Reliance Jio Mart launched - how will it impact India's e-commerce?

(Image credit: Jio Mart)

In the last one month or so, huge investments - over $ 10 billion actually - have flown  into the Reliance Industries-owned Jio Platforms.

And, right on cue, late last week, the e-commerce offspring of the marriage between Jio Platforms and Reliance's retail chain Jio Retail  - Jio Mart - expanded its services to 200 cities and towns, including the Metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, across India.

Prior to the major rollout on Saturday, the service was available in three different neighbourhoods of Mumbai. JioMart will start off delivering groceries, dairy items, fruits, vegetables, Damodar Mall, CEO, Reliance Retail, said on Twitter.

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A battle royale in the offing  

With the launch of JioMart, the Indian e-commerce arena is set for an upheaval with the battle-lines drawn against Amazon India, Walmart's Flipkart, the Alibaba-backed BigBasket and Tencent-funded Udaan, which have had a first-mover advantage. 

There is also Grofers, Milkbasket and Swiggy's Supr Daily. On the fresh produce, there will be competition from players like Crofarm and Ninjacart. Also, Flipkart is readying itself for a full-fledged wholesale business later this year.

India’s e-grocery market size is pegged at Rs 6,201 crore ($875 million), and is expected to grow exponentially to hit Rs 1.03 lakh crore ($14.6 billion) by 2023. All the companies know that they are only scratching the surface, and hence are unveiling ambitious plans to get a strong foothold.

Jio Mart has its task cut out 

But the disruption that Reliance Jio pulled off in the telecom sector, may not be all that easy in this ultra-competitive e-grocery market in India.

Jio Mart understands the challenges, and hence is taking a different route from that of the existing players.

Most of the players (like Grofers and BigBasket) are following inventory-based e-commerce businesses, which store and deliver branded items, while JioMart only acts as a conduit between shoppers and existing mom-and-pop stores, also known as kiranas. Jio Mart hopes to tap into the services of stores that already exist in users' respective neighbourhoods.

Jio Mart has already reached out to thousands of mom and pop stores across the country. It hopes to exploit the wide reach of these stores to connect with more consumers. Jio Mart has smartly worked out a deal with these stores by which it will help them with automation at the backend and scale up the business. The idea of onboarding kirana shops is that it is easy to access more consumers at no extra cost.

Jio Mart is also leaning on Reliance Retail’s 10,415 brick-and-mortar stores in over 6,600 cities with access to cold storage and warehousing facilities.

Jio Mart is believed to be the digital storefront which aggregates a mix of Reliance Retail’s distribution centres, its B2B cash and carry business—Reliance Market, the neighbourhood mom and pop stores, and other organised retail outlets owned by Reliance.

But to start off, Jio Mart has unveiled just a browser-based site that takes orders based on the users' postal code. Jio Mart's app is to be launched shortly.

Can WhatsApp be the hero of this tale?

But Jio Mart will soon takes it fight to a new playground: WhatsApp.

WhatsApp is the crucial link for Jio Mart. It is likely to power the (business-to-consumer) payments offering, with a logistics network or the kirana store ensuring delivery.

And this is where Jio Platforms' tie-up with Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, is expected to play a pivotal role. Right off the bat, JioMart has the ready user base of India’s 400 million WhatsApp users. Jio Mart will also dip into the services of Facebook Messenger and Facebook app itself to integrate shopping feature and reach a broader user base. 

But essentially, Jio will leverage WhatsApp for Business to its retailers, with an end-to-end service, unlike now, where they have to go to other third-party companies.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg actually hinted at what the deal with Jio Platforms was aimed at. “India is a special place for us. We are also committing to work together on some critical projects that we think are going to open up a lot of opportunities for commerce in India. Facebook and WhatsApp have been trying to court small and medium businesses (SMBs) on their respective platforms over the last two years."

WhatsApp Pay, which has been delayed on various counts, is, however, expected to be launched soon, and it can be the game-changer. WhatsApp would use Jio’s Payments Bank as a sponsor bank to power its UPI-based payments.

Interesting times ahead

Once everything is in place, Jio Mart, with its WhatsApp Business Account, would be in a position to offer a single-window shop on WhatsApp: users can just open it, check in their location and start placing their orders. Further, they can track their order and pay their bills directly on the same app. 

Amidst all this, as Jio Mart basically empowers the local kirana shops, Jio Mart can also claim to support the 'vocal for local' call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But you can trust Amazon, Walmart and others to hit back with their own strategies. They are not going to lie down and get rolled over by Reliance. 

Watch this space for more, as things are only getting started in the e-grocery sphere in India as it stumbles towards a semblance of normalcy after a debilitating lockdown.

Balakumar K
Senior Editor

Over three decades as a journalist covering current affairs, politics, sports and now technology. Former Editor of News Today, writer of humour columns across publications and a hardcore cricket and cinema enthusiast. He writes about technology trends and suggest movies and shows to watch on OTT platforms.