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View from India: Sunshine moments for e-commerce industry

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Global giants like Google and Walmart are investing in the Indian tech landscape.

Alphabet Inc’s Google has strategically positioned itself in India through a phased-out investment. As per media announcements, the company intends to invest $10bn in India over the next five to seven years. The latest development is that the company will probably spend a portion of its investment in the Reliance Jio platform, a subsidiary of the wholly owned Reliance Industries Limited (RIL).

Google is reportedly in advanced talks with Reliance Jio. Mukesh Ambani, who helms RIL, is the sixth-richest person in the world, as per the recent Bloomberg Billionaires Index, sitting a few notches ahead of Warren Buffet and, interestingly, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, the co-founders of Google. That’s understandable as big-ticket investments from Facebook, Intel and Silver Lake have catapulted Ambani into the A-list of the world's Richie Rich.

Google is probably looking at a slice of the internet pie in India, quite like its rival Facebook, which VFI reported had announced that it will pick up a 9.9 per cent stake in Jio Platforms.

On its part, Walmart is giving more importance to its Indian presence. The world’s largest retailer has announced its intentions to invest in Flipkart by increasing its stake in the company by an additional $1.2bn. The money will be used to scale-up the tech platform and offer new services to its customers. While Flipkart has strengthened its place in segments such as electronics and fashion, it has also forayed into other categories such as grocery.

Investments from Google, Facebook and Walmart have poured in during Covid times, and they are all looking at the e-commerce industry.

It’s also timed in accordance with the government’s decision to ban Chinese apps in India. The Indian app scenario is gaining momentum; its vernacular nature is an added attraction in terms of scale and reach. Millions of internet users are added on every month, and with smartphones available from around Rs 5,000, users are making purchases and downloading videos.

The pandemic has forced people to stay indoors, thereby leading to an increased dependence on online market places. Distribution and warehousing, along with robust logistics and supply chains, are some of the outcomes. User-friendly grocery formats are on the anvil as much as point-of-sale devices and online platforms for home services. It is this logic behind the growing acceptance of small businesses that has quickly opened up options of online payments; hybrid cost-effective business models and hyper-local delivery apps are some of the options that businesses are exploring. They would have otherwise struggled to stay afloat, had it not been for the pandemic.

There will be competition among the e-commerce players, both big and small. They will have to create innovative cost-effective means of winning first-timers as well as retain the existing customer base. New payment channels with ease of transactions, backed by cashback offers, freebies and brownie points, will soon unroll. Homegrown e-commerce startups are expected to rise. It’s time for new mergers and acquisitions, where, for instance, grocery vendors and tech specialists will come together. The existing players will revamp and spruce up their online platforms, stamping their presence through multiple channels.

Initially there were brick-and-mortar stores and online ones. Now they are joined by smartphones. Advertising happens through direct mailers, television, radio and online catalogues; these are some of the disruptions of online retail space.

All of this will contribute to the country’s digital transformation. One wishes that more global companies will head to Indian shores.

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