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How acquisitions are churning growth in e-commerce

Shipra Srivastava, IMAGES Retail
New Delhi, April 2015

Growing business internally can be time consuming and involves high-risk strategies to excel in a fast-moving business world. This is encouraging entrepreneurs to acquire an existing firm instead building their own from the scratch, as this way they can escape many of the hurdles involved in the process – from developing a new product and hiring the right people to building a sound customer base. Furthermore, this strategy offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to skip the start-up phase and make a breakthrough in a particular field.

These days, the world of e-commerce is also abuzz with news of acquisitions – be it the high-profile Flipkart buying out Myntra, which took the business world with storm last year or the latest acquisition of e-tailer Babyoye by Mahindra Retail. However, in each of the above cases, it is interesting to note that the buyers have chosen to let the acquired entity exist and operate separately. Some such examples include Flipkart’s acquisition of Myntra to Snapdeal’s buyout of Exclusively.com, to the more recent Ola’s (previously Ola Cabs) deal with TaxiForSure (TFS). One of the key reasons for these companies to retain the brand identity of the new company under their aegis may be to keep the brand positioning intact.

The reasons

The question that arises at this point is: When mass market players are selling everything, where is the need for niche players? Countering the question, Harsh Pamnani, former senior manager of TiE Mumbai says: “By being able to sell multiple products to the same customer, mass merchants (generalists) have the advantage of higher lifetime value of the customer. However, to maintain site layout consistency, mass merchants give the same kind of look and feel to all the categories. This way they also manage to meet the objective of profit of overall business, which is dependent on sales of both top selling and niche categories. Mass merchants focus more on top selling categories and are not able to gain specialisation in every category.”

On the other hand, niche players (specialists) have defined target groups, so they differentiate themselves through in-depth understanding of customers’ needs, huge variety, high-quality products, and exceptional services. Niche players have a clear value proposition and a focused positioning. By providing a large range of variety including long tail products, they are able to manage business economics and margins and need a smaller scale to earn profits. They create consistency in communication through all the channels, such as social networks, blogs, site content, etc., and get preference in search results, says Pamnani.

For instance, while Flipkart is known as a horizontal marketplace, focused on books and consumer electronics, Myntra is amongst the biggest names in online fashion retail.

Expressing similar views on this historic merger, consultant Harminder Sahani says: “Flipkart acquired Myntra as it did not have the skills or understanding of apparel business, while Myntra was amongst the best in that category and was a major competitor for Jabong. In the case of Mahindra Group, they have a wide network of brick and mortar stores, and with the acquisition of Babyoye they would try to capture the online consumers as well as increase their reach and penetration. The combined sales of on line and off line will give them greater economy of scale as well.”

A win-win situation for all

In a latest stance, leading e-commerce portal Snapdeal has acquired luxury portal Exclusively.com. Explaining the rationale behind the acquisition, a leading spokesperson from Snapdeal says: “All our acquisitions, including that of Exclusively.com, have been strategic.

Luxury products and services is a US$ 14 billion market in India, growing at 30 per cent year on year, according to a recent KPMG-ASSOCHAM report. More than 70 per cent consumers prefer to shop for luxury products in India rather than abroad. Realising this opportunity, Snapdeal forayed into designerwear in October 2014, with the launch of ‘The Designer Studio’. This acquisition will further strengthen Snapdeal’s presence in the luxury and premium products’ space. We aim to create India’s largest online luxury mall and offer a choice of premium products and services to consumers across the country.”

Explaining further, he informs that as part of this acquisition, Snapdeal will help Exclusively.com scale up and expand its current business and reach. In terms of revenue, the e-commerce giant aims to reach US$ 100 million in gross merchandise volume (GMV) this year and US$ 1 billion in GMV over the next three years. We also plan to add international luxury brands to the existing portfolio in the near future.”

Viability of acquisitions in future

If sources are to be believed, leading marketplace Amazon is showing keen interest in leading fashion portal Jabong.com. In an exclusive conversation with IMAGES Retail, Jabong’s Co-Founder Praveen Sinha has already indicated that Jabong will soon be a part of Global Fashion Group (GFG). One now needs to wait and watch how things take shape from there.

And not to forget the much awaited launch of Reliance’s online venture, which may unfold many new surprises for the retail industry in times to come.

Summing it up, a leading consultant Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, says: “Inorganic growth through mergers or acquisitions have happened in the Indian e-commerce space previously due to common investors, who wanted to concentrate their resources by backing fewer horses in the race, and picked the ones that were more likely to win. However, during the last few months, more acquisitions have been happening to acquire different capabilities, whether in terms of technology, product capability or market segment services."

"Acquisitions make sense when it takes significantly more money and more time to build a similar capability within the company. In India’s e-commerce sector, where the market is expanding rapidly and aggressively with each passing day, the space is still very unstable and speed seems to be of much essence. A well-capitalised company would, under such circumstances, look at acquiring strategically important capabilities as quickly as possible because that could mean the difference between being the leader or survivor, or being left behind in the race.

“Also, in the last 2 years, at least some of the e-commerce firms have built both scale and capability that are attractive both for other players within the sector, for companies outside the sector (such as Mahindra) and for companies outside the country,” concludes Dutta.

(Published in IMAGES Retail – April 2015 issue.)

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