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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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Startups, VCs in India request ‘relief package’ from the government to fight coronavirus disruption

More than six dozen startup founders, venture capitalists, and lobby groups in India have requested the government to grant them a “robust relief package” to help combat severe disruptions their businesses face due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a joint letter to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, startups requested the government to bankroll 50% of their workforce’s salaries for six months, provide interest-free loans from banks, waive rent for three months, and offer tax benefits among other things.
“Unfortunately, our startup companies across the nation are inherently young, less resilient, and most vulnerable. Many of them face likely devastation …

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India restores social media access in Kashmir for 2 weeks

For the first time in eight months, people in Kashmir can use WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other social media services without any fear or use of specialized software — though things are not back to normal yet.

India said on Wednesday that it has temporarily lifted the ban on social media services and on the much broader internet, giving some relief to people and tens of thousands of businesses in the Himalayan region for two weeks.

New Delhi imposed a total communications blackout in the India-controlled territory in early August last year after withdrawing the special rights of Jammu and Kashmir. The government said the move was necessary to maintain peace in the region.

The move, which eventually became the biggest internet shutdown and crackdown of social media in any democracy, received wide criticism from human rights activists around the globe, as well as from lawmakers in the U.K. and the U.S.

The region, home to more than 7 million people, faced many challenges without access to the internet. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that at least 150,000 jobs were lost.

India’s top court ruled in January that the Narendra Modi -controlled government’s move to enforce an “indefinite” communications blackout amounted to abuse of power, and sought an explanation.

In the wake of the order, India opened access to about 300 websites, which did not include social media services, and capped mobile data speeds at 2G level. One analysis had found that more than a third of the whitelisted websites were largely inaccessible.

To bypass the censorship, some users began to use VPN apps on their smartphone, an act that local authority quickly deemed “unlawful” and moved to open cases against hundreds of citizens.

On Wednesday evening (local time), several people in Kashmir confirmed that they were able to access WhatsApp and other social media services again — though there remains restriction on their mobile data speed.

According to a notice issued by the region’s home secretary, the restoration of the internet will remain in effect till March 17.

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Disney blocks John Oliver’s new episode critical of India’s PM Modi

Hotstar, India’s largest on-demand video streaming service with more than 300 million users, has blocked the newest episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The move has angered many of its customers ahead of Disney+’s launch in one of the world’s largest entertainment markets next month.

In the episode, aired hours before U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to India, Oliver talked about some of the questionable policies enforced by the ruling government in India and recent protests against “controversial figure” Modi’s citizenship measures. The 19-minute news recap and commentary sourced its information from credible news outlets.

The episode is available to stream in India through HBO’s official channel on YouTube, where it has garnered more than 4 million views. Hotstar is the exclusive syndicating partner of HBO, Showtime and ABC in India.

Spokespeople of Star India, which operates Hotstar, and Disney, which owns the major Indian broadcasting network, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesperson of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the governing agency which regulates information, broadcasts, movies and the press in India, said the government was not involved in any censorship discussions.

Numerous people in India began speculating on Monday whether Hotstar, which like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video self-censors some content, would stream the new episode at 6am on Tuesday, when it typically makes new episodes of Oliver’s show available on the platform.

It became quickly apparent on Tuesday that the Disney-owned platform, which has a knack of censoring numerous sensitive subjects, including sketches that make fun of its sponsors, was not going to risk upsetting the ruling party.

Last year, Amazon also removed from its streaming service in India an episode of the CBS show “Madam Secretary” in which references to Hindu nationalism and extremists were made. Netflix also pulled an episode in Saudi Arabia of Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” that criticized the kingdom’s crown prince.

Source: TechCrunch

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‘Namaste Trump:’ India’s Modi welcomes U.S. president with pomp and pageantry as trade tensions simmer

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Source: Leadership – Fortune

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Amazon partners with thousands of mom-and-pop stores in India

Neighborhood stores dot tens of thousands of cities, towns and villages in India. They have survived — and thrived, despite — retail giants’ billions of investment in the country. Now, Amazon is beginning to embrace them.

Amazon said on Saturday it has partnered with thousands of neighborhood stores — locally known as kirana stores — across India to use them to store and deliver goods.

The company said it’s a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. “It’s good for customers, and it helps the shop owners earn additional income,” tweeted Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos .

Amazon, which piloted the program dubbed “I have Space” years ago, has partnered with more than 20,000 kirana stores, the company said.

“Today, we have thousands of retail outlets partnering with us under this program. The network of ‘I Have Space’ partners is spread across Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities – and beyond,” the company told TechCrunch.

Bezos’ announcement today, as he concludes his fourth India trip, underscores just how vital neighborhood stores remain for shoppers in the country despite the world’s largest e-commerce giant’s major push into the country and an emergence of heavily backed ecosystem of shopping startups.

These mom-and-pop stores offer all kinds of items, pay low wages and little to no rent. Since they are ubiquitous (there are more than 10 million neighborhood stores in India, according to industry estimates), no retail giant can offer a faster delivery. And on top of that, their economics is often better than most. E-commerce is still at an early stage in India, accounting for just 3% of total retail sales, according to industry estimates.

Walmart -owned Flipkart has also arrived at the same conclusion. Last month, it invested $30 million in four-year-old Bangalore-based startup ShadowFax, which works with neighborhood stores in 300 cities to use their real estate to store inventory, and utilize their large network of freelancers for the delivery.

Amazon also maintains a program called Amazon Easy in India, as part of which it trains shopkeepers to guide first time internet users shop online.

Any alliance with neighborhood stores would come in handy to Amazon India and Flipkart as a new contender readies its e-commerce play. India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani late last month started signing up customers for a soft launch of JioMart in suburban Mumbai.

JioMart is a joint venture between Ambani’s Reliance Jio, which reshaped the country’s telecom market with ultra-cheap mobile data, and his Reliance Retail, the nation’s largest retail chain with over 10,000 outlets in 6,500 Indian cities and towns.

The new venture is courting shopkeepers in many parts of India to use a handheld Jio terminal to help them better manage their inventory and order new stock from Reliance’s network of wholesalers. (Amazon, on its part, is slowly deepening its partnership with Future Retail, the second largest retailer in India.)

“Jio and Reliance Retail will launch a unique new commerce platform to empower and enrich our 12 lakh (1.2 million) small retailers and shopkeepers in Gujarat,” Ambani said last year.

Today’s announcement caps what could easily be one of the most remarkable weeks for Amazon in India, a market it entered six and a half years ago. Earlier this week, India’s anti-trust watchdog announced a probe into alleged predatory practices by Amazon India and Flipkart.

It was followed by Bezos’ arrival in India. At an event in New Delhi, he announced the company was investing a fresh $1 billion to its India operations and said it would work to help millions of small merchants come online for the first time. (This is on top of $5.5 billion the company has previously committed to its India business.)

Not far from the event venue, dozens of merchants assembled to protest the alleged anticompetitive practices of Amazon and Flipkart. On top of that, India’s trade minister Piyush Goyal chimed in on Amazon’s new investment to India, and said the investment was not a big favor to the nation. A day later, he backtracked on his comment.

On Friday, Amazon said it would create a million jobs in India by 2025, and ran a letter signed by Bezos on Amazon India website and app. Bezos had also sought to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — a request that was not fulfilled.

Source: TechCrunch

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Amazon’s fresh $1B investment in India is not a big favor, says India trade minister

India’s trade minister isn’t impressed with Amazon’s new $1 billion investment in the country.

A day after Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos announced that his company is pumping in an additional $1 billion into its India operations, making the total local investment to date to $6.5 billion, the nation’s trade minister Piyush Goyal said Amazon’s investment was not a big favor to the country.

“They may have put in a billion dollars, but then, if they make a loss of a billion dollars every year then they jolly well have to finance that billion dollars,” Goyal said in a conference on Thursday organized by think tank Observer Research Foundation. “So it’s not as if they are doing a great favor to India when they invest a billion dollars.”

The remark from the Indian minister comes days after the nation’s antitrust watchdog announced a probe into Amazon India and Walmart-owned Flipkart’s alleged predatory practices.

Bezos, who is in India this week, has sought to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but his request has yet to be approved, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Goyal reiterated that foreign e-commerce players would have to abide by the local law if they want to continue to operate in the nation. He said the watchdog’s allegations were “an area of concern for every Indian.”

“We allowed every entity to come to India in a marketplace model. A marketplace model is an agnostic model where buyers and sellers are free to trade. If they establish an agreement, then the transaction is between the buyer and seller. The marketplace cannot own the inventory, cannot have control over the inventory, cannot determine prices, and cannot have an algorithm that influences how products from different sellers are listed on the platform,” he added.

“We have several rules for marketplaces in India. As long as one follows them, they are free to operate in India,” he said. Some of the allegations that are being investigated in India surround the alleged violation of these very aforementioned guidelines.

Goyal’s comment may further escalate the tension between Amazon and the Indian government. Last year, U.S. senators criticized New Delhi after it restricted foreign companies from selling inventory from their own subsidiaries. The move forced Amazon and Flipkart to abruptly pull hundreds of thousands of goods from their marketplaces.

Source: TechCrunch