Walmart in talks to buy a significant minority stake in Flipkart

Walmart Stores Inc, the world’s biggest retailer, is in advanced talks to acquire a significant minority stake in leading e-commerce marketplace Flipkart, two people with knowledge of the development told ET.
 
A deal could be finalised by March, they said.
 
Chief executive officer Doug McMillon led a delegation that visited Flipkart’s Bengaluru office early last week as part of this exercise, said the people cited above.
 
The other members of the team included Walmart e-commerce CEO Marc Lore, founder of Jet.com that was acquired by Walmart in 2016, and Judith McKenna, who will take over as president and CEO of Walmart International on February 1. She’s currently the chief operating officer of Walmart.
 
Walmart declined to comment. “As a policy, we don’t comment on market speculation,” a spokesperson said, adding that McMillon had been in the country to review its three units — the cash and carry business, global technology centre, and global sourcing.
 
Flipkart also didn’t want to comment. “As a company policy, we do not comment on rumours or speculations,” a spokesperson said.
The people cited above said that if a deal takes place, Walmart may acquire a 15-20% stake in Flipkart, allowing them to combine synergies to compete with Amazon in India. The people cited above said the deal may involve primary and secondary sales by some longstanding investors.
 
The retail trade is increasingly adopting an omni-channel strategy, giving shoppers the choice of buying online or at brick and mortar stores. Amazon, Alibaba, and Walmart are among those building such a model.
 
Amazon acquired the 400-store network of Whole Foods last year. Chinese online giant Alibaba is reportedly in talks with Krogers in the US to expand into grocery there.
 
Last week, Walmart teamed up with Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten. As part of the deal, Walmart will start selling Aura-branded e-readers made by Kobo, a division of Rakuten, in stores and online at Walmart.com. Kobo is one of the Amazon Kindle’s competitors.
 
Acquisition Spree
 
In September, Walmart completed $3-billion acquisition of Jet.com. The deal followed a five-year e-commerce acquisition spree in which Walmart bought 15 startups, seeking talent and technology to make it a dominant player online and narrow the gap with Amazon. India is a key market where Amazon has committed to invest $5 billion. Flipkart has pledged to spend about half that.
 
“For Walmart, India is an exciting and priority market. Walmart is deeply committed and proud of creating shared value for local communities, kiranas, small farmers and our local supplier partners in India,” the spokesperson said.
 
A deal could give Flipkart access to Jet.com’s pricing mechanism to help take on Amazon, said one of the persons cited above. Jet.com, with its ability to lower prices as customers add more items to shopping carts, could help Walmart and Flipkart reach more customers. After the Jet.com acquisition, Walmart’s online sales registered growth of more than 50%.
 
Grocery boost
 
A deal could help Flipkart’s push into grocery, a sector in which 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) is allowed, both online and offline. The thinking behind this is that grocery shoppers can easily be persuaded to buy other items too, experts said.
 
Flipkart has increased focus on the food and grocery business and a potential partnership with Walmart, which has an extensive understanding of the segment, could be a game changer, said a person cited above.
 
“The common sourcing once the potential partnership goes through would lead to a win-win situation for all stakeholders in the value chain starting from Indian farmers, local suppliers, and consumers,” he said.
 
A grocery industry veteran said a deal would mean a cash infusion for Flipkart while Walmart would get access to the marketplace’s database. But neither has online experience of grocery, the person said.
 
This requires the ability to deliver perishables quickly to the local doorstep. It’s not easy to run a successful grocery business as a profit centre within a larger organisation as the margins are thin, the person said.
 
This isn’t the first time that the two sides have held talks - ET had reported initial discussions between the two sides in September 2016.
 
Flipkart was valued at $14.2 billion in August last year, when Japanese telecom and internet giant SoftBank is said to have acquired around an 18% stake for $2.6 billion.
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