None of the players in the Indian e-commerce are making bank — not Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN - Get Report) nor Alibaba Group Holding Ltd,'s (BABA - Get Report) Paytm — yet Walmart Inc. (WMT - Get Report) is going all in with a reported $12 billion-plus bid for a majority stake in the privately held Flipkart Online Services Pvt. Ltd., a force in the space.
"It's been a real dog fight in the India e-commerce market," Daniel McCarthy, a marketing professor at Emory University's Goizueta Business School, told The Deal, a sister publication of TheStreet, on Monday, April 24. "There are a lot of people who really really hope, there will be a winner-take-all, that the competitors will gracefully bow out, or die."
Tough words for what sounds like a very tough market.
The deal — which would be Walmart's largest by about four times since the start of the 2000s — would give Walmart a strong toe-hold in the Indian market. India's e-commerce market is fledgling, with Flipkart and Amazon roughly neck in neck, each holding about 35% of the market share, followed by Paytm, Skop-Klues, which started in the U.S. and is now in India, and homegrown Snapdeal, said McCarthy.
Flipkart, which launched in 2007, had sales of $3.75 billion, with a loss of $750 million last year, according to Oppenheimer. The company has 100 million registered users, 10 million daily visitors, 100,000 sellers and technology that enables eight million shipments per month. It also has has 21 warehouses.
But with the economics of just about all e-commerce still unproven in India and Walmart's track record abroad far from clean, experts are skeptical and wonder whether the deal will turn into a money pit for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer. The bottom line results won't be there for some time.
Oppenheimer analyst Rupesh Parikh told TheStreet's sister publication, The Deal, on Thursday that Walmart may experience a 5% earnings per share dilution. "This assumes a 60% ownership stake predicated on a $12 billion valuation and assumes a loss of roughly $750 million at Flipkart," wrote Parikh in a note published on Thursday.
Down the road, the Walmart could be bleeding cash on this deal for another three years, added Parikh. He said that losing money is not unusual in the e-commerce space, as companies have many fixed costs going in that require hefty investments. Walmart, which launched its U.S. e-commerce operations in the U.S. in 2000, is still under water on it, noted Parikh. He said the company would not disclose "level of losses."
Walmart declined to comment when contacted by The Deal.
It's also a risky proposition for the company due to location. Walmart's foreign forays, have been costly, if not an outright failure. In part, its problems stemmed from not understanding the nuances of the new markets and their cultures and trying to import U.S.-tested methods and merchandise to such countries as China, Germany and South Africa.
Still, the potential payouts for the deal are certainly worth at least some of the risk and India isn't completely unknown territory for Walmart.
Perhaps helpful to Walmart in this latest venture is that it has had a presence in India since 2009. There, it currently operates 21 Best Price Modern Wholesale stores across nine Indian states, and it launched a B-2-B e-commerce platform two years ago for its "best" members. The cash-and-carry stores, which cater to business customers, sell some 5,000 food and nonfood items.
Parikh said that Walmart's investment in Indian e-commerce fits into its e-commerce acquisition strategy of the last several years. Before this deal, Walmart's biggest e-commerce investment was acquiring the general merchandise site Jet.com in 2016 for $3 billion. Other acquisitions have been menswear site Bonobos.com for $310 million and women's clothing site Modcloth.com for $75 million, both in 2017.
"Walmart is becoming more and more of digital-first strategy," he said. "It's a sign that the company is moving aggressively on the e-commerce front."
Flipkart's major investors, including SoftBank Group Corp., are reportedly on board with Walmart purchasing as much as 80% of the company, according to those familiar with the project. Another investor, Tiger Global Management, will sell nearly all its 20% stake in Flipkart, with Softbank offloading a large part of its 20% stake, reported news sources. That would leave Walmart with 60% to 80% of Flipkart, worth about $20 billion, sources said.
This piece originally appeared on The Deal Thursday, April 26.