20 December 2017 09:24:54 IST

India’s e-commerce war to surface on US shores

Flipkart to file for a US initial public offering (IPO) as soon as 2018

A local war against Amazon will take on a global flavour when Flipkart, the arch-enemy to Jeff Bezos' American behemoth, files for a US initial public offering (IPO) as soon as 2018. The online retailer, which sells everything from mobile phones to books, has good reason to snub Mumbai's markets, even though they are trading near record highs. For one, its biggest global peers are all listed stateside, where tech valuations are robust. But a New York debut for the $12 billion Flipkart would also take the battle to Amazon's Wall Street home turf.

The firm founded by former Amazon employees Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal counts SoftBanks Vision Fund and US fund Tiger Global amongst its largest investors. Smaller stakes are in the hands of US marketplace eBay as well as two Chinese giants, Tencent and Alibaba, which itself is part-owned by SoftBank. That makes Flipkart something like a proxy for global investment into India’s e-commerce market, which Morgan Stanley reckons will be worth around $200 billion by 2027.

SoftBanks Masayoshi Son has clear ambitions to dominate the booming online consumer market, having earlier backed smaller rival Snapdeal. Jack Ma’s Alibaba, which is already dominant in China, is also dabbling in India through its investment in Paytm Mall, which remains a relatively small player. It is all but inevitable that the pair, with Ma's assent, will consider combining resources to take on the mighty Amazon.

The $550 billion Seattle giant already appears to have an edge in India, where it is investing heavily. An audience poll at a recent Breakingviews Predictions event in Mumbai concluded Amazon would win the e-commerce race in India and ranked Flipkart and Alibaba in distant third and fourth position. Mukesh Ambani’s disruptive oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance Industries, which isn't really a competitor yet, came in a surprising second.

A US listing will provide access to capital as the industry increasingly devotes itself to expensive customer acquisition offers, like 100 per cent cash back. It might also pave the way for a deal with Paytm Mall, and the start of a real challenge to Amazon's seemingly unstoppable dominance. Throw in a Flipkart listing and the online proxy war in India will start enlisting mercenaries on Wall Street, too.