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India’s WareIQ raises $1.65M for its Amazon-like delivery platform for sellers

Despite e-commerce firms Amazon and Walmart and others pouring billions of dollars in India, offline retail still commands more than 95% of all sales in the world’s second largest internet market.

The giants have acknowledged the strong hold neighborhood stores (mom and pop shops) have in the country, and in recent quarters scrambled for ways to work with them. Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, has made the dynamics more interesting in the past year as he works to help these neighborhood stores sell online.

But the market opportunity is still too large, and there are many aspects of the old retail business that could use some tech. That’s the bet WareIQ, a Bangalore-headquartered, Y Combinator-backed startup is making. And it has just raised a $1.65 million Seed financing round from YC, FundersClub, Pioneer Fund, Soma Capital, Emles Venture Advisors, and founders of Flexport.

The one-year-old startup operates a platform to leverage the warehouses across the country. It has built a management system for these warehouses, most of which largely engage in offline business-to-business commerce and have had little to no prior e-commerce exposure.

“We connect these warehouses across India to our platform and utilize their infrastructure for e-commerce order processing,” said Harsh Vaidya, co-founder and chief executive of WareIQ, in an interview with TechCrunch. The company offers this as a service to retail businesses.

Who are these businesses? Third-party sellers, some of whom sell to Amazon and Flipkart and use WareIQ to speed up their delivery, e-commerce firms, social commerce platforms as well as neighborhood stores, and social media influencers.

Any online store, for instance, can send its products to WareIQ, which has integrations with several popular e-commerce platforms and marketplaces. It works with courier partners to move items from one warehouse to another to offer the fastest delivery, explained Vaidya.

The infrastructure stitched together by WareIQ also enables an online seller to set up their own store and engage with customers directly, thereby saving fees they would have paid to Amazon and other established e-commerce players.

“The sellers were not able do this on their own before because it required them to talk directly to warehousing companies that maintain their own rigid contracts, and high-security deposits, and they still needed to work with multiple technology providers to complete the tech-stack,” he said. WareIQ also offers these sellers last-mile delivery, cash collection, and fraud detection among several other services.

“In a way, we are building an open source Amazon fulfilment service, where any seller can send their goods to any of our warehouses and we fulfil their Amazon orders, Myntra orders, Flipkart orders, or their own website orders. We also comply with the standard of these individual marketplaces, so our sellers get a Prime tag on Amazon,” he said.

WareIQ is free for anyone to sign up with any charge and it takes a cut by the volume of orders it processes. The startup today works with over 40 fulfilment centres and it plans to deploy the fresh capital to expand its network to tier 2 and tier 3 cities, he said. It’s also hiring for a number of tech roles.

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India’s Flipkart buys over $200 million stake in Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail

Flipkart is acquiring a 7.8% stake in Aditya Birla Fashion as the Walmart-owned Indian e-commerce firm makes further push into the fashion category in one of the world’s largest retail markets.

The e-commerce group will pay $203.8 million for its stake in Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail, a conglomerate that operates over 3,000 stores including the Pantaloons brand. As part of the “landmark partnership,” Flipkart will also sell and distribute various Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail’s brands products.

“This partnership is an emphatic endorsement of the growth potential of India,” said Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Aditya Birla Group, which operates the fashion retail firm in a filing to the stock exchange. “It also reflects our strong conviction in the future of the apparel industry in India, which is poised to touch $100 billion in the next 5 years.”

Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of Flipkart Group, said the two companies will work toward “making available a wide range of products for fashion-conscious consumers across different retail formats across the country. We look forward to working with ABFRL and its well established and comprehensive fashion and retail infrastructure as we address the promising opportunity of the apparel industry in India.”

In July, Flipkart also invested $35 million in $35 million in Arvind Fashions, one of the decades-old Indian firm’s subsidiaries.

More to follow…

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Amazon adds support for Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu in local Indian languages push ahead of Diwali

More than seven years after Amazon began its e-commerce operations in India, and two years after its shopping service added support for Hindi, the most popular language in the country, the American giant is embracing more local languages to court hundreds of millions of new users.

Amazon announced on Tuesday its website and apps now support Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu in a move that it said would help it reach an additional 200-300 million users in the country.

Localization is one of the most crucial — and popular — steps for companies to expand their potential reach in India. Netflix added support for Hindi last month, and Amazon’s Alexa started conversing in the Indian language last year. (Amazon’s on-demand video streaming service, Prime Video, also supports Hindi, in addition to Tamil and Telugu.)

The company said the usage of Hindi, which it rolled out on its website and apps in India in 2018, has grown by three times in the past five months, and “hundreds of thousands” of Amazon customers have switched to Hindi shopping experience.

Amazon’s further language push comes months after its chief rival in India, Walmart -owned Flipkart, added support for Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, three languages that are spoken by roughly 200 million people in India.

Like Flipkart, Amazon worked with expert linguists to develop an accurate and comprehensible experience in each of the languages, the American e-commerce firm said.

But simple translation is not enough to make inroads with users in India. YouTube and YouTube Music, for instance, understand when Bollywood fans in India search for music by the name of the movie character or actor who played the part instead of the actual musician or song title — a phenomenon unique among Indian users.

Amazon appears to have incorporated similar learnings into its shopping experience. The company said for translations it preferred using commonly used terms from daily life over perfectly translated words.

Kishore Thota, Director of Customer Experience and Marketing at Amazon India, termed the availability of Amazon India shopping experience in four new languages a “major milestone.”

The move comes weeks ahead of Diwali, the biggest festival in India that sees hundreds of millions of Indians spend lavishly. “We are super excited to do this ahead of the upcoming festive season,” said Thota.

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Indian startups diversify their businesses to offset COVID-19 induced losses

E-commerce giant Flipkart is planning to launch a hyperlocal service that would enable customers to buy items from local stores and have those delivered to them in an hour and a half or less. Yatra, an online travel and hotel ticketing service, is exploring a new business line altogether: Supplying office accessories.

Flipkart and Yatra are not the only firms eyeing new business categories. Dozens of firms in the country have branched out by launching new services in recent weeks, in part to offset the disruption the COVID-19 epidemic has caused to their core offerings.

Swiggy and Zomato, the nation’s largest food delivery startups, began delivering alcohol in select parts of the country last month. The move came weeks after the two firms, both of which are seeing fewer orders and had to let go hundreds of employees, started accepting orders for grocery items in a move that challenged existing online market leaders BigBasket and Grofers.

Udaan, a business-to-business marketplace, recently started to accept bulk orders from some housing societies and is exploring more opportunities in the business-to-commerce space, the startup told TechCrunch.

These shifts came shortly after New Delhi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown meant that all public places including movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, and public transport were suspended.

Instead of temporarily halting their businesses altogether, as many have done in other markets, scores of startups in India have explored ways to make the most out of the current unfortunate spell.

“This pandemic has given an opportunity to the Indian tech startup ecosystem to have a harder look at the unit-economics of their businesses and become more capital efficient in the shorter and longer-term,” Puneet Kumar, a growth investor in Indian startup ecosystem, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Of the few things most Indian state governments have agreed should remain open include grocery shops, and online delivery services for grocery and food.

People buy groceries at a supermarket during the first day of the 21-day government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Bangalore on March 25, 2020. (Photo by MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

E-commerce firms Snapdeal and DealShare began grocery delivery service in late March. The move was soon followed by social-commerce startup Meesho, fitness startup Curefit, and BharatPe, which is best known for facilitating mobile payments between merchants and users.

Meesho’s attempt is still in the pilot stage, said Vidit Aatrey, the Facebook-backed startup’s co-founder and chief executive. “We started grocery during the lockdown to give some income opportunities to our sellers and so far it has shown good response. So we are continuing the pilot even after lockdown has lifted,” he said.

ClubFactory, best known for selling low-cost beauty items, has also started to deliver grocery products, and so has NoBroker, a Bangalore-based startup that connects apartment seekers with property owners. And MakeMyTrip, a giant that provides solutions to book flight and hotel tickets, has entered the food delivery market.

Another such giant, BookMyShow, which sells movie tickets, has in recent weeks rushed to support online events, helping comedians and other artists sell tickets online. The Mumbai-headquartered firm plans to make further inroads around this business idea in the coming days.

For some startups, the pandemic has resulted in accelerating the launch of their product cycles. CRED, a Bangalore-based startup that is attempting to help Indians improve their financial behavior by paying their credit card bill on time, launched an instant credit line and apartment rental services.

Kunal Shah, the founder and chief executive of CRED, said the startup “fast-tracked the launch” of these two products as they could prove immensely useful in the current environment.

For a handful of startups, the pandemic has meant accelerated growth. Unacademy, a Facebook-backed online learning startup, has seen its user base and subscribers count surge in recent months and told TechCrunch that it is in the process of more than doubling the number of exam preparation courses it offers on its platform in the next two months.

Since March, the number of users who access the online learning service each day has surged to 700,000. “We have also seen a 200% increase in viewers per week for the free live classes offered on the platform. Additionally there has been a 50% increase in paid subscribers and over 50% increase in average watchtime per day among our subscribers,” a spokesperson said.

As with online learning firms, firms operating on-demand video streaming services have also seen a significant rise in the number of users they serve. Zee5, which has amassed over 80 million users, told TechCrunch last week that in a month it will introduce a new category in its app that would curate short-form videos produced and submitted by users. The firm said the feature would look very similar to TikTok.

The pandemic “has also accelerated the adoption of online services in India across all demographics. Many who would not have considered buying goods and services online are starting to adopt the online platforms for basic necessities at a faster pace,” said venture capitalist Kumar.

“As far as expansion into adjacent categories is concerned, some of this was a natural progression and startups were slowly moving in that direction anyway. The pandemic has forced people to get there faster.”

Roosh, a Mumbai-based game developing firm founded by several industry veterans, launched a new app ahead of schedule that allows social influencers to promote games on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, Deepak Ail, co-founder and chief executive of Roosh, told TechCrunch.

ShareChat, a Twitter-backed social network, recently acquired a startup called Elanic to explore opportunities in social-commerce. OkCredit, a bookkeeping service for merchants, has been exploring ways to allow users to purchase items from neighborhood stores.

And NowFloats, a Mumbai-based SaaS startup that helps businesses and individuals build an online presence without any web developing skills, is on-boarding doctors to help people consult with medical professionals.

Startups are not the only businesses that have scrambled to eye new categories. Established firms such as Carnival Group, which is India’s third-largest multiplex theatre chain, said it is foraying into cloud kitchen business.

Amazon, which competes with Walmart’s Flipkart in India, has also secured approval from West Bengal to deliver alcohol in the nation’s fourth most populated state. The e-commerce giant is also exploring ways to work with mom and pop stores that dot tens of thousands of cities and towns of India.

Last week, the American giant launched “Smart Stores” that allows shoppers to walk to a participating physical store, scan a QR code, and pick and purchase items through the Amazon app. The firm, which is supplying these mom and pop stores with software and QR code, said more than 10,000 shops are participating in the Smart Stores program.

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Google and Walmart’s PhonePe establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch. More than 10 million users transact on SoftBank -backed Paytm’s app everyday, according to internal data seen by TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India. The company is facing an antitrust probe in India over allegations that it is abusing its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app in the country, Reuters reported last month.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Paytm had over 50 million monthly active users on its app in May, a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users (MAU), or daily active users (DAU) that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startup Swiggy, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. The company, which invested $5.7 billion in the nation’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms in April, declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month. UPI itself has over 117 million users.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

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India rejects Walmart-owned Flipkart’s proposed foray into food retail business

The Indian government has rejected Flipkart’s proposal to enter the food retail business in a setback for Walmart, which owns majority of the Indian e-commerce firm and which recently counted its business in Asia’s third-largest economy as one of the worst impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), a wing of the nation’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, told Flipkart, which competes with Amazon India, that its proposed plan to enter the food retail business violates regulatory guidelines.

Flipkart’s proposed food retail business, called Flipkart FarmerMart, cannot be structured on a 100% foreign direct investment, the Indian agency said. Rajneesh Kumar, chief corporate affairs officer at Flipkart, told TechCrunch that the company was evaluating the agency’s response and intended to re-apply.

“At Flipkart, we believe that technology and innovation driven marketplace can add significant value to our country’s farmers and food processing sector by bringing value chain efficiency and transparency. This will further aid boosting farmers’ income & transform Indian agriculture,” he added.

While announcing the plan to enter the nation’s growing food retail market, Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Flipkart Group CEO, said in October last year that the company planned to invest $258 million in the new venture.

Flipkart planned to invest deeply in the local agriculture-ecosystem, supply chain, and work with tens of thousands of small farmers, their associations, and the nation’s food processing industry, Krishnamurthy said. The food retail unit would help “multiply farmers’ income and bring affordable, quality food for millions of customers across the country.”

Several e-commerce and grocery firms in India, including Amazon, Zomato, and Grofers, have previously secured approval from New Delhi, which earlier permitted 100% foreign direct investment in food and a handful of other sectors, for entering the food retail business.

The Indian government has since revisited the guidelines to clarify that food retail, like any other e-commerce sector, can only operate as a marketplace that allows third-party sellers to engage with buyers — and not offer their own inventories, nor have equity in any of the players who sell on the platform.

Food and grocery are compelling categories for e-commerce businesses in India as it enables them to engage with their customers more frequently. According to research firm Forrester, India’s online food and grocery market remain significantly tiny, accounting for just 1% of the overall sales.

In the most recent quarterly earnings call, Walmart said limited operations at Flipkart had negatively affected the group’s overall growth. New Delhi announced one of the world’s stringent lockdowns across the nation in late March that restricted Amazon and Flipkart from delivering in many states and only sell “essential items” such as grocery and hygienic products.

India maintains the stay-at-home orders for its 1.3 billion citizens, though it has eased some restrictions in recent weeks to resuscitate the economy.

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JioMart, the e-commerce venture from India’s richest man, launches in additional cities

The rationale behind the deluge of dollars flooding into billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms is beginning to become more clear as his e-commerce venture JioMart starts rolling out to more people across India.

An e-commerce venture between the nation’s top telecom operator Jio Platforms and top retail chain Jio Retail, JioMart just launched its new website and started accepting orders in dozens of metro, tier 1 and tier 2 cities including Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Bokaro, Bathinda, Ahmedabad, Gurgaon, and Dehradun.

Before the expansion on Saturday, the service was available in three suburbs of Mumbai. The service now includes perishables such as fruits and vegetables, and dairy items in addition to staples and other grocery products as it makes its pitch to Indian households across the country.

Ambani’s Reliance Jio Platforms, which has raised more than $10 billion in the last month by selling a roughly 17% stake, has amassed over 388 million subscribers, more than any other telecom operator in the country.

The money comes as Ambani’s various companies begin entering a market already teeming with fierce competitors like Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart, BigBasket, MilkBasket, and Grofers.

Earlier this week the American e-commerce giant entered India’s food delivery market to challenge the duopoly of Prosus Ventures-backed Swiggy and Ant Financial-backed Zomato. Amazon is making a massive hiring push in India, and is looking to hire close to 50,000 seasonal workers to keep up with the growing demand on its platform.

Meanwhile, Ambani’s Reliance Retail, founded in 2006, remains the largest retailer in India by revenue. It serves more than 3.5 million customers each week through its nearly 10,000 physical stores in more than 6,500 cities and towns.

JioMart may have Amazon and Flipkart in its sights, but in its current form, however, the company is going to be more of a headache for Grofers and BigBasket, the top grocery delivery startups in India.

Reliance Industries, the most valued firm in India and parent entity of Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, plans to expand JioMart to more than a thousand districts in a year and also widen its catalog to include electronics and office supplies among a variety of other categories, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. A Reliance Jio spokesperson declined to comment.

The expansion to more cities comes a month after JioMart launched its WhatsApp business account, enabling people to easily track their order and invoice on Facebook -owned service.

Facebook announced it would invest $5.7 billion in India’s Reliance Jio Platforms last month and pledged to work with the Indian firm to help small businesses across the country. JioMart’s WhatsApp account currently does not support the expanded regions.

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries, first unveiled his plan to launch an e-commerce platform last year. In a speech then, Ambani invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s work and said India needed to fight another fresh battle.

A handful of firms have attempted — and failed — to launch their e-commerce websites over the years in India, where more than 95% of sales still occur through brick and mortar stores. But Ambani is uniquely positioned to fight the duopoly of Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart — thanks in part to the more than $10 billion in investment dollars the company recently raised from KKR, FacebookSilver LakeVista Equity Partners, and General Atlantic. In addition to scaling JioMart, the fresh capital should also help Ambani repay some of Reliance Industries’ $21 billion debt.

“We have to collectively launch a new movement against data colonization. For India to succeed in this data-driven revolution, we will have to migrate the control and ownership of Indian data back to India — in other words, Indian wealth back to every Indian,” Ambani said at an event attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi .

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Amazon, Flipkart, Ola and Uber begin to resume their services in India

E-commerce firms Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart, and ride-hailing giants Ola and Uber are partially resuming their services in India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government eased some restrictions late last week to revive economic activity that’s been stalled since the stringent stay-at-home orders were imposed across the nation in late March.

The companies said in their statements that they were resuming services in green and orange zones, districts that have seen less severe outbreak of the coronavirus, across the country. Green and orange zones account for 82% of India’s 733 districts.

Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Paytm Mall have resumed accepting — and delivering — orders containing non-essential items (the government has classified essential items as grocery and hygiene products), and Uber and Ola will resume their cab rides in the green and orange zones.

Those living in the red zone — the area that is most impacted by the coronavirus outbreak — will continue to be bereft of the aforementioned firms’ extended services, the companies said. There are 130 districts in India that have been labelled as red. (You can read the full list here.)

All of these firms are also taking additional precautions to ensure safety of their delivery and driver partners and that of customers, they said.

Even those living in orange and green zones might be deprived of the extended services as some state governments in India have imposed stricter rules than the federal government and are imposing their own guidelines locally.

Additionally, Ola and Uber can’t take their passengers to red zones, and Flipkart and Amazon expect to face disruptions as some of their sellers and warehouses are located in the red zone.

India, which introduced the nationwide lockdown in late March, has extended its lockdown by two weeks from May 4 but relaxed some restrictions. The March’s order forced Ola and Uber to suspend much of their services, and Amazon and Flipkart rushed to only serve orders with essential items.

Last month, New Delhi said it would allow e-commerce firms to resume to their full capacity, but it later withdrew the direction after local retail bodies expressed concerns that the move would create a competitive disadvantage for brick and mortar stores.

Research firm Forrester told TechCrunch last month that e-commerce firms had lost more than $1 billion in potential sales in the first three weeks of the lockdown.

The coronavirus outbreak has severely disrupted several businesses. India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, did not see any handset sale last month, according to research firm Counterpoint. Smartphone units are also going back on sale in green and orange zones across the country starting today.

In a call with reporters on Monday, Manu Kumar Jain, a VP at Xiaomi and head of the Chinese smartphone maker’s India business, said more than 60% of the firm’s physical retail shops reside in green and orange zones and those should be operational soon, too.

The company is hopeful that smartphone factories will resume full operations by June, he said. Muralikrishnan B, chief operating officer of Xiaomi India, said the company currently had inventory to service demand for three to four weeks.

The company, which has been the top smartphone vendor in India for more than two years, is providing capital to its offline retail partners in India, said Jain.

Some activities such as travel by air, rail and subways remain prohibited throughout the country — regardless of the zone. Schools and colleges, restaurants, shopping malls, cinema theaters also remain closed.

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Amazon, Flipkart, Ola and Uber begin to resume their services in India

E-commerce firms Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart, and ride-hailing giants Ola and Uber are partially resuming their services in India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government eased some restrictions late last week to revive economic activity that’s been stalled since the stringent stay-at-home orders were imposed across the nation in late March.

The companies said in their statements that they were resuming services in green and orange zones, districts that have seen less severe outbreak of the coronavirus, across the country. Green and orange zones account for 82% of India’s 733 districts.

Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Paytm Mall have resumed accepting — and delivering — orders containing non-essential items (the government has classified essential items as grocery and hygiene products), and Uber and Ola will resume their cab rides in the green and orange zones.

Those living in the red zone — the area that is most impacted by the coronavirus outbreak — will continue to be bereft of the aforementioned firms’ extended services, the companies said. There are 130 districts in India that have been labelled as red. (You can read the full list here.)

All of these firms are also taking additional precautions to ensure safety of their delivery and driver partners and that of customers, they said.

Even those living in orange and green zones might be deprived of the extended services as some state governments in India have imposed stricter rules than the federal government and are imposing their own guidelines locally.

Additionally, Ola and Uber can’t take their passengers to red zones, and Flipkart and Amazon expect to face disruptions as some of their sellers and warehouses are located in the red zone.

India, which introduced the nationwide lockdown in late March, has extended its lockdown by two weeks from May 4 but relaxed some restrictions. The March’s order forced Ola and Uber to suspend much of their services, and Amazon and Flipkart rushed to only serve orders with essential items.

Last month, New Delhi said it would allow e-commerce firms to resume to their full capacity, but it later withdrew the direction after local retail bodies expressed concerns that the move would create a competitive disadvantage for brick and mortar stores.

Research firm Forrester told TechCrunch last month that e-commerce firms had lost more than $1 billion in potential sales in the first three weeks of the lockdown.

The coronavirus outbreak has severely disrupted several businesses. India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, did not see any handset sale last month, according to research firm Counterpoint. Smartphone units are also going back on sale in green and orange zones across the country starting today.

In a call with reporters on Monday, Manu Kumar Jain, a VP at Xiaomi and head of the Chinese smartphone maker’s India business, said more than 60% of the firm’s physical retail shops reside in green and orange zones and those should be operational soon, too.

The company is hopeful that smartphone factories will resume full operations by June, he said. Muralikrishnan B, chief operating officer of Xiaomi India, said the company currently had inventory to service demand for three to four weeks.

The company, which has been the top smartphone vendor in India for more than two years, is providing capital to its offline retail partners in India, said Jain.

Some activities such as travel by air, rail and subways remain prohibited throughout the country — regardless of the zone. Schools and colleges, restaurants, shopping malls, cinema theaters also remain closed.

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To avoid hostile takeovers amid COVID-19, India mandates approvals on Chinese investments

Chinese investors, who have poured about $6 billion into Indian startups in the last two years, will be subjected to strict regulation for their future investments in the world’s second largest internet market.

India amended its foreign direct investment policy on Saturday to require all neighboring nations with which it shares a boundary to seek approval from New Delhi for their future deals in the country. Previously, only Pakistan and Bangladesh were subjected to this requirement.

Prior to this move, the Indian government, like most others, only prohibited deals occurring in atomic energy, defense, and space industries. Watchdogs in several markets also typically intervene in major foreign investments that pose competitive disadvantage to other players in a category.

The nation’s Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade said it was taking this measure to “curb the opportunistic takeover” of Indian firms that are grappling with challenges due to the coronavirus crises.

“The government has reviewed the extant foreign direct investment policy for curbing opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions of Indian companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic,” the trade ministry said in a note dated April 17.

The new rule will also be applicable to “the transfer of ownership of any existing or future foreign direct investment in an entity in India, directly or indirectly,” it added.

Bangalore-based lawyer Nikhil Narendran told TechCrunch that the move appears to be aimed at China. “There has been a growing concern across the globe that Chinese companies are buying cheap, distressed asset. Government may be thinking that if this is allowed to continue, it may raise some security concerns,” he said.

India appears to be following efforts from other countries such as Australia that have either tighten their foreign direct investment policies in recent weeks or are exploring similar moves, he said.

The revision in policy comes at a time when major investors in India have cautioned local startups to prepare for a tough period ahead. Earlier this month, they told startup founders that raising fresh capital is likely be more challenging than ever for the next few months.

Recent data from research firm Tracxn showed that Indian startups have already started to face the pressure.

Local startups participated in 79 deals to raise $496 million in March, down from $2.86 billion that they raised across 104 deals in February and $1.24 billion they raised from 93 deals in January this year, according to Tracxn. In March last year, Indian startups had raised $2.1 billion across 153 deals, the firm said.

India ordered a nationwide lockdown last month in a bid to curtail the spread of the coronavirus disease. But the move, as in other markets, has come at a cost. Millions of businesses and startups are facing severe disruptions.

Late last month, more than 100 prominent startups, VC funds, and industry bodies requested New Delhi to provide them with a relief fund to combat the disruption.

Chinese giants Alibaba and Tencent have emerged as some of the biggest investors in Indian startups in recent years. Over a dozen additional firms and venture funds in China have stepped up their efforts in scouting deals in India.

Some of India’s biggest startups including financial services firm Paytm, e-commerce giant Flipkart, social media operator ShareChat, and food delivery firm Zomato are backed by Chinese VCs. HDFC, India’s biggest bank, said earlier this month that Bank of China had raised its stake in the mortgage lender by over 1%.

Rahul Gandhi, the former head of political party Indian Nation Congress, urged the ruling government earlier this month to take measures to prevent “foreign interests from taking control of any Indian corporate at this time of national crisis.”

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