India’s Flipkart buys $204 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 a further push into the apparel 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 clothing chain. As part of the “landmark” strategic partnership, Flipkart will also sell and distribute various brands of Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail. (The Indian fashion retail giant owns rights to sell Forever 21 merchandise in India, for instance.)

Friday’s announcement is the latest development in the intense battle among Flipkart, Amazon and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail to command how Indians shop. While Flipkart and Amazon are racing to expand their share in India’s growing e-commerce market, Ambani’s Reliance Retail is slowly expanding to the digital space.

Reliance Retail is the largest retail chain in India — a lead it expanded after acquiring much of Future Retail, India’s second largest retail chain. Future Group and Amazon are separately fighting a legal battle over the Indian firm’s deal with Reliance Retail. Amazon alleges that Future Group selling businesses to Reliance Retail was a breach of a contract. (Amazon, which has invested in a Future Group entity, had the right of first refusal for Future Retail’s future deals.) According to local media reports, Amazon had also engaged with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail for a stake in the Indian firm.

“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 five years.”

He added that the company will use the fresh capital to strengthen its balance sheet. This is not the first time Aditya Birla Fashion is making a push into e-commerce. In 2015, it had launched Abof, but the venture failed to gain traction and was shut down two years later.

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.”

Flipkart already dominates in the online sales of apparels in India, thanks in part to Myntra, a fashion e-tailer it bought it in 2014. Over the years, the Walmart-owned firm has made several more investments in strengthening its fashion category. In July, Flipkart invested $35 million in Arvind Fashions, part of a decades-old Indian retail giant.

Online sale of apparel is worth $7 billion, according to research firm Forrester. It’s the biggest category for e-commerce giants in India after smartphones.

Amazon has also made several deals with offline retail chains in India. In 2018, it acquired parts of supermarket chain More from the Birla Group. It has also bought stakes in department store chain Shoppers Stop.