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

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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

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Walmart’s PhonePe zips past Google Pay in India as UPI tops 2B monthly transactions

UPI, a four-year-old payments infrastructure built by India’s largest banks, surpassed 2 billion transactions last month, exactly a year after hitting the 1 billion monthly transactions milestone.

Driving the transactions for UPI — which has become the most popular digital payments method in India thanks to its open architecture that allows interoperability among all participating payments apps — are Walmart’s PhonePe, Google Pay, Paytm, and Amazon Pay.

But for the first time in more than a year, Google Pay did not drive the most volume of UPI transactions. PhonePe recorded 835 million UPI transactions in October, it said, while Google Pay hit about 820 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Paytm recorded about 245 million transactions, while Amazon Pay settled with about 125 million, the people said.

In a statement, PhonePe confirmed that it assumed the “market leading position” with about 40% of all UPI transactions last month. Google and Paytm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TechCrunch could not determine how many unique monthly transacting users these payments firms have amassed in the country. In May, Google Pay had about 75 million transacting users, ahead of 60 million of PhonePe and 30 million of Paytm.

Unlike Google Pay, both Paytm and PhonePe also operate a wallet service. The wallet service is not powered by UPI. PhonePe said overall it processed 925 million transactions last month and had over 100 million monthly active users.

PhonePe has recently seen a surge in its transactions as more offline shops open and merchants and consumers opt for a digital alternative to complete transactions. The app has also added a range of financing services, including 600,000 insurance policies, it said.

“We are on a mission to make digital payments a way of life for every Indian citizen, and our next target is to cross 500 million registered users by Dec 2022. In line with our brand ethos of ‘Karte Ja. Badhte Ja,’ (Hindi for keep working and growing) we continue to launch new and innovative products for every strata of Indian society, as well as enable digital payment acceptance across every merchant in every village and town in India,” said Sameer Nigam, chief executive and founder of PhonePe, in a statement.

India’s mobile payments market is estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023, according to Credit Suisse. More players are expected to join the race. WhatsApp, which has over 400 million users in India, started testing UPI payments on its app in 2018. It remains stuck in a regulatory maze, however, which has prevented it from rolling out WhatsApp Pay to most of its users in the country.

#amazon-pay, #apps, #asia, #flipkart, #google-pay, #india, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #walmart

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India’s WareIQ raises $1.65M for its Amazon-like delivery platform for sellers

Despite e-commerce firms Amazon and Walmart and others pouring billions of dollars in India, offline retail still commands more than 95% of all sales in the world’s second largest internet market.

The giants have acknowledged the strong hold neighborhood stores (mom and pop shops) have in the country, and in recent quarters scrambled for ways to work with them. Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, has made the dynamics more interesting in the past year as he works to help these neighborhood stores sell online.

But the market opportunity is still too large, and there are many aspects of the old retail business that could use some tech. That’s the bet WareIQ, a Bangalore-headquartered, Y Combinator-backed startup is making. And it has just raised a $1.65 million Seed financing round from YC, FundersClub, Pioneer Fund, Soma Capital, Emles Venture Advisors, and founders of Flexport.

The one-year-old startup operates a platform to leverage the warehouses across the country. It has built a management system for these warehouses, most of which largely engage in offline business-to-business commerce and have had little to no prior e-commerce exposure.

“We connect these warehouses across India to our platform and utilize their infrastructure for e-commerce order processing,” said Harsh Vaidya, co-founder and chief executive of WareIQ, in an interview with TechCrunch. The company offers this as a service to retail businesses.

Who are these businesses? Third-party sellers, some of whom sell to Amazon and Flipkart and use WareIQ to speed up their delivery, e-commerce firms, social commerce platforms as well as neighborhood stores, and social media influencers.

Any online store, for instance, can send its products to WareIQ, which has integrations with several popular e-commerce platforms and marketplaces. It works with courier partners to move items from one warehouse to another to offer the fastest delivery, explained Vaidya.

The infrastructure stitched together by WareIQ also enables an online seller to set up their own store and engage with customers directly, thereby saving fees they would have paid to Amazon and other established e-commerce players.

“The sellers were not able do this on their own before because it required them to talk directly to warehousing companies that maintain their own rigid contracts, and high-security deposits, and they still needed to work with multiple technology providers to complete the tech-stack,” he said. WareIQ also offers these sellers last-mile delivery, cash collection, and fraud detection among several other services.

“In a way, we are building an open source Amazon fulfilment service, where any seller can send their goods to any of our warehouses and we fulfil their Amazon orders, Myntra orders, Flipkart orders, or their own website orders. We also comply with the standard of these individual marketplaces, so our sellers get a Prime tag on Amazon,” he said.

WareIQ is free for anyone to sign up with any charge and it takes a cut by the volume of orders it processes. The startup today works with over 40 fulfilment centres and it plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand its network to tier 2 and tier 3 cities, he said. It’s also hiring for a number of tech roles.

#amazon, #asia, #flexport, #flipkart, #funding, #india, #logistics, #pioneer-fund, #soma-capital, #y-combinator

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Reliance says its $3.4 billion deal with Future Group ‘fully enforceable under Indian law’ despite Amazon winning an arbitration order

Reliance Retail, India’s largest retail chain, said on Sunday evening that its proposed deal to acquire Future Group’s assets for $3.4 billion — against which Amazon has filed a legal proceeding — is fully enforceable under the Indian law and it intends to complete the deal “without any delay.”

Mukesh Ambani’s firm issued the statement after Amazon won an emergency order from a Singapore arbitration panel to temporarily halt the proposed sale between the two Indian retail giants.

The American e-commerce group, which indirectly bought a 3.58% stake in Future Group’s Future Retail business last year, reached out to a Singapore arbitration panel over the multi-billion dollar proposed deal.

Amazon’s deal with Future Retail had given the American e-commerce giant the first right to refusal on purchase of more stakes in Future Retail, the Indian firm had said at the time. Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart, and Reliance Industries, the most valuable firm in India, are locked in an intense battle to shape how hundreds of millions of Indians would shop in the future.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company was “grateful for the order which grants all the reliefs that were sought. We remain committed to an expeditious conclusion of the arbitration process.”

At the moment, it is unclear whether today’s injunction is enforceable in India. Indeed, in a statement, a Reliance Industry spokesperson said that Reliance Retail’s transaction for acquisition of assets and business of Future Retail were conducted under “proper legal advice” and the “rights and obligations are fully enforceable under Indian law.”

Reliance Retail “intends to enforce its rights and complete the transaction in terms of the scheme and agreement with Future group without any delay,” the spokesperson added.

The legal proceeding in Singapore has come as a surprise to many in the industry, as Amazon is said to be preparing to acquire a multi-billion-dollar stake in Reliance Retail, according to earlier reports by ET Now and Bloomberg.

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

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 two months.

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

 

#amazon, #asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #future-group, #india, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-industries, #reliance-retail, #walmart

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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

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High-profile startup execs back Indian influencers platform CreatorOS

The advent of low-cost Android smartphones and the world’s cheapest mobile data has paved the way for millions of social media influencers in India to amass a following of tens of millions of users in recent years.

These influencers, also known as creators, share their daily vlogs, thoughts on a wide range of issues, and some engage with big brands to help sell their products to niche, loyal audiences. E-commerce giant Flipkart and scores of several other businesses today work with these influencers.

But India’s ban on TikTok, the Chinese short-video app that reached more than 200 million users in the country, in late June unearthed some of the biggest problems these creators face today: They are too reliant on a handful of platforms, and their work structure is not well organized.

A new startup believes it has built the platform to help creators assume more control over their work. And a number of high-profile entrepreneurs agree.

On Friday, Madhavan Malolan announced CreatorOS, a platform that enables creators to build, manage and grow their businesses. About 1,000 creators including a number of short-film makers, teachers, consultants have already joined the platform, Madhavan, who co-founded the startup, formerly known as Socionity, in January this year. Prior to CreatorOS, he worked at a number of firms including Microsoft.

“We believe that these creators will become an entrepreneur in the coming decade. So we are creating tools, connections and infrastructure that they will need to run their digital businesses. Currently, there is a lot of spray and pray happening on the creator’s part. They are producing videos in hopes that they go viral so more people in the industry discover them,” said Madhavan in an interview with TechCrunch.

The marquee tool on CreatorOS today is an app-builder that allows creators to build their own apps, push and sell their content in it, and build their own communities. Madhavan said CreatorOS has overly reduced the efforts that need to go into building an app to simply drag and drop.

The startup said today it has also raised $500,000 from a clutch of high-profile names. Some of the angel investors include Phanindra Sama (founder and former chief executive of online ticket booking platform RedBus.in), Gaurav Munjal (co-founder and chief executive of online learning platform Unacademy), Kalyan Krishnamurthy (chief executive of Flipkart Group), Sujeet Kumar (co-founder of business-to-business marketplace Udaan), Vidit Aatrey (co-founder and chief executive of social e-commerce Meesho), Vivekananda Hallekere (co-founder and chief executive of mobility firm Bounce), and Alvin Tse (GM of Xiaomi Indonesia).

Madhavan said that the trust that so many established entrepreneurs showed in CreatorOS convinced him that he did not need to engage with VC firms yet and instead put the entire focus on serving creators. He said the ban on TikTok and how so many startups are trying to scale their short-video apps has created an immense opportunity for CreatorOS.

The startup expects to have more than 5,000 creators on its platform by the end of the year. It is working with creators to understand and build more features that would benefit them, said Madhavan.

#apps, #asia, #flipkart, #funding, #india, #meesho, #social, #tiktok, #udaan, #unacademy, #xiaomi

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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

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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

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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

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Amazon reportedly in talks to buy a 9.9% stake in India’s Reliance Retail

Amazon may join its global rivals Google and Facebook in backing one of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s ventures.

The American e-commerce giant is in preliminary talks to acquire a 9.9% stake in Reliance Retail, local TV news channel ET Now reported Thursday afternoon, citing unnamed sources.

Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, is the largest retail chain in India. It serves over 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns in the country.

Reliance Industries, which is the most valuable firm in India and runs Reliance Retail and Jio Platforms, declined to comment on the report. Amazon also declined to comment.

The reported talks between Amazon and Reliance Retail comes days after Ambani, who is India’s richest man, said several firms had expressed interest in backing the retail chain. Ambani’s other venture, Reliance Jio Platforms, has secured over $20 billion by selling 33% stake to more than a dozen investors including Facebook, Google, Silver Lake, and General Atlantic since April this year.

During Reliance Industries’ annual general meeting earlier this month, Ambani said the company will “induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in the next few quarters.”

Reliance Industries’ new venture JioMart is increasingly becoming a new challenger to Amazon, which has invested more than $6.5 billion in its India business, and Walmart’s Flipkart in recent months.

Morgan Stanley, which served as the financial advisor to Reliance Industries for Jio Platforms’ deals, recently valued Reliance Retail at about $29 billion.

Both Amazon and Reliance Retail, according to local media reports, have also been locked in a battle to acquire majority stake in Future Retail, India’s second largest retail chain.

#amazon, #asia, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flipkart, #funding, #google, #india, #jio-platforms, #mukesh-ambani, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #reliance-jio-platforms, #walmart

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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

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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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Walmart invests additional $1.2 billion in India’s Flipkart to increase stake

Walmart is increasing its stake in Flipkart by investing an additional $1.2 billion in the Indian e-commerce giant. The fresh equity round from Walmart, which acquired majority stake in Flipkart two years ago, values Flipkart at $24.9 billion post-money, the two companies said.

The American retail group said the fresh capital would help Flipkart further grow its e-commerce marketplace in India as the world’s second largest internet market begins to recover from Covid-19 crisis.  

“We’re grateful for the strong backing of our shareholders as we continue to build our platform and serve the growing needs of Indian consumers during these challenging times,” said Flipkart chief executive Kalyan Krishnamurthy in a statement.

“Since Walmart’s initial investment in Flipkart, we have greatly expanded our offer through technology, partnerships and new services. Today, we lead in electronics and fashion, and are rapidly accelerating share in other general merchandise categories and grocery, all while providing increasingly seamless payment and delivery options for our customers. We will continue innovating to bring the next 200 million Indian shoppers online,” he added.

#asia, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #funding, #india, #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…

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

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Amazon eliminates single-use plastic in packaging in India

Amazon said on Monday it has eliminated all single-use plastic in its packaging across its fulfillment centers in India, delivering on a pledge it made last year to achieve this goal by June.

The American e-commerce group said it had replaced packaging materials such as bubble wraps with paper cushions and was also using “100% plastic-free biodegradable” paper tapes. All of Amazon’s 50-plus fulfilment centers in India were complying with the new guidelines, the company said.

Flipkart, which had made a similar pledge last year, said last month that its reliance on single-use plastic across its supply chain had dropped by 50%. Last year, the Walmart-owned marketplace said it intended to move entirely to recycled plastic consumption in its supply chain by March 2021.

Amazon’s announcement Monday follows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directive last year, when he urged Indians to put an end to usage of single-use plastic by 2022.

India has been grappling with a major plastic waste problem for several years. Asia’s third-largest economy is struggling with disposing of the 9.4 million tons of plastic waste it generates each year.

Dozens of nations across the world have in recent years moved to address this challenge by imposing curbs and levies on use of single-use plastic.

Amazon said today that it still uses some plastic in packaging material, but those are 100% recyclable through available collection, segregation and recycling channels. The company said it is continuing to educate sellers who fulfil customer orders to join in this nationwide change in packaging.

“Our aim is to minimize environmental impact while elevating customer experience. While navigating through unprecedented challenges with the lockdown and pandemic in the last few months, we have continued to take progressive steps towards ensuring that we meet our commitment,” said Prakash Kumar Dutta, Director of Customer Fulfilment & Supply Chain at Amazon India, in a statement.

Earlier this month, Amazon expanded Packaging-Free Shipping (PFS), an India-first initiative that sees fulfilment centers either deliver products that are completely packaging-free or have significantly reduced packaging, to over 100 cities in India. The company said more than 40% of its orders in India today are already using PFS.

Additionally, Amazon said it is also collecting and recycling plastic waste equivalent to its usage at a national level from September 2019, and has identified collection agencies to help collect equivalent 100% plastic waste generated from usage across the Amazon fulfilment network.

Earlier this month, Amazon announced it was launching a $2 billion internal venture-capital fund focused on technology investments to reduce the impact of climate change. The new fund, called The Climate Pledge Fund, will invest in firms across a number of industries, including transportation, energy generation, and manufacturing. Through the program, the companies aim to reach a goal of “net zero” carbon emissions by 2040.

#amazon, #asia, #ecommerce, #environment, #flipkart, #india

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Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses

E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers.

Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch.

These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended.

Instead of temporarily halting their businesses altogether, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell.

“This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food.

People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users.

Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said.

ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market.

Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days.

For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services.

Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment.

For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months.

Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said.

As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok.

The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar.

“As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.”

Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch.

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores.

And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals.

Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India.

Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.

#apps, #asia, #bookmyshow, #coronavirus, #covid, #covid19, #cred, #ecommerce, #education, #entertainment, #flipkart, #india, #logistics, #meesho, #nowfloats, #okcredit, #swiggy, #udaan, #zomato

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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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Google to offer loans to merchants in India

Google said on Thursday it plans to offer crediting feature to millions of merchants in India through its Google Pay app starting later this year as the American technology group looks to help small businesses in the country steer through the pandemic and also find a business model for its mobile payments service.

The company said it was working with financial institutions to offer loans to merchants from within Google Pay for Business app. The Google Pay’s business app, which the Android giant launched late last year, has already amassed 3 million merchants, it said.

Google’s announcement comes today as part of its effort to share its broader initiatives for small and micro-businesses in India. The company said Google My Business, an app it launched in India in the second half of 2017 to help mom and pop stores and other small merchants build online presence, has been used by more than 26 million businesses in the country to list themselves on Google search and Maps. India has about 60 million small and micro-sized businesses in the nation, according to government estimates.

“Every month we drive over 150 million direct connections between these businesses and customers including calls, online reservations and direction requests,” it said.

New Delhi ordered a nationwide lockdown in late March in a bid to control the spread of Covid-19. The move forced most businesses to suspend their operations. In recent weeks, the Indian government has moved to relax some of its restrictions and many stores have resumed their businesses.

Last year Google launched Spot feature in India that allows businesses to easily create their own branded commercial fronts that will be accessible to customers through Google Pay app.

In May, Google introduced Nearby Stores as a Spot feature on Google Pay app that allowed local businesses in select part of the country get discovered by customers in their neighborhood. The company said it is expanding this offering across India starting today.

Thursday’s announcement also outlines the grip Google has on small businesses in India, and how its scale — and resources — could pose additional challenges for scores of startups that are already attempting to serve businesses.

SoftBank -backed Paytm, Walmart’s PhonePe, and New Delhi-based BharatPe have in recent years onboarded millions of merchants and offer them a range of services including loans.

Paytm, which works with over 16 million merchants, earlier this year launched a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

For some of these players, Google’s increasingly growing interest in targeting merchants means they will be facing off the search giant on two fronts. TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Google Pay had about 75 million transacting users in India, more than any of its competitors. But Google Pay, and most other payments services in India are struggling to find a business model for their services.

Facebook, Google’s global rival, has courted more than 1 million merchants in India on its WhatsApp’s business app. WhatsApp, which is the most popular app in India, is informally used by countless of additional merchants in the country.

#android, #apps, #asia, #bharatpe, #flipkart, #google, #google-india, #india, #online-lending, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #softbank, #tc, #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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Sinch to buy India’s ACL Mobile for $70 million

Sinch said on Monday it has agreed to buy Indian firm ACL Mobile for £56 million (roughly $70 million) in what is the third acquisition deal the Swedish mobile voice and messaging firm has entered into at the height of a global pandemic.

The Swedish firm said acquiring ACL Mobile will enable it to leverage the Indian firm’s connections with local mobile operators in the world’s second largest internet market as well as in Malaysia, and UAE to expand its end-to-end connectivity without working with a third-party firm.

20-year-old ACL Mobile, which has headquarters in Delhi, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur, enables businesses to interact with their customers through SMS, email, WhatsApp and other channels. In a press statement, the Indian firm said it serves more than 500 enterprise customers including Flipkart, OLX, MakeMyTrip, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank.

“With ACL we gain critical scale in the world’s second-largest mobile market. We gain customers, expertise and technology and we further strengthen our global messaging product for discerning businesses with global needs,” said Sinch chief executive Oscar Werner.

The Indian firm, which employs 288 people, reported gross profits of $14.2 million on sales of about $65 million in the financial year that ended in March. During the same period, ACL Mobile claims it delivered 47 billion messages on behalf of its enterprise customers.

“Although the long-term growth outlook is favorable, lower commercial activity in India due to the Covid-19 pandemic means that the near-term growth outlook is less predictable,” Sinch said of ACL Mobile’s future outlook.

ACL Mobile is the third acquisition Sinch has unveiled since March this year. Last month the company said it was buying SAP’s Digital Interconnect for $250 million. In March, it announced a deal to buy Wavy.

Sinch, founded in 2008, employs more than 70 people in over 40 locations worldwide and is increasingly expanding to more markets. Last month it said acquiring SAP’s Digital Interconnect will help it expand in the US market. The company says it is profitable.

“Together with Sinch we are scaling up to become one of the leading global players in our industry. I’m excited about this next chapter and the many new opportunities that we can pursue together,” said Sanjay K Goyal, founder and chief executive of ACL Mobile.

#apps, #asia, #deutsche-telekom, #flipkart, #funding, #fundings-exits, #makemytrip, #olx, #sinch, #t-mobile, #wavy, #whatsapp

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Walmart’s Flipkart rolls out voice assistant to make shopping easier

Flipkart is rolling out a voice assistant feature to its platform to make it easier for consumers to shop as the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant looks to expand its reach in the nation.

The AI-powered voice assistant currently supports grocery category, called Supermart, but a company spokesperson told TechCrunch that Flipkart will be extending it to other categories. The feature began rolling out to Android users on Tuesday, and the company says it is working on bringing it to its iOS app.

The assistant, which supports Hindi and English, will also understand for more languages in the future, said the company, which competes with Amazon in India. The feature allow users to explore deals and offers, filter results, add multiple items to cart, receive contextual suggestions, and check out using conversational voice commands.

Jeyandran Venugopal, Chief Product and Technology Officer at Flipkart, said the company travelled across the country to fine-tune its voice capability. “The launch of voice assistant also aligns well with the growing adoption and comfort of consumers towards voice-based online commerce​,” he said in a statement.

The addition of the voice assistant functionality comes months after Flipkart added an “audio visual guided navigation” feature that was aimed at simplifying the user experience for first-time internet users — and existing online users not comfortable with making transactions online.

Hundreds of millions of Indians have come online in the past decade. Many of them are less-educated and are uncomfortable with typing and navigating services in English. Voice search has become popular among many such demographics in recent years. Google said last year that voice searches were growing 270% year-on-year in India.

“​Voice-led shopping is natural and we wanted to give our users a truly conversational experience, in the most natural way possible,” said Manish Kumar, SVP Grocery and General Merchandise and Furniture at Flipkart in a statement.

Amazon has added support for Hindi on its website and introduced voice shopping to Alexa-enabled smart speakers and other devices. Both the companies have been deeply hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which promoted New Delhi to issue a nationwide lockdown in late March. But India has since eased restrictions, allowing e-commerce firms and ride-hailing giants to resume much of their services.

Last month, Amazon launched its food delivery service in the suburbs of Bangalore. Flipkart, which had applied to enter the food retail market, reported earlier this month that its application was rejected and that it would be re-applying for approvals.

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

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Google and Walmart’s PhonePe establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million users, and SoftBank -backed Paytm’s 30 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India. Google declined to comment.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users, or MAU, that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startups Swiggy and Zomato, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. WhatsApp declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

#alipay, #android, #apps, #asia, #facebook, #flipkart, #google, #india, #mark-zuckerberg, #payments, #paytm, #phonepe, #softbank, #uber, #vijay-shekhar-sharma, #walmart, #whatsapp, #zomato

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India rejects Walmart-owned Flipkart’s proposed foray into food retail business

The Indian government has rejected Flipkart’s proposal to enter the food retail business in a setback for Walmart, which owns majority of the Indian e-commerce firm and which recently counted its business in Asia’s third-largest economy as one of the worst impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), a wing of the nation’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, told Flipkart, which competes with Amazon India, that its proposed plan to enter the food retail business violates regulatory guidelines.

Flipkart’s proposed food retail business, called Flipkart FarmerMart, cannot be structured on a 100% foreign direct investment, the Indian agency said. Rajneesh Kumar, chief corporate affairs officer at Flipkart, told TechCrunch that the company was evaluating the agency’s response and intended to re-apply.

“At Flipkart, we believe that technology and innovation driven marketplace can add significant value to our country’s farmers and food processing sector by bringing value chain efficiency and transparency. This will further aid boosting farmers’ income & transform Indian agriculture,” he added.

While announcing the plan to enter the nation’s growing food retail market, Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Flipkart Group CEO, said in October last year that the company planned to invest $258 million in the new venture.

Flipkart planned to invest deeply in the local agriculture-ecosystem, supply chain, and work with tens of thousands of small farmers, their associations, and the nation’s food processing industry, Krishnamurthy said. The food retail unit would help “multiply farmers’ income and bring affordable, quality food for millions of customers across the country.”

Several e-commerce and grocery firms in India, including Amazon, Zomato, and Grofers, have previously secured approval from New Delhi, which earlier permitted 100% foreign direct investment in food and a handful of other sectors, for entering the food retail business.

The Indian government has since revisited the guidelines to clarify that food retail, like any other e-commerce sector, can only operate as a marketplace that allows third-party sellers to engage with buyers — and not offer their own inventories, nor have equity in any of the players who sell on the platform.

In the most recent quarterly earnings call, Walmart said limited operations at Flipkart had negatively affected the group’s overall growth. New Delhi announced one of the world’s stringent lockdowns across the nation in late March that restricted Amazon and Flipkart from delivering in many states and only sell “essential items” such as grocery and hygienic products.

India maintains the stay-at-home orders for its 1.3 billion citizens, though it has eased some restrictions in recent weeks to resuscitate the economy.

More to follow…

#asia, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #covid19, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #india, #walmart

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JioMart, the e-commerce venture from India’s richest man, launches in additional cities

The rationale behind the deluge of dollars flooding into billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms is beginning to become more clear as his e-commerce venture JioMart starts rolling out to more people across India.

An e-commerce venture between the nation’s top telecom operator Jio Platforms and top retail chain Jio Retail, JioMart just launched its new website and started accepting orders in dozens of metro, tier 1 and tier 2 cities including Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Bokaro, Bathinda, Ahmedabad, Gurgaon, and Dehradun.

Before the expansion on Saturday, the service was available in three suburbs of Mumbai. The service now includes perishables such as fruits and vegetables, and dairy items in addition to staples and other grocery products as it makes its pitch to Indian households across the country.

Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $10 billion in the last month by selling a roughly 17% stake, has amassed over 388 million subscribers, more than any other telecom operator in the country.

The money comes as Ambani’s various companies begin entering a market already teeming with fierce competitors like Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart, BigBasket, MilkBasket, and Grofers.

Earlier this week the American e-commerce giant entered India’s food delivery market to challenge the duopoly of Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy and Ant Financial-backed Zomato. Amazon is making a massive hiring push in India, and is looking to hire close to 50,000 seasonal workers to keep up with the growing demand on its platform.

Meanwhile, Ambani’s Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, remains the largest retailer in India by revenue. It serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns.

JioMart may have Amazon and Flipkart in its sights, but in its current form, however, the company is going to be more of a headache for Grofers and BigBasket, the top grocery delivery startups in India.

Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India and parent entity of Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, plans to expand JioMart to more than a thousand districts in a year and also widen its catalog to include electronics and office supplies among a variety of other categories, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. A Reliance Jio spokesperson declined to comment.

The expansion to more cities comes a month after JioMart launched its WhatsApp business account, enabling people to easily track their order and invoice on Facebook -owned service.

Facebook announced it would invest $5.7 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms last month and pledged to work with the Indian firm to help small businesses across the country. JioMart’s WhatsApp account currently does not support the expanded regions.

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, first unveiled his plan to launch an e-commerce platform last year. In a speech then, Ambani invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s work and said India needed to fight another fresh battle.

A handful of firms have attempted — and failed — to launch their e-commerce websites over the years in India, where more than 95% of sales still occur through brick and mortar stores. But Ambani is uniquely positioned to fight the duopoly of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart — thanks in part to the more than $10 billion in investment dollars the company recently raised from KKR, FacebookSilver LakeVista Equity Partners, and General Atlantic. In addition to scaling JioMart, the fresh capital should also help Ambani repay some of Reliance Industries’ $21 billion debt.

“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,” Ambani said at an event attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi .

#amazon, #ant-financial, #asia, #bigbasket, #ecommerce, #facebook, #flipkart, #grofers, #mukesh-ambani, #narendra-modi, #prosus-ventures, #reliance, #reliance-industries, #reliance-jio, #walmart, #whatsapp, #zomato

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Amazon, Flipkart, Ola and Uber begin to resume their services in India

E-commerce firms Amazon, Flipkart, and ride-hailing giants Ola and Uber are partially resuming their services in India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government eased some restrictions late last week to revive economic activity that’s been stalled since the stringent stay-at-home orders were ordered across the country in late March.

The companies said in their statements that they were resuming services in green and orange zones, districts that have seen less severe outbreak of the coronavirus, across the country.

But people living in the red zone and other areas that are even more impacted with the coronavirus’ outbreak will continue to be bereft of the aforementioned firms’ extended services, the companies said.

All of these firms are also taking additional precautions to ensure safety of their delivery and driver partners and that of customers, they said.

Even those living in orange and green zones might be deprived of the extended services as some state governments in India have imposed stricter rules than the federal government and are imposing their own guidelines locally. Additionally, Ola and Uber can’t take their passengers to red zones, and Flipkart and Amazon expect to face disruptions as some of their sellers and warehouses are located in the red zone.

India, which introduced the nationwide lockdown in late March, has extended its lockdown by two weeks from May 4 but relaxed some restrictions. The March’s announcement forced Ola and Uber to suspend much of their services, and Amazon and Flipkart rushed to only serve orders with essential items.

More to follow…

#amazon, #asia, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #covid19, #ecommerce, #flipkart, #narendra-modi, #ola, #transportation, #uber, #walmart

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Investors, startup founders in India pool $13M to fund projects that fight coronavirus

More than 150 investors and entrepreneurs in India are funding dozens of projects in a bid to help millions better combat the COVID-19 epidemic and help the nation’s booming startup ecosystem withstand the economic devastation it has caused.

The investors said they have contributed 1 billion Indian rupees — or $13 million — of their own money to the ACT Grants initiative, which was unveiled late last month.

The group — which includes several prominent industry figures including Nandan Nilekani, Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Flipkart’s Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Oyo’s Ritesh Agarwal, Udaan’s Sujeet Kumar, Freshworks’ Girish Mathrubootham, CRED’s Kunal Shah, and Times Internet’s Miten Sampat — has funded 32 projects to date.

These projects span six themes, including solutions that could help curtail the spread of the Covid-19 disease, development of testing and detection kits, building medical equipment such as ventilators, and taking care of mental health.

The group came together last month when India had just begun to see cases of the coronavirus disease.

“As governments across the globe started to take measures to combat this pandemic, one thing that came up in our conversations with other investors, startup founders, and startup employees was this urgency to not sit and watch what the government does but help and pitch in as an industry,” said Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, in an interview with TechCrunch.

There have been 29,435 known cases of coronavirus in India, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. As of Tuesday evening, at least 886 people had died.

Investors from dozens of venture capital and private equity firms including Accel, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Matrix Partners India, Kalaari Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, 3One4Capital, Sequoia Capital India, and Tiger Global have personally participated in the initiative.

VCs in India moved quickly last month to warn startups in the country to be aware of the effect the pandemic might have on their businesses — despite the record $14.5 billion Indian startups raised in the past year.

In a joint letter earlier this month, several prominent tech investment funds told startup founders that they may find it especially challenging to raise fresh capital in the next few months as they enter the “worst period.” (They have also requested the government to provide a relief package.)

Several trade bodies including Nasscom and TIE Global that count American tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon among their members are also supporting ACT Grants. Amazon’s AWS additionally is helping these projects with infrastructure services.

On left, some of the startup founders and other industry figures who have contributed to ACT Grants. On right, names of VC and PE funds whose partners have contributed in their personal capacity

One of the projects to receive the grant has been developed by Pune-based MyLab, a startup that has emerged as one of the biggest manufacturers of test kits in India.

“They manufactured between 20,000 to 25,000 test kits last year. In the past few weeks, the number has ballooned to 300,000,” said Abhiraj Singh Bhal, co-founder and chief executive of Urban Company, which runs an online marketplace for freelance labor.

“We offered them the grant money, but also our expertise in scaling their operation,” said Bhal. ACT Grants also went to another six testing projects, he said.

Grants aren’t going solely to testing projects. StepOne, another grant-winning project, has built a cloud infrastructure to handle over 30,000 calls a day and offer telemedicine services to complement helpline numbers run by state governments that are struggling to keep up with high traffic.

And some of the projects that have received grants are developing masks and other items to supply enough protective gears to the healthcare workers. (A full list of the funded projects and the grant amounts they have received is here.)

There are no strings attached to these grants. Funding a project does not give investors any equity in the developer’s startup, said Prashanth Prakash, a partner at Accel in an interview. And there is a large team that screens and selects projects for providing grants, he said. They have received more than 1,500 applications to date.

An investor, who is not part of ACT Grants, said though the initiative is commendable, he believed this group could have made a bigger impact if they chose to help put food in front of hundreds of millions of Indians who don’t know where their next meal would come from. “There are better ways to be resourceful,” he said, requesting anonymity as he did not want to upset the community.

“That said, the fact that all of these people, many of whom aggressively compete for deals, have come together at all and contributed their own money — and not of their LPs — is unprecedented and they deserve all the praise and support,” he said.

The group’s influence and connection in the industry also means that these projects have better odds of seeing deployment at scale. The group is already engaging with various state governments and the federal government to explore ways to work together — and have started to make inroads, said Accel’s Prakash.

But as the projects scale, the group is seeking for more individuals from across the globe to contribute. “Anyone who wants to help India, one sixth of the world’s population, fight Covid-19 is welcome to contribute,” said Lightspeed’s Khare.

There’s even an international component for people outside of India to contribute. ACT Grants has partnered with United Way, a Virginia-based nonprofit that enables people outside of India to make charitable, tax-deductible donations.

#amazon, #asia, #aws, #bessemer-venture-partners, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #covid19, #eight-roads-ventures, #flipkart, #google, #india, #kalaari-capital, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #matrix-partners-india, #nandan-nilekani, #nasscom, #paytm, #ritesh-agarwal, #sequoia-capital, #sequoia-capital-india, #startups, #telemedicine, #tie-global, #tiger-global, #times-internet, #venture-capital, #vijay-shekhar-sharma

0

Facebook’s $5.7 billion bet on Indian giant Jio spells trouble for Amazon and Flipkart

Facebook’s major bet on Jio Platforms could create a headache for mobile payments services that have amassed tens of millions of users while struggling to find a business model in the world’s second-largest internet market.

The $5.7 billion investment, Facebook’s second-largest to date, could also further its dominance in India — its biggest market by user count — by expanding the reach of consumer-facing services like WhatsApp and expanding its lead over ByteDance’s TikTok, which has amassed more than 250 million Indian users in two years.

But based on what Facebook and Reliance Jio executives have shared — along with feedback from several industry analysts — the companies that need to worry most about this multi-billion-dollar bet are Walmart’s Flipkart, Paytm and Amazon.

Facebook and Jio executives said their companies will work together to build solutions; their biggest synergy would revolve around JioMart and WhatsApp, given that Reliance Jio is India’s top telecom network with more than 380 million subscribers.

One of those collaborations may allow users to find local stores around them on WhatsApp, talk to store operators and place orders from within the Facebook-owned instant messaging service, said Ajit Mohan, a Facebook VP who spearheads the company’s business in India, in an interview with TechCrunch.

“You can browse shops and talk to the shop owner. And ultimately, where we do want to take this flow is for you to be able to place your orders,” he said. Mohan refuted reports that Facebook saw the deal as an opportunity to turn WhatsApp into a so-called “super app,” however.

#amazon, #apps, #asia, #club-factory, #convergence-catalyst, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #flipkart, #funding, #google, #india, #jeff-bezos, #market-analysis, #narendra-modi, #payments, #paytm, #paytm-mall, #reliance, #reliance-jio, #social, #walmart, #whatsapp

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To avoid hostile takeovers amid COVID-19, India mandates approvals on Chinese investments

Chinese investors, who have poured about $6 billion into Indian startups in the last two years, will be subjected to strict regulation for their future investments in the world’s second largest internet market.

India amended its foreign direct investment policy on Saturday to include China in the list of neighboring nations that will need to seek approval from New Delhi for their future deals in the country. Previously, only Pakistan and Bangladesh were subjected to this requirement.

The nation’s Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade said it was taking this measure to “curb the opportunistic takeover” of Indian firms that are grappling with challenges due to the coronavirus crises.

The new rule will also be applicable to “the transfer of ownership of any existing or future foreign direct investment in an entity in India, directly or indirectly,” the ministry said.

“There has been a growing concern across the globe that Chinese companies are buying cheap, distressed asset. Government may be thinking that if this is allowed to continue, this may cause some security concerns,” Bangalore-based lawyer Nikhil Narendran told TechCrunch in an interview.

The move comes at a time when major investors in India have cautioned local startups to prepare for a tough period ahead. Earlier this month, they told startup founders that raising fresh capital is likely be more challenging than ever for the next few months.

Recent data from research firm Tracxn showed that Indian startups have already started to face the pressure.

Local startups participated in 79 deals to raise $496 million in March, down from $2.86 billion that they raised across 104 deals in February and $1.24 billion they raised from 93 deals in January this year, according to Tracxn. In March last year, Indian startups had raised $2.1 billion across 153 deals, the firm said.

Narendran said India is following similar efforts from other countries such as Australia that have tighten their foreign direct investment policies.

Chinese giants Alibaba and Tencent have emerged as some of the biggest investors in Indian startups in recent years. Over a dozen additional firms and venture funds in China have stepped up their efforts in scouting deals in India.

Some of India’s biggest startups including financial services firm Paytm, e-commerce giant Flipkart, social media operator ShareChat, and food delivery firm Zomato are backed by Chinese VCs.

Rahul Gandhi, the former head of political party Indian Nation Congress, urged the ruling government earlier this month to take measures to prevent “foreign interests from taking control of any Indian corporate at this time of national crisis.”

#alibaba-group, #asia, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #covid19, #flipkart, #funding, #government, #india, #new-delhi, #paytm, #sharechat, #zomato

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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

0

India’s lockdown is making life hard for its most popular apps

The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced billions of people to stay home, has led to a surge in new downloads of several consumer and enterprise focused apps in the west. But in India, the biggest open market globally, things have taken a slightly different turn.

Daily downloads for several popular apps including TikTok, WhatsApp, Truecaller, Helo, Vmate, Facebook, Google Pay, and Paytm have either remained unchanged in the last three months or taken a dip, according to a TechCrunch analysis of figures provided by research firm Apptopia.

Additionally, several popular apps that offer in-app purchases have seen their revenue dramatically drop in the last four weeks as most companies in India recommended employees to work from home and New Delhi imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown — now extended to May 3.

TikTok was downloaded 20.2 million times in India in a 31-day period ending April 12, down from 21.6 million times it was downloaded in the month of January, for instance. During the same period, WhatsApp’s download plummeted to 12 million from 17 million; Hotstar fell from 9.8 million to 3 million; and ByteDance’s Helo dropped from 10.5 million to 7.5 million.

For most of February, TikTok saw more than 700,000 downloads a day in India, peaking at 891,000. In the last one week, volume of daily downloads of the app has fallen below 450,000. WhatsApp’s figure has dropped from about 650,000 to below 250,000, according to Apptopia .

Aarogya Setu, an app launched by the Indian government to help people know if they have been in the vicinity of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, is currently topping the chart in India with more than 780,000 downloads a day.

Tinder clocked $319,102 in in-app revenue on the App Store and Google Play Store in India between March 13 to April 12, down from $547,103 in January. Netflix’s in-app revenue fell from $285,562 to $192,154 during the same period. LinkedIn and YouTube also observed a decline.

One app that has seen its in-app revenue improve noticeably is Hotstar, which went from $173,253 to $329,675. Disney launched Disney+ atop Hotstar in India earlier this month.

Grocery delivery apps BigBasket, which raised $60 million last week, and Grofers have surged considerably, while Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal that have halted taking non-essential orders in recent weeks have seen a decline in volume of daily downloads and active users on Android in India, according to marketing research firm SimilarWeb.

Zoom, a popular video chat app, has seen its daily downloads surge to over 500,000 in recent weeks, up from about 9,000 in early February. Ludo King, a popular game in Asian markets, has seen its daily download figure jump from about 150,000 in early February to over 450,000 in India in recent days.

As people stay at home, desktop usage has also increased in India, a mobile-first nation with nearly half a billion smartphone users.

“India has consistently seen mobile web browsing account for the heavy majority compared to the desktop, however from February to March, desktop usage increased its share of total visits to the top 100 sites by 1.6%. While this may seem small, it is 1.6% of 31.32 billion visits, so it is still rather significant,” a SimilarWeb representative told TechCrunch.

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