchants.” said Mahendra Nerurkar, chief executive of Amazon Pay, in a statement.

Amazon’s tardy but increasingly growing interest in the Indian physical retails market is not surprising. The company has often taken longer than most firms in India to study the market and then adds its own spin to tackle those challenges. Another recent case in point: Its foray into food delivery market in India.

Despite ubiquitous interest in the physical retails market, one thing that that no company is talking about yet is just how they plan to commercially incentivize these merchants.

The technology solutions built by these companies is unarguably driving sales for them, but a significant number of these small businesses take cash and under report their revenues to pay less tax. That incentive is multifold of any other incentive for many of them. 

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #google, #google-india, #payments, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #walmart

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Walmart’s Flipkart makes local languages push to win small Indian cities and towns

Flipkart on Wednesday added support for three more local languages as the Indian e-commerce giant looks to widen its foothold in smaller cities and towns across the country where fewer people speak English and Hindi.

The Walmart -owned firm said its online marketplace now has interfaces in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada, three languages that are spoken by roughly 200 million people in India.

Today’s announcement follows Flipkart adapting its interface in Hindi language on its website and app last year. Flipkart’s rival, Amazon, added support for Hindi in 2018. It does not support any additional Indian languages.

A Flipkart spokeswoman told TechCrunch that support for Hindi language has been well received by customers. “About 95% of consumers who opted for the Hindi interface continued using the interface as a testament of its efficacy,” the spokeswoman said.

Flipkart said the new localization effort, for which it conducted on-ground surveys in many cities, includes a “judicious” mix of translation and transliteration of words from the aforementioned three languages. Overall, it has incorporated more than 5.4 million translated words into its product pages, banners, and payments pages in the three local languages.

“We truly believe that language, if solved well, can be an opportunity rather than a barrier to reach millions of consumers who have been underserved. As a homegrown e-commerce marketplace, we understand India and its diversity in a more nuanced way and are building products that have the potential to bring a long-term change,” said Kalyan Krishnamurthy, chief executive officer of Flipkart Group, in a statement.

The push to local languages comes as both Flipkart and Amazon India are exploring ways to expand their reach beyond urban cities in India. Online shopping accounts for about 3% of total retail sales in India, according to industry estimates.

In recent quarters, Flipkart has added support for voice assistant, short-form videos, and bundled a free on-demand video streaming service to please new customers. The company has previously stated that most of its new users are coming from smaller cities and towns in India.

India, the world’s second largest internet market, has emerged as a global battleground for American and Chinese technology groups. Both Amazon, which completed seven years in the country this month, and 13-year-old Flipkart claim the top spot in the e-commerce market.

Amazon India’s apps had about 140 million monthly active users last month, ahead of Flipkart marquee app’s 108 million, according to one of the top mobile insight firms, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. (Though it should be noted that monthly active users, that alone of mobile apps, is not the best metric to gauge a shopping platform’s performance.) Flipkart claims it has amassed over 150 million registered users.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #walmart

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Amazon expands Flex delivery program to more than 35 cities in India

Amazon said on Thursday it has expanded its Flex delivery program to more than 35 cities in India, one of its key overseas markets, as the e-commerce giant looks to scale its delivery capability to service the growing number of orders.

The e-commerce giant, which completed seven years in the country this month, launched the Amazon Flex delivery program in India last June. At the time, the program was available in three cities.

Amazon Flex allows individuals to help the company deliver packages to customers. The company said “tens of thousands” of students, homemakers and others have joined the program in India in the past one year and supplemented their income.

These individuals earn between Rs 120 ($1.58) to Rs 140 ($1.84) per hour. The company said the expansion of Amazon Flex to more cities will enable it to scale its delivery workforce and service customers more efficiently.

“Amazon Flex partners enjoy the part time opportunity to earn more, especially at this time when the country is economically recovering from the impact of the nationwide lockdown,” said Prakash Rochlani, Director of Last Mile Transportation at Amazon India, in a statement.

Amazon and its chief rival in India, Walmart’s Flipkart were severely hit when New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown and prevented the e-commerce firms from servicing non-essential orders. India has since eased restrictions and both the firms have restored much of their services.

But in recent months, Amazon delivery people and warehouse workers have expressed severe safety concerns as Covid-19 spread more widely. In April, Reuters documented such fears shared by an Amazon Flex delivery driver.

The safety of these Amazon Flex partners “remains our top priority, and we are taking the right precautions, and have implemented a series of preventative health measures,” said Rochlani.

Amazon has been looking to aggressively expand its delivery workforce in India in recent weeks. The company said last month that it was looking to hire 50,000 seasonal workers. The company last year created 90,000 additional seasonal jobs, an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch, but it did so ahead of the festival Diwali, which sees Indians spend lavishly.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #asia, #ecommerce, #flex, #flipkart, #india, #logistics, #walmart

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Amazon, Flipkart and other e-commerce firms in India to resume sales of non-essential items from April 20

Flipkart, Amazon and other online shopping firms will start to sell “non-essential” items to customers in India starting April 20, weeks after New Delhi imposed a lockdown in the country that has cost e-commerce companies more than a billion dollars in sales.

New Delhi said on Thursday that e-commerce companies can resume accepting customers orders for non-essential items including smartphones and laptops starting next Tuesday. Spokespeople of Flipkart, Amazon, and Paytm Mall confirmed to TechCrunch that they will be complying with the new direction.

Flipkart, Amazon, and Paytm Mall stopped taking orders for non-essential items in India last month and only processed orders of grocery items, hygiene products, and perishables. The companies also scrambled to work with various state governments and shortage of delivery personnel, leading to weeks-long delay in shipments.

“We are now focused on supporting the immediate need of consumers and also participating in the resumption of economic activity post the Ministry of Home Affairs notification. We are working closely with all our partners — brands, manufacturers, sellers, small businesses and local shops — helping them to offer the most needed products to customers. While we will increase selection that customers can safely shop from their homes, we will also continue to ensure safety of our delivery associates and our teams at our facilities,” an Amazon spokesperson said in India.

Governments across the world are trying to find the right balance between safety and convenience for their citizens. In many markets, Amazon has limited the variety of items it can fulfill for its customers. Interestingly, in France this week the company said it will appeal a similar order from the government.

India this week extended the nationwide lockdown, which began last month, to May 3, but relaxed some restrictions on several industries including e-commerce.

“Digital economy is critical to the services sector and is important for national growth. Accordingly, e-commerce operations, operations of IT and IT enabled services, data and call centres for government activities, and online teaching and distance learning are all permitted activities now,” the ministry said (PDF).

A look at Amazon India’s website where most items are currently not available for purchase

The lockdown has cost e-commerce companies more than a billion dollar in lost sales in the last three weeks, Satish Meena, an analyst with research firm Forrester, told TechCrunch. Non-essential items account for more than 65% of GMV for online marketplaces, according to the firm.

“Allowing e-commerce firms to fully resume operations is a proactive decision that the government has taken to help businesses get back on track and generate consumer demand. Paytm Mall stands favorably poised to help merchants and connect stores with customers and in ensuring products are delivered home,” said Srinivas Mothey, Senior VP at Paytm Mall, in a statement.

But customers should still expect their deliveries to take longer than usual. An industry insider said the companies will likely struggle with finding enough delivery personnel for another few weeks and not all businesses would be proactively operational to process the orders.

Paytm Mall and Flipkart said they are working with several logistics companies to service the increasing demands from customers. “Through these efforts, we are empowering the seller community to further e-commerce’s efforts in promoting social distancing and enabling contactless deliveries for consumers. We are continuously working to ensure that customers have access to products, as India fights this unprecedented battle,” a Flipkart spokesperson said.

#amazon, #amazon-india, #apps, #asia, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #covid19, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #paytm, #paytm-mall, #snapdeal

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