India’s Amazon. India’s Alibaba. India’s Tencent?


Flipkart was once touted to be India’s Amazon. Right up to the moment that Amazon itself entered and became India’s Amazon.

It was then touted that Flipkart would become India’s Alibaba. But now everyone agrees that India is not China, and such comparisons are far from justified.

And now that Tencent has invested into Flipkart, could these planned acquisitions foreshadow an attempt by Flipkart to become India’s Tencent?

Asia’s most valuable company

With a market cap of $400 billion, Tencent is Asia’s most valuable company in part because nearly a billion people use WeChat, Tencent’s mobile messenger, every month. In China though, WeChat is more than just a simple messenger, it is a veritable platform—a “super app” that aggregates all types of online services from plain e-commerce and travel to ride-hailing and food delivery.

Customers who “live” in these apps have no reason to leave the app for any of these transactions, which means that goods and services worth billions of dollars are consumed within WeChat every month.

So we have two possibilities.

One is that Flipkart’s interest to purchase or invest in companies like Swiggy, UrbanClap, and BookMyShow is a Hail-Mary move, driven primarily by the fact that Flipkart is now saddled with more money than it knows what to do with.

The only other possibility is that Flipkart hopes to acquire or partner with these companies and cobble them together into its own version of Tencent’s super app.

If so, it seems like a long shot. There have been multiple attempts to create such a super app in India. Snapdeal attempted to aggregate services through partnerships, Google is trying the same with its Areo app, and other startups such as Tapzo are burning money tilting at the windmills to buy customer loyalty in their own version of an “all-in-one” app.

None of these attempts have seen any degree of success, primarily because there is no compelling lead use-case that serves as an anchor to initially seed and engage the users. Considering that Flipkart is an e-commerce site and not a messaging service like WeChat where customers already spend large parts of their day online, Flipkart’s purported endgame of attempting to become India’s Tencent is more likely to end up as a zugzwang than as a checkmate.

The largest media company in India is waking up to it. Soon, Times Internet, a subsidiary of Bennett Coleman & Company (BCCL) will launch an online subscription-based media product. The editorial team is being put together as you read this.

On Monday, restaurant discovery and food delivery startup, Zomato announced the launch of its subscription-based product Zomato Gold in India. Gold, which the company calls “an exclusive members club”, is expected to simultaneously launch in Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi-NCR in the coming days. It is the company’s second subscription product after Treats, where it charges users an annual fee of Rs 249 for a dessert with every order. A Zomato spokesperson said that the company has registered over 50,000 users for ‘Treats’ as of October.

Launching of its own variant

Three months ago, online travel agency MakeMyTrip launched its own variant of a subscription-based service called MMT Black. It didn’t stop there. Close on the heels of Black, a free, invite-only, spend-based offering targeted at high-frequency travelers; the company launched MMT ‘Double Black’, where users pay an annual fee for cancellation benefits (full refunds) and a priority resolution guarantee.

Flush with funds, Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce unicorn, is also expected to restart its ‘Flipkart First’ subscription-based loyalty program in the coming weeks.

A simple question must be asked here. What’s going on?



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