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  1. NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Walmart unit Flipkart has settled a legal dispute with an Indian startup that alleged it suffered losses because its products were sharply discounted on the global retailer’s website. GOQii, a seller of smartwatch-type health devices, sued Flipkart last month in a Mumbai court, alleging its devices were discounted by around 70% to the retail price, much more than the two sides had agreed. The court had, as an interim measure, ordered device sales to be halted on Flipkart. In a joint statement on Friday, the companies said the dispute had been resolved and GOQii health devices would again be available on Flipkart. They didn’t say how the settlement was reached. Vishal Gondal, CEO of GOQii, told Reuters the company would withdraw the case against Flipkart. The e-commerce retailer’s “team worked on a resolution benefiting the brand and the customers”, Gondal said in the statement. The legal spat was seen as a test case of the giant retailer’s operating strategy in the country. Small traders and a right-wing group close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party have raised concerns about large e-commerce companies, saying they burn billions of dollars deeply discounting some products to lure customers onto their sites, in the expectation that they will also buy other goods. GOQii said it signed an agreement last year with a Flipkart unit to sell two of its devices at a price not below 1,999 rupees ($28.63) and 1,499 rupees. It later found the devices were being sold for 999 rupees and 699 rupees, calling it “unauthorized” discounting. In response, Flipkart said it reserved “the right to institute actions for defamation, both civil and criminal”, arguing it wasn’t responsible for any discounts which are determined by third-party firms which sell via its website. The two companies struck a friendlier tone in their joint-statement on Friday as they brought the legal battle to an end. “We have ensured constant engagement with GOQii to resolve any differences,” Flipkart said in the statement. With a 19 percent market share, GOQii was the second-biggest player in India’s so-called wearables market last year, data from industry tracker IDC showed. The market is dominated by China’s Xiaomi, with Samsung a small player. Source
  2. Flipkart introduces 100 robots in its Bangalore delivery centre It's the first such instance of the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant deploying robotics to streamline its supply chain.Alnoor Peermohamed | ET Tech | March 19, 2019, 18:30 IST Flipkart has deployed a swarm of 100 odd robots to help sort packages at one of its delivery hubs in the outskirts of Bengaluru, the first such instance of the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant deploying robotics to streamline its supply chain. The robots, dubbed automated guided vehicles (AGVs), pick products from a conveyor belt, scan them and then drop them down a chute that’s assigned to a particular pin code. The robots work in a tight grid, using collision avoidance technology to ensure free movement. “The big problem that we want to solve with automation in e-commerce is supply chain. We want to solve for precision, we want to solve for scale and we want to solve for efficiency. All of these aspects are very important for us if we want to reach the next 200 million customers,” said Krishna Raghavan, SVP of technology at eKart. The installation as it stands today is able to sort 4,500 packages in an hour, ten times more than a single human would be able to do manually in the same time. Moreover, the throughput of the system can be increased by five times with minimal increases in infrastructure and addition of more robots. Pranav Saxena, VP of robotics and automation at eKart said that the system, which was co-developed along with vendors, is ideal for e-commerce in India which sees a lot of peaks in orders during sale periods. “You can increase the number of bots and get more scale from the same floor area using the same resources,” Saxena added. Flipkart, which plans to deploy the bots at delivery hubs across India, said their use in its supply chain will not affect the employment of people. Instead it said they will augment the capabilities of its human workforce by freeing them up to do more value-added work, for which it is already running re-skilling programmes. “In terms of up-skilling, while you have a person just placing a product on the bot as one activity, there’s more that happens behind the scenes when it comes to operating that machinery. The other thing is when we expand this offering to other facilities, these folks will actually become trainers,” added Raghavan. Each robot improves Flipkart’s warehouse manpower productivity by a factor of three, which might sound like a good case for the company to replace employees with robots. But, the company says that robotics and automation is necessary to supplement its human workforce for it to cater to the massive growth in online shopping that it is anticipating. Amazon, the company’s chief rival and a leader in use of robotics and automation in retail, hasn’t yet introduced bots to aid humans at its warehouses and sort centres in India. The company’s warehouses in India are far smaller in comparison to its facilities in the US and elsewhere, making it less necessary for robots to do the heavy lifting. Source
  3. Amazon and Walmart have been dealt a big blow in India, one of their most important markets, as the local government tightens rules regarding how foreign ecommerce platforms sell goods and conduct business in the country. Above: Employees of Amazon India Under the current laws, foreign-owned ecommerce companies are not allowed to sell directly to customers (in other words, to operate under an inventory-based model of ecommerce). Instead, they can only provide a marketplace that acts as “an information technology platform” and serves as a facilitator between “buyer and seller.” To bypass this restriction, both Amazon and Flipkart, which sold a majority stake to Walmart last year, have acquired stakes in some of the biggest third-party sellers in the country. For instance, Amazon owns stake in parent companies of Cloudtail India and Appario Retail, while Flipkart until recently controlled WS Retail, the largest seller on its platform. In late December, the Indian government revised the policies to close the loophole. The policies, which go into effect tomorrow, prohibit Amazon and Flipkart from selling goods from companies in which they have a stake. The two companies were hoping the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, the government agency that issued the revised policies, would extend the February 1 deadline. But efforts to gain more time were unsuccessful. (At around 6:50 p.m. local time – 8.20 a.m. Pacific, the government said it won’t be extending the deadline.) “The Department had received some representations to extend the deadline of February 1, 2019 to comply with the conditions contained in the Press Note 2 of 2018 series on FDI Policy in e-Commerce issued by the Department. After due consideration, it has been decided, with the approval of the competent authority, not to extend the above deadline,” the government said in a statement today. As a result of this, both Amazon and Flipkart are preparing to comply with the new policies, which, among other changes, means that hundreds of thousands of goods, including Amazon’s own Kindle and Echo speaker lineup, will suddenly disappear from the online sites, multiple people familiar with the companies’ thinking have said. Amazon and Flipkart have explored various options in recent weeks, including holding talks with government officials, and have alerted their merchant partners to ensure they are ready to comply with the new policies, sources said. Commenting on DIPP’s notification today, an Amazon India spokesperson told VentureBeat, “While we remain committed to complying with all laws and regulations, we will continue to look to engage with the government to seek clarifications that help us decide our future course of action, as well as minimize the impact on our customers and sellers.” Flipkart did not respond to a request for comment. But in recent weeks, the company has warned the government that these new policies would cause “significant customer disruption.” Above: A look at how Amazon sells the Echo Dot on its US website and its India website. The revised policies say that Amazon, Flipkart, and any other foreign-owned player (or FDI, foreign direct investment) cannot have a single vendor purchase more than 25 percent of the inventory from the ecommerce’s business-to-business (wholesale) arm and then sell it on the same store. “Earlier, ecommerce players had a marketplace entity and a business-to-business playing entity, which would either sell on the marketplace or sell to other vendors participating in the marketplace,” Arjun Sinha, a New Delhi-based analyst and lawyer who studies policies, explained to VentureBeat. “They [the ecommerce companies] will have to look at these arrangements. Walmart will also need to check how much it can sell on Flipkart’s platform, and how much it can sell to merchants who sell on Flipkart. These structures would need to be relooked at to prevent indirect multi-brand retail,” Sinha said. An industry insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that many clauses in the policies are too ambiguous, so it would be especially challenging for Amazon and Flipkart to fully comply with them. For instance, Amazon has more than 400,000 partners in India. It would be a major pain point for the company to audit these partners’ books and ensure that they are playing fairly, the person said. The new policies also prevent Flipkart and Amazon from striking agreements that give third-party merchants exclusive rights to sell their products in the country. A look at the smartphone industry sheds more light on this issue. India is the fastest growing smartphone market, buoyed by Chinese vendors, many of which — including Xiaomi and OnePlus — entered the nation through partnerships with online platforms to cut overhead costs. Smartphones sales are crucial to Amazon and Flipkart, both of which count smartphones among the top three categories for their respective businesses. OnePlus, for instance, exclusively sells its handsets online through Amazon India. The Chinese company, which dominates the premium tier of the smartphone market in India, said this week that it willingly signed that partnership with Amazon. What is at stake? At stake is nothing short of India’s ecommerce market, which is estimated to grow to $200 billion by 2026. Amazon has invested more than $5.5 billion in its India operations, and Walmart paid $16 billion to snag Flipkart. The amendment to the policies could significantly derail the opportunities these companies see in India. Indeed, a draft analysis from global consultant PwC, first reported by Reuters this week, slated that the new ecommerce policy could reduce online sales by $46 billion by 2022. A representative of All India Online Vendors Association (AIOVA), a lobby group of over 30,000 online sellers, said the new policies are not the right solution to help small merchants — supposedly the rationale behind the government’s move — and accused the government of undertaking this task to appease shopkeepers and small business voters ahead of general elections. Some of the clauses mentioned in the new policy — including an ecommerce platforms’ inability to source more than 25 percent of goods from a single vendor — have been in place for more than two years. Ecommerce players worked around these laws for years while the government turned a blind eye, the AIOVA representative said. “Why is the government, months ahead of the elections, turning attention to this now?” the spokesperson asked. Indian government officials did not respond to a request for comment. “Government should realise their work doesn’t stop at policy making, but also requires enforcement. In [the] past, rules have not been enforced, circumvention and self certifications have led to a duopolised market. Government needs to disclose who is stopping these investigations from happening, which is leading to policy intervention,” an AIOVA spokesperson said. But some businesses have expressed approval of the new policy. Kunal Bahl, cofounder and CEO of Snapdeal, an ecommerce company that pivoted to cater to businesses two years ago after negotiations for a merger with Flipkart fell apart, said, “Snapdeal welcomes updates to FDI policy on ecommerce. Marketplaces are meant for genuine, independent sellers, many of whom are MSMEs (micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises). These changes will enable a level playing field for all sellers, helping them leverage the reach of ecommerce.” Retailers with a major presence in the offline market have decried the discounts Amazon and Flipkart have been offering to win customers in recent years. These are among the businesses in support of the new policy. Kishore Biyani is founder and CEO of Future Group, one of the largest brick-and-mortar retailers in India. Biyani said the new policy will force ecommerce players to rethink their entire game plan for India. “There was ambiguity in the previous policy, which some players were taking advantage of,” Biyani said in a televised interview with Indian channel ET Now. “India should always be first with these kinds of policies. Why can’t we build our own Alibaba, and Amazon?” This sense of nationalism was also on display earlier this month when Mukesh Ambani, who is the country’s richest man and runs Reliance Retail, the largest retailer in the country, announced the company’s intention to launch an ecommerce platform to challenge Amazon and Walmart. “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,” he said at an event that was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO of One97 Communications, which operates India’s largest mobile wallet app — Paytm — and also runs ecommerce arm Paytm Mall, declined to comment on the policy at a recent event in New Delhi. A spokesperson for Paytm said the company had no comment at this time. The government, which is expected to deliver an annual budget as soon as tomorrow, reportedly risks upsetting the U.S. administration with this new hardline approach. According to Reuters, the U.S. government has expressed concerns about the new ecommerce policies. Greg Hitt, speaking on behalf of Walmart, told the outlet that the Indian government should “certainly, as you would expect, have engaged the (United States) administration on this issue.” Update at 3:15 p.m. Pacific: Several Amazon-owned products, including select Echo smart speakers, as well as some travel bags, batteries, office supply items, and chargers under Basics brand, and some kitchen items under Presto and apparels under Shoppers Stop brands, have become unavailable on Amazon’s website. Source
  4. MUMBAI (Reuters) - A group representing online sellers in India will appeal against the Competition Commision of India’s (CCI’s) ruling in favour of Walmart-owned Flipkart, the group’s lawyer Chanakya Basa said in a release on Saturday. All India Online Vendors Association (AIOVA), which represents more than 3,500 online sellers, had complained that Flipkart was using its dominant position to favour select sellers. The CCI had rejected this argument in November. The CCI had said Flipkart as well as Amazon did not break regulations through their selection of merchants and brands. The AIOVA will appeal to the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal on Monday against the CCI decision, Basa told Reuters. “We firmly believe we have filed adequate information to prove the existence of a prima-facie case which the hon’ble Commission has failed to take into account. Hence, we are filing this appeal,” Basa said in a statement. The AIOVA has also brought a similar case against Amazon, alleging it favours merchants that it partly owns, such as Cloudtail and Appario. India has a burgeoning e-commerce market, with almost 500 million Indians using the internet in 2018. The market is tipped to grow to $200 billion in a decade, according to Morgan Stanley. Source
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