Realty race in Maximum City as Tata Group, Reliance Industries keep on shopping

admin

February 23, 2024

Kailash Babar & Sagar Malviya, Economic Times

Mumbai, 23 February 2024

Tata Group and Reliance Industries, two of India’s largest conglomerates, are vying for premium retail real estate in Mumbai as they extend their footprints, creating rivalry in a city starved of marquee properties. From Zara and Starbucks to Westside and Titan, the Tata Group occupies nearly 25 million square feet of retail space in India. That is still no match for Reliance Industries that control three times more at 73 million sq ft for more than 100 local and global brands.

But in Mumbai, they are evenly matched, having nearly 3 million sq ft of retail space each. That is a quarter of what is considered the most prime retail real estate in the country, and both the retail giants are looking for more.

“In a modern retail environment, most visible locations contain more successful or larger brands. It just so happens that many of those brands are owned by either Reliance or the Tatas,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a strategy consulting firm.

“Tatas have been in retail for longer but also slower to scale up compared to Reliance which had this stated ambition of being the most dominant and put the money behind it,” he said.

In a market where demand is much higher than supply, developers and landlords seek to separate the wheat from the chaff, experts said. Ultimately, success in Mumbai’s retail real estate scene hinges on a delicate equilibrium between accommodating industry leaders and fostering a vibrant, varied shopping environment, they said. “In the competitive landscape of retail real estate in Mumbai, commercial developers and mall owners often face the strategic challenge of accommodating prominent retail brands,” said Abhishek Sharma, director, retail, at commercial real estate consultants Knight Frank India.

“These big brands, with a significant market share of 40-45% in the Indian retail sector, can easily be termed as industry giants and possess the potential to command 45-50% of space in any mall,” he said. According to Sharma, there may be perceptions of preferential treatments, but the dynamics are complex, and developers must balance the demand from these major brands with the need for a diverse tenant mix.

Tata Group entered retail in the late 1980s, initially by opening Titan watch stores and a decade later by launching department store Westside. So far, it has about 4,600 stores, including brands such as Tanishq, Starbucks, Westside, Zudio, Zara and Croma.

While Reliance Retail started in 2006, it overcompensated for its late entry by aggressively opening stores across formats. Reliance has over 18,774 stores across supermarkets, electronics, jewellery, and apparel space. It has also either partnered or acquired over 80 global brands, from Gap and Superdry to Balenciaga and Jimmy Choo. A diverse portfolio of brands across various segments through strategic partnerships and collaborations helps an entity like Reliance to leverage synergies and enhance retail presence, especially in malls, experts said.

“The array of brands with Reliance bouquet allows it to enter early into the project and set the tone and positioning of the mall,” said a retail leasing expert who requested not to be identified.

“This positively helps the mall to set its own positioning and future tenant mix. It also helps Reliance place their brands in most relevant zones within the mall. This will emerge as a clear differentiator in a city like Mumbai where brands are already jostling for space, which is the costliest in the country,” the person added.

(Published in Economic Times)

The untold story of how Ravi Modi built Vedant Fashions – the makers of Manyavar – into a $3.5 billion behemoth

admin

April 27, 2022

By Manu Balachandran, Forbes India
Apr 27, 2022

Sometime in 2002, in his mid-20s, Ravi Modi wanted to buy a Mercedes. Not because he was a petrol head or because he wanted to flaunt his newfound success in his hometown, Kolkata.

“My belief was that if you can afford it, buy it,” says Modi, who’s dressed in a blue kurta pyjama at his house in Newtown, Kolkata. His then-four-year-old business, Vedant Fashions, which made popular ethnic wear, Manyavar, was doing reasonably well and money was flowing smoothly. However, as he firmed up his plans to buy a Mercedes, his father, who had earlier inadvertently brought out the entrepreneur in Modi, asked his son a few questions. And then doled out some sound advice.

“He asked me whether I can afford it. I said I can,” the soft-spoken Marwari tells Forbes India. “He asked me if my business was sustainable. I said yes. He said you will require capital. I said yes. He asked me if my business has the potential to grow. And I said yes.” Modi adds: “Then he told me, ‘Thode din ke taklif zindagi bharka aaram, ya thode din ka aaram, zindagi bharki taklif (Pain for a few days, and you can have a lifetime of relaxation, or relax for a few days, and you could have pain for the rest of your life)’.”

That stuck with him forever. Modi skipped his plan to buy a Mercedes, and instead decided to plough back all the profits into the business to avoid falling into a debt trap as he expanded. He stuck with his Honda City for the next 15 years, until his son asked him to change it after a family friend met with an accident. “That’s when I bought my Mercedes in 2017,” Modi says. “All these things don’t matter to me. I am a simple man with no materialistic needs. I like the simple life.”

Modi indeed leads a simple life on the outskirts of Kolkata. Unlike many of his peers who relish the hustle and bustle of city life, he has moved out of his home of 36 years to a calm and greener township where he even grows vegetables. “Whatever vegetables we eat, they come from within the house,” Modi says. He prefers to meet people on the verandah of his house, which overlooks a neatly manicured lawn. The scorching Kolkata heat doesn’t bother him.

“Here, the trees talk to me,” says Modi, who tried 12 houses before shifting to the new one immediately after the first lockdown. He has built a clay tennis court there and is now learning to play the game. Modi has also renounced wearing western clothes, claiming not to have worn one in five years. “We must realise that clothes such as suits aren’t meant for the Indian climate,” he says.

He’s even reduced the time he spends in office, and now goes there only once a week. It hasn’t made any difference to his business. Modi makes his debut on the 2022 Forbes World’s Billionaires List—he’s ranked 1,238 with a net worth of $2.5 billion. As of April 15, Modi’s wealth stood at $3 billion and he is among the youngest billionaires in India.

His 23-year-old company, Vedant Fashions Limited, of which he is chairman and managing director, is worth ₹26,000 crore after it listed on the bourses in February. It has over 600 stores across India and 11 international stores, where it sells everything from men’s kurtas, sherwanis and jackets to women’s lehengas, sarees and gowns. They are sold under brands such as Manyavar, Mohey and Mebaz.

Last year, amid the pandemic, Vedant Fashions closed the year with a revenue of ₹564.81 crore, while net profit stood at ₹132.9 crore. A year before that, revenue was ₹915.54 crore and net profit ₹236.6 crore. Modi’s wife Shilpi has a board seat, while his only child, Vedant, after whom the company is named, is chief marketing officer.

“I am a firm believer in destiny,” says Modi. If it wasn’t for his destiny, the 45-year-old believes he would have perhaps been sitting at his nearly-50-year-old family-run shop in Kolkata’s AC Market, selling menswear, and at best opened one more store to expand the business.

Destined for Success

As a child, Modi, the only son of his parents, was good at mathematics. His father then ran a 140-sq-ft retail store inside AC Market in Kolkata—one of India’s first air-conditioned markets set up some 50 years ago.

“In Class 2, I got 100 in mathematics, and my mother threw a party,” says Modi. “In Class 3, when I got 100, my mother didn’t give a party. That’s when I realised that nobody celebrates the same achievement twice. I needed some kick and I started solving the paper faster.” By the time he appeared for his Class 12 exam, he finished his mathematics papers in 45 minutes, scoring a near cent. “Anybody who remembers me from school days would remember me for mathematics,” says the soft-spoken billionaire.

The untold story of how Ravi Modi built Vedant Fashions—the makers of Manyavar—into a .5 billion behemothThat meant, by the time he was 13, Modi joined his father at their retail store, which sold everything from shirts and pants to jeans, after school. “I found a lot of interest,” says Modi. “Somehow, I didn’t realise that my entire childhood from 13 years went in my store.” While he did contemplate doing an MBA after graduating in commerce from St Xavier’s college, Kolkata, his father suggested otherwise. “The real MBA happened in those nine years between 13 and 22,” says Modi.

At the store, Modi played salesman, often catering to buyers his staff didn’t want to deal with. “I would see that the salesmen would deal with some customers with a lot of attention, and some without,” says Modi. “When I probed them, they said the customers wouldn’t buy. I would ask them if they were astrologers, and used to take it on me to sell stuff to them. That was my kick.” Soon, Modi would end up selling over 20 clothes to a customer who would have come to buy one shirt. “It was the best time of my life,” Modi says. By the time he was 21, he was married, and by 22, Modi became a father.

As the business grew, Modi began to run the show and took decisions that would be a contrast to his father’s. He also introduced Indian wear, manufactured by them, in the store after realising a massive vacuum in the Indian wear category. It was Modi’s first tryst with manufacturing. “But one day, my father said something, and I got hurt,” Modi says. His father had questioned a decision that Modi had taken for ₹20,000. “He said ‘Humko barbad kardoge (Will you ruin us)? I might commit suicide one day.’ I said this is enough, I won’t come from tomorrow.”

He took ₹10,000 from his mother and turned to manufacturing Indian wear, selling the finished products in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, among others. “I started selling to multi-brand outlets (MBOs),” he says. The inability to hire a creative agency meant Modi had to come up with a name. “I thought what was the purpose of life… it was to earn some respect for oneself,” says Modi. “That’s how we came up with the name Manyavar.” He denies that the choice of the name had anything to with his father’s chiding. “He was someone who would never say something like that,” says Modi. “It’s all destiny. Because there was no plan, and I was happy at the store. We would, at best, have opened one more store.”

With Manyavar, Modi started by selling 20 percent of his stock to Kolkata-based Vishal Mega Mart, to raise enough working capital to sustain his business. He sold the rest of the stock to other outlets. “Vishal Maga Mart was the only place that used to buy on cash,” says Modi. “So initially, for about eight months, the working capital came from them.”

Modi sold kurtas which cost ₹200 at a loss of ₹10 to ensure he was paid in cash. “Just because I was strong in math, I thought I will sell 20 percent of my production to him to get working capital, and from the remaining 80 percent production, I will get revenue. That is how we generated revenue in the first year,” Modi says.

Among others, Manyavar’s clothes were sold at outlets such as the Kashmir Vastralaya collection and Kala Mandir in the early days.

Turning point

By 2005-06, Modi had begun selling his products to large format stores (LFS)—from Future Group to Shoppers Stop and Westside—building a pan-India presence. Heeding his father’s advice, he ensured he did not take on debt, and instead channelled most of the money into the business.

In 2006, to take care of his ailing father, Modi stepped away from work for some six months. “I used to work like a typical entrepreneur, managing everything. Life was very busy. Then I realised we were unnecessarily involving ourselves in operations. The business was running well without me for six months. From that day I understood, that instead of ROI (return on investment), it should be return on time invested (ROTI). I realised I should not waste time on things where I don’t add any value,” he says.

That took him back to the drawing board—to focus on strategy for the next phase of growth. By 2008, Manyavar set up its first exclusive brand outlet (EBO). “That’s when the real journey began,” says Modi. “Until then, we used to sell for ₹20-25 crore every year.” The company’s first store opened in Bhubaneswar, and over the next year, opened 12 stores. The early ones were opened by the company before it moved to a franchise-led model. “By that time, I was clear that the way forward for any fashion apparel business in India is EBO,” says Modi.

Modi believed multi-brand outlets were becoming more of a hindrance than being facilitators. “They never used to work on data,” he says. “It was difficult to make them understand anything. And because I had spent nine years with consumers, we used to always think of the customers first.”

That means an obsession with data, and efficiency, something Modi spends a considerable amount of time on. “Anything and everything we do, we want to bring efficiency,” he says. “We have one of the highest productivities in retail. We haven’t sold a single garment at discount. Even then, the dead stock in Manyavar is less than 3 percent. We make 30 percent PAT (profit after tax). We don’t make that by charging more to the consumer. That’s an outcome of efficiency. We keep pricing reasonable and despite that, we have the highest margin. Efficiency is a key pillar in our entire organisation.”

Today, the company operates mostly on a franchise-owned-franchise-operated model. “When we started, we had a COCO (company-owned-company-operated), COFO (company-owned-franchise operated), FOFO (franchise-owned-franchise-operated), and all kinds of models. By 2016-17, we converted all our stores into the FOFO model. People were doing backward integration, and we felt doing forward integration was the way to go. We will do the marketing, designing and supply chain, and not do anything else.” Over the past few years, Modi claims several young customers have become franchise owners, including doctors and consultants, who see massive potential in the brand.

In 2016, the company pulled a coup of sorts by landing then Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli as brand ambassador. “He had just become captain It was the best time of his life,” says Modi. Over the next few years, Kohli led the brand campaign and Modi even roped in his girlfriend Anushka Sharma for a commercial prior to their marriage. Today, the brand has actors Amitabh Bachchan, Alia Bhatt, Ranveer Singh and Kartik Aaryan as brand ambassadors.

The success

Today, Manyavar operates some 1.3 million sq ft of retail stores in the country, choosing not to chase the number of stores. Every year, Modi wants to add between 1.5 lakh sq ft and 2 lakh sq ft of retail space. “The whole business is on a variable, asset-light model,” he says. “There is no capex, there is no fixed expense other than corporate head office salary. Every rupee of working capital can generate an equal rupee of PAT, with 90-95 percent free cash flow. Only Unilever will have a ROCE (return on capital employed) of 100 percent, and we might be the second, and within a year or two, we will be at more than 100 percent.”

The untold story of how Ravi Modi built Vedant Fashions—the makers of Manyavar—into a .5 billion behemothThe company operates in 230 cities, and is busy firming up plans to open stores in 150 new cities. A significant portion of its customers are spread across Southern India, with Bengaluru and Hyderabad emerging as the two big centres. “We have a cluster approach where we believe in 50 or 60 markets, where we have numerous stores,” Modi says. “This is just the beginning of a multi-decade growth opportunity for the category.”

Along the way, in 2017, as business expanded rapidly, Modi decided to turn to private equity, not because he needed money for expanding the business. “We always thought that there is a limit for wisdom and knowledge,” says Modi. “We had been meeting private equity players since 2008 and we thought why not get a good partner. We liked Kedaara Capital and its approach. Money was not the intent, but to have a wise board and to understand whether we were missing on anything.” Kedaara Capital acquired 7.5 percent stake in the company.

“They’ve ridden well on the sector’s growth and consolidation into modern trade, as the desire for brands has grown among buyers of Indian traditional clothing,” says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, a management consulting firm, and managing partner of PVC Partners, an early-stage investment & advisory firm. “Also, the wedding market is more recession-proof than many other segments, which has been a favourable factor during the pandemic.”

Last year, despite the pandemic, Modi says Vedant Fashions closed the year with better profit margins, despite most states putting a ban on weddings and other social gatherings. “The beauty of our business is that while business had reduced, our margins were 30 percent PAT,” Modi says. “The entire business is on the variable model and even franchises didn’t lose money.”

In India, the men’s wedding and celebration wear market was estimated to be worth approximately ₹13,300 crore as of FY20, according to brokerage firm HDFC Securities. It is projected to increase to between ₹17,000 crore and ₹18,000 crore by 2025. In comparison, the women’s wedding and celebration wear market is significantly larger, estimated to be worth approximately ₹7,500 crore as of 2020. It is expected to grow to ₹95,000 crore and ₹100,000 crore by 2025.

“Seventy-three percent of Vedant Fashions Limited’s (VFL) franchisees have operated its stores for three or more years and 65 percent of the sales of its customers from its franchisee-owned EBOs are derived from franchisees having two or more stores is testament to the success of EBO distribution model,” HDFC Securities said in a report in February. “Through a network of over 300 franchisees as of September 2021, VFL has demonstrated a track record of commanding a high initial capital commitment and, in return, providing all necessary support in connection with identifying potential locations for new stores, managing multi-channel advertising on a national and regional basis, assisting in-store development and inventory management, directly managing the supply chain and providing detailed training programmes for store staff and franchisees.”

Today, 90 percent of the company’s business comes from EBO with about 8 percent from online models, a segment that Modi’s son, Vedant, and his team are extensively looking to build. “We might be the only brand with such a high percentage from EBOs,” Modi says. “The segment is unorganised, fragmented, and understanding this is a journey. Because we were data-focussed, we could work it out.” Along the way, Modi says his biggest advantage has been in reducing the inconvenience of wedding purchases.

“Pre-Manyavar, the wedding shopping experience was a problem,” Modi says. “You had to go a few times to the store for measurements or alterations. Now people don’t have the time. We are a one-stop solution where work can be done in one hour.”

Now, as the company looks at avenues for its next phase of growth, Modi has forayed into categories within the wedding market that can drive sales. The company recently launched Twamev, a premium collection of men’s wedding wear, and Manthan, a cheaper option to its popular Manyavar wear. “When you look at the Indian pyramid, there are five consumer layers. Manyavar and Mohey are in the third layer which is the sweet spot, comprising the typical aspirational middle class,” Modi says. “In India, one crore weddings take place, and 30 lakh to 35 lakh marriages happen in that category, which is about 50 percent in terms of value. We believe that is the largest segment, but now we have a strategy where we are going one level up and down.”

While Manyavar caters to the ₹5 lakh to ₹50 lakh wedding market, the ₹50 lakh to ₹5 crore market is being catered to by Twamev, while the less than ₹5 lakh is being addressed by the Manthan range. “We believe once the category grows, we should be there in all these three layers. So, there is clear demarcation and no overlap,” Modi says.

All that means that the reclusive billionaire, who started out two decades ago after his tryst with destiny, is getting ready for a long period of growth. It also helps that he has more time to plot his strategy for it. “People talk about wealth, I believe the real wealth I have earned is time for myself,” Modi says. “The mission is to be a dominant player in the celebration space. We have cracked an unorganised market and we’ve been able to organise it and scale it. Now, the vision is to instill pride in Indian wear.”

Modi seems determined to do that. And he is certain to walk that talk, if the two decades are anything to go by.

(This article was published in Forbes India.)

Game of toys

admin

January 10, 2022

Written By Vaishnavi Gupta

UAE-based Tablez has launched a kids’ super store in India

Tablez, the retail arm of UAE-based LuLu Group, has launched its kids’ super store House of Toys in India. Tablez has been around in the country as the master franchisee of brands such as Desigual, Build-A-Bear, Go Sport, Yoyoso, Cold Stone Creamery, and Galito’s. The toy market in India, currently pegged at $1 billion, is estimated to double in size by 2025, according to a FICCI-KPMG report.

All stacked up

The first House of Toys store was unveiled at Global Malls, Bengaluru, in December, 2021. The store offers more than 20,000 products, from feeding bottles, strollers, and bathtubs, to wearable tech, remote-controlled toys, and stationery. Spread across 5,100 sq ft, the store also houses the Build-a-Bear shop, where kids can make their own soft toys. “We have toys starting from Rs 30, going up to Rs 30,000 in our assortment. We have 3,000 toys in the value segment of below Rs 500,” says Adeeb Ahamed, managing director, Tablez.

House of Toys aims to open 12-15 stores by the end of this year, initially in South India, and metros, followed by tier I cities and beyond. Tablez also plans to rebrand at least 10 Toys“R”Us stores in India to House of Toys in the second half of this year. The store’s products are available on Tablez’s own e-commerce platform, and will soon be listed on third-party marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart. “House of Toys has potential to be one of the top revenue contributors of Tablez,” Ahamed says.

Tablez has been consolidating its presence in the Indian market lately. Last year, Tablez launched Yoyoso’s seventh outlet in India, and opened another outlet, its 33rd, of American ice cream brand Cold Stone Creamery, both in Kerala. Further, it has earmarked an investment of Rs 100 crore for the expansion of sportswear store Go Sport. Fashion brand Desigual, which caters to women in the 25-45 age group, is now present on Tata CLiQ Luxury, and will soon make inroads into Mumbai and Bengaluru, followed by Chandigarh and Hyderabad.

Presently, Tablez operates 80 brand stores in India; it plans to take this number to 250 over the next five years.

Playing smart

Given that more than a quarter of India’s population is under 15 years of age, intuitively, it makes for a “great market for toys,” says Devangshu Dutta, founder, Third Eyesight. He says upper-income households with fewer children tend to buy more toys, games and learning aids, especially since children have been much more confined to the home environment in recent years.

According to Angshuman Bhattacharya, partner and sector leader (consumer products & retail), EY India, the growth of this market has been driven by improved availability and penetration of branded toys, upgradation from manual to automated toys, and improved awareness and availability brought about by e-commerce.

However, any kids category, whether apparel or toys, has been a difficult model to crack, owing to factors such as low SKU proliferation, and difficulty in inventory management, says Bhattacharya.

To stand out in the market, analysts say, brands need to create an authoritative and diverse product mix, which, in turn, requires a relatively large store footprint in high-visibility high-footfall locations. “The stock turnover is also slower than many other product categories, so merchandising and replenishment strategies need to be really smart. Branded merchandise offers lower margins, so private labels and unique products are necessary to add to the margin mix,” Dutta notes.

Deeply understanding a store’s catchment, so that consumer engagement can be kept high through the year — rather than being limited to local celebratory peaks and holidays — could be a useful strategy, say analysts.

Source: financialexpress

The reality behind Reliance’s retail rush

admin

September 28, 2020

Written By Mihir Dalal

(From left to right) Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, which owns Flipkart; Mukesh Ambani, chairman and MD of RIL; Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

BENGALURU : Last month, Nimit Jain, an entrepreneur, ordered biscuits, shampoo, toothpaste and other items for his family in Kota. He used JioMart—the new online shopping app by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited—lured by its low prices and freebies.

JioMart was to deliver the order within two days, but Jain’s family didn’t receive the items on time and JioMart didn’t inform Jain about the delay. The delivery was done four days after he had placed the order, a few hours after Jain had complained to the firm via email and Twitter.

A few products were missing, Jain’s parents informed him. It took time to figure out the missing items because the details of the order weren’t available on the app. Jain had paid online and asked JioMart for a partial refund. Instead of receiving an acknowledgement for his refund request, he received a response for his previous email about the delay in delivery. Five days later, Jain got a refund.

Mumbai-based Jain, a computer science graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, usually orders groceries from BigBasket and sometimes from Dunzo. He said that he doesn’t plan to use JioMart again.

“A couple of my friends and relatives (in Mumbai and Kota) have also had similarly bad experiences. It doesn’t look like JioMart is ready for online groceries. Their operations and customer care teams weren’t in sync,” Jain said.

Since JioMart expanded to more than 200 cities this summer, scores of customers like Jain have complained about missing products, delayed deliveries and generally poor service. Still, industry executives say that while its service levels have been inconsistent, JioMart is registering similar order volumes to BigBasket, the largest e-grocer, on the back of aggressive marketing and discounts.

These volumes still comprise a small fraction of the overall business of Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart, the two dominant online retailers. But that’s because JioMart is only selling groceries now; it plans to sell other products like fashion and electronics soon. It’s clear that after many years of talk and hype, Reliance, which owns India’s largest offline retail chain, is finally becoming a serious challenger to Amazon and Flipkart, as well as BigBasket and Grofers.

Still, industry executives, logistics firms, consultants and analysts that Mint spoke with said that Reliance will find it tough to break the dominance of Amazon-Flipkart in e-commerce, similar to how Walmart is struggling to challenge Amazon in digital sales in the US even as its stores continue to prosper. Amazon and Flipkart both have deep pockets, proven expertise in e-commerce, popular brands and good knowledge of the Indian market.

“Reliance has the financial muscle, but Walmart (Flipkart) and Amazon are no pushovers,” said Harminder Sahni, managing director, Wazir Advisors, a consultancy. “Today, most people who want to shop online are happy with Flipkart and Amazon. These companies have achieved significant scale and have very few weaknesses. As a latecomer, it will be very difficult for Reliance to make a big dent in the market.”

Reliance did not respond to an emailed questionnaire seeking comment.

Local internet powerhouse

During the pandemic, Reliance has not only moved fast to make inroads into the e-commerce market, it has also consolidated its leadership in organized offline retail. Last month, Reliance bought most of the businesses of Future Group for about $3.4 billion in a deal that will take its retail footprint to nearly 14,000 stores—by far, the largest in India.

In the past six months, Reliance has raised more than $21 billion for its digital unit Jio Platforms. This month, Reliance kickstarted a separate fund-raising spree for its retail unit, Reliance Retail, bagging about $1.8 billion from private equity firms Silver Lake and KKR, two of the investors in Jio. Several more investment firms, including other shareholders in Jio, are expected to join them.

These moves are part of Reliance’s efforts to transform itself into a 21stcentury digital behemoth. It is positioning itself as India’s answer to Amazon, Facebook, Google, Alibaba and other world-class digital giants, and unlike local startups like Flipkart, Ola and Paytm that have or had similar ambitions, Reliance enjoys some unparalleled advantages.

It is now accepted wisdom among politicians and regulators that India needs a ‘local’ internet powerhouse to counter the dominance of America’s Big Tech and the growing influence of Chinese firms, partly because of sovereignty concerns. Reliance’s mastery in lobbying and its political clout makes the firm best-placed to exploit this urgent establishment need to find a domestic internet powerhouse.

Amazon, Flipkart, Facebook and others face many policy-related restrictions that not only serve as obstacles to them but pave the way for domestic firms led by Reliance to enter the fray. For instance, foreign investment rules prevent Amazon and Flipkart from owning inventory or selling private labels (though critics say that these firms do it anyway using clever legal workarounds), while Reliance has no such constraints. Apart from a supportive policy environment and huge capital resources, on the business front, too, Reliance has an enviable digital distribution network and reservoir of customer data on account of Jio.

But despite these formidable advantages, Reliance has yet to prove that it has the chops to realise its ambitious vision.

The war among Reliance and Flipkart and Amazon and other internet firms is also not restricted to retail, but will extend to other sectors like financial services, content and business-to-business commerce. The technology-centric nature of the battle is more suited to the internet companies than to Reliance. There’s little doubt that Reliance will be a major player in the digital business, but the jury’s out on how much value the firm can corner. Its foray in e-commerce and B2B will provide early answers to this question.

Retail battle

After JioMart began testing its service late last year, media reports said that the company would deliver products to customers from local kirana stores. After Facebook invested in Jio in April in a deal that included a business partnership between JioMart and WhatsApp, Ambani said that JioMart would soon connect some 3 crore kirana stores with their neighbourhood customers.

Many analysts, too, expect the partnership with WhatsApp, the most popular app in India, to be a game-changer. In July, Goldman Sachs estimated that Reliance’s entry will help expand the online grocery market by 20 times to about $29 billion by 2024. Reliance’s partnership with Facebook could help the firm become the leader in e-grocery and garner a market share of more than 50% by 2024, Goldman said.

But Mint learns that Reliance is sourcing a majority of orders on JioMart in many cities through Reliance Retail’s supply chain; only a small number of orders are served through kirana stores. JioMart is signing up a few thousand kirana stores every month, but its expansion is happening at a slower rate than many analysts expect. Two industry executives said that JioMart’s average order value is lower than that of other e-grocers, which means that Reliance is losing larger amounts of money on every order.

According to one e-commerce executive, for BigBasket and Grofers, the delivery cost is about 3-4% of the average order value, which exceeds ₹1000. For Reliance, the delivery cost is presently much higher because its order value is below ₹800. The lower order value is partly because most of JioMart’s 200 city-markets are non-metros. BigBasket and others generate an overwhelming majority of their business from the metros. Reliance is betting on expanding the e-grocery market rather, than taking market share from incumbents, which generate an overwhelming majority of their sales from 10-15 cities. But while Reliance may be able to attract customers in smaller cities initially with discounts, profitability will be tough.

“The economics of serving metros are very different from the rest of India. In the mass market, bill values are much, much lower. Right now, Reliance’s main focus is to scale JioMart, so they aren’t worried about the delivery cost,” the executive cited above said. “But eventually, reality will catch up, and they will have to increase basket sizes because this model isn’t sustainable. Grocery has very thin margins to start with. “

Private label push

One obvious way for Reliance to boost margins is by selling more private label products. In the grocery category, Reliance Retail already generates 14% of its revenues from private labels. People familiar with Reliance’s plans said that the company wants to push its private label products to kirana stores. While there are hundreds of well-known brands in FMCG, the grocery category (products like rice, pulses and flour) is largely unstructured. Reliance plans to sell its private label products both in grocery and FMCG.

Apart from retail, Reliance is also rapidly expanding its B2B business. Its private label products form a key component of its retail and wholesale business plans, the people cited above said.

The private label push, however, is making large FMCG companies like Hindustan Unilever, Marico and Dabur, which sell competing products, wary of working with Reliance’s B2B arm.

Like Flipkart and Amazon, which are also expanding their B2B businesses, Reliance’s grand vision over time is to have an integrated ecosystem of wholesale and retail in which it connects consumer goods makers with kirana stores and retailers, supplies a large number of private label products across many categories to retailers and end-customers, and becomes the biggest omnichannel retail firm in the country. But realising this vision will require Reliance to work seamlessly with millions of kirana stores, thousands of brands, modern retailers (all of which will see the firm as a rival to an extent)—and provide exceptional service in a profitable manner to retail customers.

Analysts and industry executives said that Reliance has a higher probability of finding success in categories like fashion (in which it already runs a portal called Ajio) and grocery that are mostly unorganised and have a shortage of established brands. In these categories, Reliance faces fewer barriers from existing players and has a better chance of pushing its private labels in both the wholesale and retail markets. But in categories like electronics and FMCG, which are dominated by entrenched brands, kirana stores and e-commerce firms, Reliance may struggle to scale as fast.

For instance, Flipkart and Amazon dominate online sales of electronics and fashion, which together comprise more than 75% of all e-commerce. To win significant share in electronics, Reliance will have to spend enormous amounts on discounts, marketing and offering favourable terms to brands . But, in fashion, Reliance can tap its low-priced private labels to lure customers without resorting to value destruction.

“The market is too varied for one player to be big in all categories,” an investment banker said. “Reliance will have to carefully choose its battles. There’s a risk that it may spread itself too thin, so it’s wise for them to have started with grocery.”

Meanwhile, while Google and Facebook have together invested more than $10 billion in Reliance, both companies are continuing to expand their own businesses in India. Google and Facebook have ambitions to enter e-commerce and expand in other sectors like payments and content. What this means is that while Google and Facebook will end up collaborating with Reliance in some areas, they will also compete with the firm in others, joining Flipkart and Amazon in the war of the digital conglomerates.

Flipkart and Amazon have already stepped up their lobbying efforts with the emergence of Reliance as a threat. Because of the pandemic that has made e-commerce indispensable, there has been a thaw in the government’s attitude towards the US e-commerce firms. A more antagonistic attitude may return when the pandemic passes.

Eventually, though, the war will be decided by customers. Here, experts are divided on whether Reliance will emerge as the winner. “Reliance still has to do a lot more on getting the customer experience in place, but given the strides they’ve made, it is well-placed to compete in the digital space,” said Devangshu Dutta, head of retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight.

Source: livemint

Retail 2020

Devangshu Dutta

December 17, 2019

Remember the year 2000? After Y2K passed safely, that year some optimistic analysts predicted that India’s modern retail chains would reach 20 per cent market share by 2015. Two years after that supposed watershed, another firm declared that modern retail will be at around that level in 2020 – but wait! – only in the top 9 cities in the country. Don’t hold your breath: India surprises; constantly. As many have noted, “predictions are tough, especially about the future!” What we can do is reflect on some of this year’s developments that could play out over the coming year.

In many minds 2019 may be the Year of the Recession, plagued by discounting, but that demand slowdown has brewing for some time now. However, there’s another under-appreciated factor that has been playing out: while small, independent retailers can flex their business investments with variations in demand, modern retail chains need to spread the business throughout the year in order to meet fixed expenses and to manage margins more consistently.

To reduce dependence on festive demand, retailers like Big Bazaar and Reliance have been inventing shopping events like Sabse Sasta Din (Cheapest Day), Sabse Sachi Sale (Most Authentic Sale), Republic Day / 3-Day sale, Independence Day shopping and more for the last few years. In ecommerce, there’s the Amazon’s Freedom Sale, Prime Day, and Great India Festival, and Flipkart’s Big Billion Day Sale. This year retailers and brands went overboard with Black Friday sale, a shopping-event concept from the 1950s in the USA linked to a harvest celebration marked by European colonisers of North America. (The fact that Black Friday has a totally different connotation in India since the terrorist bombings in Bombay in 1993 seems to have completely escaped the attention of brands, retailers and advertising agencies.) Be that as it may, we can only expect more such invented and imported events to pepper the retail calendar, to drive footfall and sales. The consumer has been successfully converted to a value-seeking man-eater fed on a diet of deals and discounts. With no big-bang economic stimuli domestically and a sputtering global economy, we should just get used to the idea of not fireworks but slow-burning oil lamps and sprinklings of flowers and colour through the year. Retailers will just have to work that much harder to keep the lamps from sputtering.

Ecommerce companies have been in operating for 20 years now, but the Indian consumer still mostly prefers a hands-on experience. The lack of trust is a huge factor, built on the back of inconsistency of products and services. The one segment that has been receiving a lot of love, attention and money this year (and will grow in 2020) is food and grocery, since it is the largest chunk of the consumption basket. Beyond the incumbents – Grofers, Big Basket, MilkBasket and the likes – now Walmart-Flipkart and Amazon are going hard at it, and Reliance has also jumped in. Remember, though, that selling groceries online is as old as the first dot-com boom in India. E-grocers still struggle to create a habit among their customers that would give them regular and remunerative transactions, and they also need to tackle supply-side challenges. Average transactions remain small, demand remains fragmented, and supply chain issues continue to be troublesome. Most e-grocers are ending up depending on a relatively narrow band of consumers in a handful of cities.  The generation that is comfortable with an ever-present screen is not yet large enough to tilt the scales towards non-store shopping and convenience isn’t the biggest driver for the rest, so, for a while it’ll remain a bumpy, painful, unprofitable road.

Where we will see rapid pick-up is social commerce, both in terms of referral networks as well as using social networks to create niche entrepreneurial businesses – 2020 should be a good year for social commerce, including a mix of online platforms, social media apps as well as offline community markets. However, western or East Asia models won’t be replicated as the Indian market is significantly lower in average incomes, and way more fragmented.

As a closing thought, I’ll mention a sector that I’ve been involved with (for far too long): fashion. In the last 8-10 decades, globally fashion has become an industry living off artificially-generated expiry dates. A challenge that I have extended to many in the industry, and this year publicly at a conference: if consumption falls to half in the next five years, and you still have to run a profitable business (obviously!), how would you do it? Plenty of clues lie in India – we epitomise the future consumers; frugal, value-seeking, wanting the latest and the best but not fearful about missing out the newest design, because it will just be there a few weeks later at a discount. If you can crack that customer base and turn a profit, you would be well set for the next decade or so.

(Published as a year-end perspective in the Financial Express.)