Amazon India said it posted an 85% increase in gross sales volumes in the three months to March from the year-ago period, growing much faster than the overall market and maintaining the pressure on rival Flipkart, which has recently seen a revival in sales.
Amazon India (Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd) declined to disclose sales numbers but two people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that the company’s gross sales by value increased 65-70% in the quarter from the year-ago period. That compares with an overall market expansion of 15-20% in the quarter, according to executives at e-commerce and logistics companies.
Flipkart Internet Pvt. Ltd posted an increase in gross sales of more than 25% in the first quarter, including sales at its fashion retailers Myntra and Jabong, two other people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified.
Amazon’s superior growth rate is partly because of the base effect—its overall sales in the year-ago quarter were low. But the numbers show that Amazon’s strategy of offering the widest product selection and aggressively advertising its platform is working well. Its subscription programme Prime, which was launched last July, is helping the company retain many existing customers and getting them to spend more.
“(Amazon’s) growth is led by more shopping from our existing customers as well as new customer acquisition,” an Amazon India spokesperson said in an email.
Meanwhile, Flipkart’s own numbers indicate that the company isn’t giving up—at least not without a fight.
A Flipkart spokesperson declined comment on the growth numbers.
“As part of our customer first policy, we are always looking to innovate and come up with relevant solutions that make online shopping accessible and affordable. Flipkart’s consumer finance programs—No Cost EMI, Product Exchange, Assured BuyBack Guarantee, an industry first, have been able to expand the frontiers of e-commerce in India,” the spokesperson added in an email.
Amazon overtook Flipkart for two months last year with Flipkart sales declining in successive months during the first half of the year.
Since then, Flipkart, which is in talks to close a funding round of $1.5 billion, has engineered a turnaround, starting with its win over Amazon in the key festive season match-up in October.
In recent months, under new chief executive officer Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Flipkart’s monthly sales have grown at a steady pace with the company successfully regaining bragging rights in the smartphone category, which accounts for roughly half of all e-commerce in many months.
Flipkart and Amazon are now neck-and-neck at the top of the market. The battle between the two will be much more closely fought this year compared with most of last year, when it looked like the American retailer was running away with the e-commerce market, analysts say.
However, at 15-20%, the overall online retail market again grew at a sluggish pace in the first quarter of this year, after an already poor year for e-commerce.
Like last year, a large part of the gains at Amazon and Flipkart came at the expense of Snapdeal (Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd).
In 2016, online retail grew just 14% to roughly $15 billion, partly as Flipkart and Snapdeal cut spending on discounts and advertising, according to RedSeer Consulting, a market research firm.
Flipkart chief operating officer Nitin Seth said in an interview last month that e-commerce will bounce back this year, and estimated an expansion of 40-50% in online retail. That estimate already looks tough to achieve after the first quarter.
It is now becoming increasingly clear that investors and companies have overestimated the size of the Indian market.
Until the end of last year, firms such as RedSeer, UBS, Morgan Stanley and others expected the e-commerce market to grow to anywhere between $48 billion and $120 billion by 2020. Those estimates now look far too rosy.