Developing Story

Walmart is buying Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has agreed to pay $16 billion in exchange for a majority 77 percent share of Flipkart, India’s top e-commerce service.

The deal brings Walmart into competition with arch nemesis Amazon in the India market, where growing internet access and a rising middle-class is seen as having the potential to ignite online retail.

Walmart says Flipkart is ‘a key center of learning’ for its entire global business

Walmart has opened up on the thinking behind its $16 billion majority investment in Flipkart, and perhaps the most interesting facet is that the retailer plans to export ideas from the Indian e-commerce firm to the rest of its global business, including the U.S..

Walmart’s decision to follow Amazon into India is a testament to huge potential growth in the market. Internet penetration is tipped to cross 500 million this year and a rising middle-class emerging, all of which led Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to describe the deal as “a unique opportunity in a market with significant long-term growth prospects” — but the aspirations run further.

“At Walmart, we’re learning how to build — and how to partner to build — retail ecosystems around the world. India will now become a key center of learning for our entire company,” he said on a call with analysts following the announcement of the deal.

McMillon credited Flipkart for more than just an e-commerce business.

The company’s verticals span electronics, fashion and more, but Flipkart’s management team consistently returned to other services including its mobile payment arm, supply chain business than does 500,000 deliveries daily and more. They also dropped a hint at the potential to do groceries in the future, for one.

That “ecosystem” play is something that is quite unique to Asia, particularly in China, and it is an area where Walmart believes it can glean operational intelligence and potential strategy for other markets, including the U.S..

“Not only is [Flipkart] innovative [with the] problem-solving culture that they have, but they are doing some great work both in the AI space, how they are using data across their platforms but particularly in terms of the payment platform that they’ve created through PhonePe,” Judith McKenna, Walmart COO, said on the call.

“All of those things we can learn from for the future and see how we can leverage those around the international markets and potentially into the US as well,” McKenna added.

That admission is notable, and it stands to reason that Walmart — a traditional offline retailer — might seek to lean on Flipkart’s technical expertise to build out its online or tech-enabled businesses elsewhere in the world, particularly with Amazon entering offline via its Whole Foods deal. That helps bring more immediate returns since, as Walmart’s executives admitted, Flipkart isn’t likely to turn a profit any time soon since it is focused on chasing scale in India.

There’s also some synergy with Walmart’s other recent star acquisition.

McKenna added that Marc Lore, the founder of which Walmart acquired last year for $3 billion, had been involved in scouting out Walmart during due diligence. She added that, for now, he wouldn’t be a part of the Flipkart business.

“Maybe someday we might involve him, but right now there’s plenty to do in the U.S. business and that’s what he’s focused on,” McKenna concluded.

Walmart already has an international business — which includes a physical retail footprint in India — but McKenna said the management team is “very interested” in the potential to expand Flipkart outside of India to growth that global presence, presumably using many of the aforementioned learnings taken from the Indian market.

“[International expansion] aligns with the [Flipkart] management team’s ambitions, it aligns with an operating model that we [at Walmart] are comfortable with working with. There’s no timeframe on that but it’s something that for the future we are considering,” she added.

The expansion makes sense since Walmart has spent the last couple of years regrouping its global efforts. It exited China in 2016 — instead opting for a partnership with e-commerce giant — and this month it retreated from the UK after selling its Asda business to rival high-street retailer Sainsbury’s. Perhaps its time to examine upcoming markets worldwide? In which case the $16 billion Flipkart deal begins to seem a lot more strategic.

eBay plans to relaunch eBay India after it makes $1.1B selling its Flipkart stake to Walmart

Last year, eBay appeared to throw in the towel in India after it sold its business in the country to Flipkart and took a minority stake in the country’s e-commerce leader. Now, eBay is making a u-turn.

In the wake of Walmart’s intention to buy a controlling stake in Flipkart for $16 billion, eBay has announced that it is among the investors that will be selling its stake in the business, in eBay’s case for gross proceeds of $1.1 billion. And along with that, it said it plans to relaunch eBay India, focusing not on domestic sales as it had done previously, but on cross-border sales: selling into India from abroad, and from India to other markets.

The short announcement doesn’t give too many details how it will progress on these future plans, but as part of it, eBay confirmed that it will be ending its strategic deal with Flipkart, which had included a license for Flipkart to use and for the two companies to cross-promote products between the two platforms.

“We plan to relaunch eBay India with a differentiated offer to focus initially on the cross-border trade opportunity, which we believe is significant,” the company noted in its statement. “We believe there is huge growth potential for e-commerce in India and significant opportunity for multiple players to succeed in India’s diverse, domestic market.”

The announcement is not too surprising. India represents massive potential: the populous country is the second-biggest economy in Asia, and one of the fastest-growing globally, with a digitally-savvy population (35 percent of all Indians use the Internet, making it the second-biggest market in the world). In that regard, it would have been a surprise, and possibly a foolish choice, to retreat from India completely in the wake of Walmart’s acquisition.

On the other hand, eBay has had a mixed track record when it comes to leveraging the market opportunity.

In addition to its own site that it had sold to Flipkart, eBay was a repeat investor in Snapdeal, another e-commerce marketplace in the country that has fallen on challenging times amid fierce competition in the market. Snapdeal has in the last year laid off staffstruggled with finances and failed to close an acquisition deal with Flipkart.

In a more positive light, there is still a lot to play for, and by offering a differentiated opportunity focusing on cross-border sales, eBay could exploit a gap in the market that Walmart will not have the appetite to pursue. EBay doesn’t state this, but in an ideal world, it’s going into its plans with its eyes open, and based on purchasing patterns it’s been seeing in and out of the country in recent years.

“In terms of our timeline, we need to first wait for the deal to close,” an eBay spokesperson later told TechCrunch. “Cross-border trade (CBT) will be our initial priority, which we will continue to expand after close. We have been doing CBT in India for years, and it’s a profitable, fast-growing business for us. We have the capability and experience to quickly ramp additional support for Indian CBT. We will share more details in the coming months.”

Updated with further comment from eBay.

After buying Flipkart, Walmart seeks allies to join its fight against Amazon in India

The rumors are true: Walmart has bought a controlling stake in India’s Flipkart. This isn’t a straight-up acquisition, however, because, rather than going it alone, the U.S. retailer is enlisting strategic allies as it takes its fight to Amazon in a new region.

Walmart has an existing offline retail business in India, but enter the online space puts it up against Amazon, which has made massive strides since entering India in 2012.

That perhaps calls for something special, which is one reason why Walmart is buying just 77 percent of Flipkart and leaving space for others with expertise to come join.

Walmart confirmed that “some” existing investors will retain their stakes, including Tencent — the $500 billion Chinese giant — and Tiger Global, both of which have board sets, and Microsoft, which was part of a $1.4 billion investment last year. Added to that, Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal has committed to stay retain his shares, although there’s no word on fellow co-founder Sachin Bansal who had been tipped to move on.

Beyond those three strategic Flipkart backers, Walmart said it is in ongoing discussions with “with additional potential investors who may join the round.”

Google is one who has been linked with a deal but you can imagine that Walmart — very much a physical retail specialist — will be looking to tap the world of tech and Asian partners to help gain an advantage over Amazon, which is broadly thought to have closed the gap on Flipkart in recent years.

Walmart is indicating that the new backers will buy a part of its equity if they invest, but it said it will “retain clear majority ownership” regardless of who joins.

“One of the things that was important to us here was having partners alongside us as well. So having Tencent, Microsoft and Tiger Global who are already investors in this business is really powerful in terms of the model that we’re creating,” Judith McKenna, Walmart COO, said on a call with investors following today’s announcement.

“[Flipkart] will be run through an independent board who will have some Walmart representation. We think that structure will best keep the entrepreneurial side of this business and guide it strategically, too,” McKenna added.

Walmart declined to give a timeline on when it might have news about the prospective investors.

Despite that, a number of investors have exited entirely with impressive returns, including SoftBank — which sunk a then-Indian record investment into Flipkart via its Vision Fund last year — Naspers and eBay.

In the more immediate future, Walmart is putting $2 billion of fresh capital into the business which Flipkart will be able to spend on growth and existing strategies.

Interestingly, too, Walmart is open to allowing Flipkart to IPO as a listed subsidiary in the future. That would help maintain incentives for employees and fulfill the ambition of management, McKenna said.

South African tech and media conglomerate Naspers made $2.2 billion from Flipkart sale

Naspers, the South African tech and media conglomerate, continues to have an incredibly hot hand when it comes to global tech investment.

Famous for owning a huge chunk of the Chinese Internet powerhouse, Tencent and a big chunk of Mail.ruNaspers just made $2.2 billion off of the sale of Flipkart to Walmart

The South African company had an 11.18% stake in Flipkart and the sale represents an IRR of 32%, the company said.

Naspers originally backed Flipkart five years after the company’s launch in 2007 and had invested roughly $616 million into the company since that time.

Naspers said that proceeds from the sale of Flipkart would be funneled back into the company’s balance sheet to fuel the growth of the company’s own classifieds, online food delivery, and fintech businesses globally.

With Flipkart out of the portfolio, Naspers still holds a huge chunk of online tech real estate in India. The company has stakes in PayU, a payment and fintech company; OLX, a classifieds business; the online travel business MakeMyTrip, and Swiggy, a food delivery company.

Walmart confirms $16B Flipkart investment, giving it 77% in India’s e-commerce leader

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has finally confirmed that it is making a $16 billion investment into Flipkart for a 77 percent share of the online retailer. Tencent, Tiger Global, Microsoft, Accel and Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal will continue to be investors in the company with this deal. The investment will value Flipkart — India’s biggest online retailer with 54 million active customers and projected gross merchandise value of $7.5 billion for 2018 — at $20.8 billion when the deal closes. That close is expected to happen later this year after getting regulatory approval.

The investment in Flipkart becomes the biggest-ever that Walmart has made in its history, supplanting Asda in the UK (which it last week partially divested). Walmart said that it intends to keep Flipkart as a distinctive brand and even help usher the company towards a “publicly-listed, majority-owned subsidiary” in the future. Right now Flipkart operates at a loss as it pursues growth.

Flipkart will give Walmart a big step up in its business in Asia by helping it better tap the region’s second-largest market after China, and one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Walmart India already has 21 Best Price cash-and-carry stores and one fulfillment center in 19 cities across nine states in India, and it said that more than 95 percent of sourcing coming from India. Walmart said that Krish Iyer, president and chief executive officer of Walmart India, will continue to lead that business. The bigger company has been divesting of some of its international operations at the same time that it is beefing up in India. Most recently, it announced a sale of a majority ownership of Asda in the UK to Sainsbury’s.

It will also give Walmart an advance in its wider e-commerce ambitions, which it has been pursuing at an aggressive pace in a bid to rival the e-commerce Amazon — which not only has been moving into Walmart’s brick-and-mortar territory, but has put a lot of investment specifically into growing its business in India.

“India is one of the most attractive retail markets in the world, given its size and growth rate, and our investment is an opportunity to partner with the company that is leading transformation of eCommerce in the market,” said Doug McMillon, Walmart’s president and chief executive officer in a statement. “As a company, we are transforming globally to meet and exceed the needs of customers and we look forward to working with Flipkart to grow in this critical market. We are also excited to be doing this with Tencent, Tiger Global and Microsoft, which will be key strategic and technology partners. We are confident this group will provide Flipkart with enhanced strategic and competitive advantage. Our investment will benefit India providing quality, affordable goods for customers, while creating new skilled jobs and fresh opportunities for small suppliers, farmers and women entrepreneurs.”

Walmart’s stake — provided it gets regulatory approval — sets up an interesting scenario in India, where now the two biggest e-commerce (and overall?) retailers will be controlled by US companies, something we predicted could happen. The competitive implications for smaller, homegrown startups will be tough, and it will be worth watching how (and if) local regulators respond to that state of affairs.

One detail that might affect that is how Walmart opens the investment to other parties: the company noted in its announcement that “Walmart and Flipkart are also in discussions with additional potential investors who may join the round, which could result in Walmart’s investment stake moving lower after the transaction is complete.” Regardless, Walmart said that it will keep “clear majority ownership.”

Tencent and Tiger Global will keep their seats on the Flipkart board, with new members from Walmart. “The final make-up of the board has yet to be determined, but it will also include independent members,” Walmart said. “The board will work to maintain Flipkart’s core values and entrepreneurial spirit, while ensuring it has strategic and competitive advantages.”

The deal comes after many months of speculation about a tie-up between Flipkart and Walmart, which reached a fever pitch this morning when Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son accidentally let the news of the finalised deal slip out in an investor presentation. He termed it an “acquisition” and sure enough, Softbank is selling its stake in the transaction, so it has exited the investment, one of its biggest in India to date.

Walmart’s stake in Flipkart also sets up India as the latest battleground between the retailer and Amazon. Amazon also had been rumored to be interested in taking a stake in Flipkart as recently as last week. Amazon has already invested billions into its operations in India — a move that had already heightened competition, impacted e-commerce operators’ margins, and had directly impacted Flipkart’s prospects (a 2017 investment was made as a “downround” for example).

This should see a huge infusion of investment into the operations, with Flipkart getting an extra boost from Walmart’s immense purchasing power and logistics muscle. Walmart said that its investment includes $2 billion of new equity funding that will go towards that growth.

“This investment is of immense importance for India and will help fuel our ambition to deepen our connection with buyers and sellers and to create the next wave of retail in India,” said Binny Bansal, Flipkart’s co-founder and group chief executive officer. “While eCommerce is still a relatively small part of retail in India, we see great potential to grow. Walmart is the ideal partner for the next phase of our journey, and we look forward to working together in the years ahead to bring our strengths and learnings in retail and eCommerce to the fore.”

Walmart said it plans to finance the investment with a combination of newly issued debt and cash on hand. After the deal closes, Flipkart’s financials will be reported as part of Walmart’s International business segment. “If the transaction were to close at the end of the second quarter of this fiscal year, Walmart expects a negative impact to FY19 EPS of approximately $0.25 to $0.30, which includes incremental interest expense related to the investment.”

Whoops: SoftBank CEO reveals Walmart has acquired Flipkart

Here’s one way to make sure Amazon doesn’t get control of Flipkart in India by outbidding you for a majority stake: buy it outright. Today during SoftBank’s earnings presentation, it looks like CEO Masayoshi Son slipped in a little scoop: he announced that Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, on Tuesday night reached a deal to buy Flipkart, the leading e-commerce retailer in India, putting an end to months (and actually years) of speculation. SoftBank is currently one of Flipkart’s biggest investors.

“Walmart is purchasing Flipkart,” Son said in the presentation (he spoke in Japanese with a real-time translation provided by a SoftBank representative). “Last night there was the official announcement.”

Very soon after, there was a quick and slightly messy recovery: a second gentleman approached Son during the Q&A section of his presentation and slipped him a note, after which point the CEO read it, and then said an announcement had not yet been confirmed.

“With regards to Flipkart, it’s not officially announced yet,” he said with a weak smile. “Maybe I should not have mentioned that … Well, I can’t take it out!”

“Not yet announced” is also the line that SoftBank spokespeople are also taking, and we have yet to hear back from Flipkart and Walmart with their comments. Yet it could come very soon, though: we’ve been told by a source that the official news will be released at 5pm India time.

If Masa’s first statement was accurate, Walmart’s acquisition would end a long-running saga.  For months now, there have been rumors that the world’s largest retailer was gearing up to acquire a sizeable stake in the Indian company to get its foot into India — with reports putting the size of the stake at anywhere between 51 percent and around 70 percent, and at a value of between $15 billion and $20 billion, with additional investors potentially including Google.

But in the last week, alternative reports started to emerge that Amazon would try to gazump Walmart and take a pole position as a shareholder.

Walmart and Amazon have been hotly competing against each other in other markets, specifically the US — where Amazon dominates in online sales but Walmart continues to lead the charge in brick-and-mortar, despite many aggressive moves from Amazon, such as its acquisition of Whole Foods.

Meanwhile, India — Asia’s second-largest economy after China and one of the world’s fastest-growing markets — has become a key country for Amazon over the last several years, with billions already ploughed into its operations there and billions more earmarked for future investment. So when it appeared that Walmart was also going to try to muscle in by taking a stake in the country’s largest homegrown online retailer, Flipkart became the latest battleground between the two U.S. giants.

Walmart clearly was not ready to give up, though. As we pointed out last week, Walmart divesting its stake in Asda in the UK to Sainsbury’s would pave the way for the company to make a bigger move in India, and that seems to be what has happened here.

It’s still not clear if Walmart will buy out all investors with this deal, or whether it will take just a controlling share, and continue to involve other third parties.

Flipkart has raised around $7.3 billion in funding since being founded in 2007, with other investors including Microsoft, eBay, Naspers, Tencent, Tiger Global, Accel and many more, and it has been a consolidator of sorts itself, buying eBay India last year.

But although it is the country’s biggest online retailer, it has had a rocky time in terms of its valuation, which at one point was over $15 billion but dipped to $11.6 billion in its last round in 2017, in part because of fierce competition from Amazon, Snapdeal and more.

Interestingly, we should point out that this is not the first time that Son has “announced” an India-based tech deal ahead of time.

Two years ago during another quarterly presentation, the SoftBank boss let slip that OYO — the hotel aggregator service that counts SoftBank as an investor — had acquired rival Zo Rooms, a deal that had been much-speculated in India at the time.

Despite his reveal, the OYO-Zo deal actually never happened. In fact, the two were at loggerheads and even went to court as the relationship soured following the breakdown of the proposed deal.

The scale of the Flipkart-Walmart tie-up is many orders of magnitude higher, with Flipkart’s India’s highest-valued startup and a poster child for the tech industry. Let’s hope Mr. Son got it right this time.