At the same time, Flipkart can give wings to Ninjacart’s business. Notably when it comes to scale. “Over the past year, we have focused on creating the right infrastructure, supporting local farmers, producers and food processors, and building sustainability into the ecosystem,” Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of the Flipkart Group, said after the acquisition announcement.

Moreover, parent company Walmart, whose cash-and-carry business has partnerships with farmers across the country, can hold Flipkart’s hand through this rivalry.

But Amazon is undeterred. Country head Amit Aggarwal said Amazon’s grocery business is thriving, after the Ninjacart fundraising announcement.

A buffet of rivals

Amazon isn’t the only retailer with its eyes on the prize when it comes to online grocery sales.

Reliance Smart, led by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, has been charting out its own hybrid online-offline model. Food-delivery firm Swiggy delivers fresh groceries, flowers, health and supplements, organic and gourmet food, meat, and even pet-care products from neighbourhood shops through its Swiggy Store. Dunzo, a hyperlocal delivery app, counts Google among its investors. Just this month, online grocery platform Grofers expanded to 27 Indian cities, up from 14. Alibaba Group-backed BigBasket is a formidable rival which, together with Grofers, captures 70% of India’s online grocery market.

So, to take on the competition headfirst, Flipkart’s play has to be bigger than just fresh produce.

Rich with cash from Walmart’s 77% stake buy in the company for a whopping $16 billion, Flipkart has recently been loosening its purse strings to grow its business far and wide in recent months. In March, it set up a $100 million internal fund to back fintech, supply chain, and SaaS startups. In December, Flipkart raised Rs283 crore from its Singapore-based parent entity Flipkart Private Limited.

Bread, butter, and beyond

The buck won’t stop at produce, experts say. “Amazon has also entered the (online) medicine market and is building alliances with banks and insurers to disrupt financial services. Flipkart may imitate that as well,” said Joshi of Everest Group.

Already, Flipkart picked a battle in the over-the-top (OTT) segment this year. In August, it launched video streaming on its app, à la Amazon Prime Video, which includes content from services such as Voot, Arre, Viu, and TVF.

Competition between the two continues to heat up. Flipkart may have a rich parent now, but Amazon has deep pockets.  Bezos committed a $5 billion investment to the country in 2016. In October, Amazon funnelled in Rs3,400 crore into its online marketplace arm and Rs900 crore into its payments platform.

It has also been a first-mover to woo non-English speaking internet users in India. In 2018, Amazon launched a Hindi language interface. Almost a year later, in September 2019, Flipkart launched a Hindi version of its app. By then, Amazon even had a chatbot that interacts with users in Hindi.

For the time being, the jury’s still out on who’s winning in Indian e-commerce. It depends on who gets the next shot in the arm, be it with funding, an acquisition, or entirely something else.

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