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Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Retail Ltd plans to embed its e-commerce app JioMart into WhatsApp within six months, allowing the 400 million users of India’s most popular messaging service order products without having to leave the app, two officials aware of the development said, requesting anonymity.

The integration will allow JioMart catapult its reach across India, allowing Reliance Retail to pose a serious challenge to Flipkart and Amazon’s domination in India’s fast-growing online retail market. Ambani is trying to wrest a bigger share of India’s retail market, estimated to reach $1.3 trillion by 2025. Reliance is already India’s biggest offline retailer.

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JioMart was launched in May across 200 cities and towns, a month after Reliance Retail signed a pact with WhatsApp to boost the reach of the online shopping website. In April, Facebook Inc. bought a 9.9% stake in Reliance Industries’ digital unit Jio Platforms for $5.7 billion.

It is essentially marrying of strengths for both companies. The JioMart integration is essentially adding a retail layer for WhatsApp chats. With payments now available on WhatsApp, it makes all the more sense. Now your chats, retail and payments will all be integrated within the same interface," said Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner, Convergence Catalyst, a research firm.

A Reliance Retail spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment.

“Through our investment with Jio, we’re going to bring millions of small businesses and the customers they serve into the digital economy. This will make it easier for businesses to connect with customers and close sales," a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

Reliance Retail is also on-boarding local kirana stores on its platform. So, when a customer orders using the JioMart app, the app maps the user to a nearby kirana store. The delivery is either done by the kirana shop or by RIL’s logistics arm Grab, which it acquired in 2019 for $14 million. The kirana store gets a commission on the sales.

Reliance not only helps kiranas procure items but, through its point of sale (PoS) machine, offers the kiranas financing, inventory management and tax return filing services, among others.

“Essentially, the idea is to keep users within WhatsApp, and the APIs (application programming interface) allow that. APIs for any catalogue-based service will be built in such a way that as soon as new inventory comes in, it will keep feeding two-directional data to both Jio systems and what is front-ended on WhatsApp," said Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and founder, Greyhound Research.

WhatsApp Business app has its own inventory management feature, allowing businesses to showcase and share products and services by creating a catalogue. The catalogue is then displayed on the business profile. WhatsApp recently added a shopping button that gives customers access to a business’s catalogue directly from their chat screen. Although WhatsApp has its own catalogue feature, many merchants use third-party apps such as Bikayi and Dukaan and then engage with customers through social media. Though popular, they don’t offer the same integration level that WhatsApp is trying to build with JioMart. “As a WhatsApp integrated e-commerce startup, we have seen merchants find value in managing, running and marketing businesses over the messaging platform," said Sonakshi Nathani, co-founder and CEO, Bikayi.

WhatsApp Payment, which is available to as many as 20 million users, was launched with banks such as State Bank of India, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank. It received approval to go live on a peer-to-peer basis in November.

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