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Walmart Declares War On Amazon

Vishal Krishna, Businessworld

Bangalore, May 3, 2012

Walmart may be the largest company in the world in terms of revenues, but its global e-commerce websites are lagging far behind. Walmart e-commerce is facing tough competition from local e-commerce firms as well as Amazon, the largest e-commerce website in the world. Walmart’s websites in China, UK, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and the USA are all sitting isolated and need a focused strategy to deliver a global view for Walmart. Consolidating all that data of shoppers is becoming more complicated and is not giving Walmart a full view of what its customers want on an e-commerce site. “We are creating a global platform so that these e-commerce websites can be integrated, there will be one world view for all our shoppers and we will cater to local needs too,” says Anand Rajaraman, Senior Vice President Walmart Global E-commerce. He says that this strategy was to enable better consumer experience and ensure real time knowledge sharing with different countries.

This platform is going to be built from scratch in Bangalore and is going to have over 200 people working on it by the end of the financial year 2012-13. This will also be the first time that Walmart is ramping up its R&D operations through Walmart Labs. This is a clear signal to take on Amazon because not only has Amazon entered Indian operations in the form of a market place called junglee.com, but its R&D centre in India has over 500 employees. “This should not be a problem for Walmart because they have all the experience for the last three years by working with Bharti,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy.

Coincidentally, Anand Rajaraman sold junglee.com to Amazon in the late 1990s for $250 million and is now involved with Walmart after it acquired his analytics company called Kosmix for $300 million.

Why a global platform? “The global platform is going to be created because we can easily ramp up in emerging markets as part of our new strategy,” says Jeremy King,” Chief Technology officer of global e- commerce.

Analysts say that Walmart’s e-commerce revenues are small because the numbers add up to less than 3 per cent for a $425-billion company. This new strategy is being created for taking on the likes of Amazon which is the largest online retailer with revenues of $34 billion, and other home grown e-commerce retailers in emerging economies. Walmart’s e-commerce revenues are $10 billion, which is larger than any retail business in India. FDI rules do not permit Walmart’s e-commerce unit to come in to the Indian market, but its global platform can be ready because Walmart’s back-end work of tying up with suppliers is already on through the cash and carry business. It has a 50:50 JV with Bharti retail, although 100 per cent FDI is allowed in B2B operations.

Walmart has created a business unit called Global.com to study and understand how its products could be bought online globally like Amazon. “We will focus on mobile apps because shopping is becoming social and people are collaborating real time. Our apps are in the top twenty lifestyle app downloads on the Apple store,” says King. He adds that new platform will help Walmart analyze inventory, in shop research and allow shoppers to access Walmart anywhere, anytime. Cloud computing to scale up operations is being implemented at Walmart’s own private cloud; it runs its own data centre.

“In any e-commerce business it is important to offer a large assortment of products at the right price and deliver it efficiently,” says Pinakiranjan Mishra, Partner at Ernst and Young. He says that e-commerce was becoming firmly rooted in India as a big business and when FDI opened up, big global brands will be eager to set shop in India. Today Indiaplaza.com and junglee.com are market places that have tied up with 1000s of vendors. “India has so many vendors that one can tie up with for the e-commerce business, global brands will wait for FDI to open up while they develop their local sourcing arms,” says K Vaitheeswaran, CEO of indiaplaza.com.

Analysts estimate the e-commerce business in India to be around $7 billion and growing at 50 per cent year on year, but markets like the USA and Europe have an e-commerce market of over $200 billion each. Therefore for a Walmart with only $10 billion revenues from its online business, it is important to scale up, as brick and mortar retail is showing only single digit growth. “India is going to be helping the global R&D business for e-commerce,” says King of Walmart.com. While Walmart closely watches emerging markets and the way local businesses function, they would be treading carefully.

The homegrown online businesses in China have given American brands such as Amazon a run for their money. Similarly, India seems to have the likes of flipkart.com use the Amazon model to become big in India. But Walmart has the cash in an age when countries struggle to repay foreign debt. It would certainly take on the likes of Amazon, may be the battle for India could be the one to watch out for.

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