News & Analysis

JioMart Launches on WhatsApp  after a Two-year Trial

At first glance, it appears to be just the solution to take on global giants Amazon and the Walmart-owned Flipkart

The Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries has launched its retail venture JioMart over WhatsApp in what is perceived as the world’s first end-to-end shopping experience on the instant messaging platform. A two-year test phase preceded the launch which will allow customers to browse, order and pay on the same app. 

The company had soft-launched JioMart, their e-commerce venture that works closely with neighborhood stores, in parts of the state of Maharashtra — Navi Mumbai, Kalyan and Thane. Though this could be bad news for Amazon and the Walmart-owned Flipkart, it remains to be seen how effective the integration of small stores is with JioMart. 


Ground realities are different though 

Shop owners we spoke to in a couple of localities around Bengaluru confirmed that though they got integrated with JioMart, the benefits weren’t yet visible. In fact, a few of these merchants went ahead and created their own WhatsApp group through which they get customers to order and pay while ensuring deliveries through their own networked team of agents. 

Similarly, some of the store owners in Thane we reached out to complained that they did not really benefit much from the integration. “The JioMart people promised that our order book will grow and we will be able to sell more, but that hasn’t happened. Now they’re saying that the shift to 5G will make things better,” says Vinay, a store owner in Thane West. 


However, it’s good news for WhatsApp 

Coming to the JioMart story, Reliance and its partner Meta are hoping to lure a sizable chunk of the half-a-billion Indian users on WhatsApp. In fact, the messaging app had chased and received approvals for extending its UPI-powered payment services to 100 million users, in spite of some opposition from the powers that be. 

From WhatsApp’s point of view, this deal could be a precursor of more such monetization options in other geographies, given that the company has been working without a revenue model since its inception in 2009 by two former Yahoo employees and its acquisition by Facebook for $19 billions in 2014. 

“Excited to launch our partnership with JioMart in India. This is our first-ever end-to-end shopping experience on WhatsApp — people can now buy groceries from JioMart right in a chat. Business messaging is an area with real momentum and chat-based experiences like this will be the go-to way people and businesses communicate in the years to come,” Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, said in a statement.

Readers would recall that Meta has invested significant amounts in Reliance Jio Platforms. In fact, Jio announced that it would spend $25 billion to debut 5G services in the country by October this year and aims to reach every town of India by end-2023. This integration of its digital commerce via WhatsApp combined with its 5G efforts could guarantee that the Ambani Group would become first among equals in the Indian eCommerce space. 


More questions than answers 

Of course, there are still questions that could be asked of this venture. For a network spread across hundreds of villages in more than 770 districts of India, how does JioMart propose to handle complaints? Given that in spite of the billions spent on it, both Amazon and Flipkart are nowhere near resolving such escalations. 

Then there is the question of squaring off with the local partners. While those in large cities could be serviced by the JioMart family, what happens to those sitting in remote villages owning stores that work on daily cash flow management? Given that the Ambanis are keen to join up with the government’s ambitious ONDC network, some of these issues may resolve thereafter. 

There is also the question of data sovereignty as some years ago, Mukesh Ambani had invoked Mahatma Gandhi and said like his battle against political colonization, India now needs to launch a new movement against data colonization. However, there is the optics that goes against the company, given that two of their biggest partners are the world’s largest data guzzlers – Google and Facebook. 

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