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Even India’s biggest festive season, featuring blinding marketing blitzkrieg and heavy discounts from Amazon India and Walmart’s Flipkart, has failed to escape the pains of slowing economy.
Online retailers in India sold goods worth $3 billion in the six-day festive sale that concluded last week, growing at an impressive 30% since last year, according to research firm RedSeer. The catch? A year before, the growth rate stood at 93%.
Forrester projected online retailers in India to generate about $4.8 billion in sales between September 25 and October 29. Satish Meena, an analyst at the research firm, said about 80% of these projected sales — $3.84 billion — were expected to occur between September 29 and October 4.
For Amazon India, which has invested more than $5.5 billion in the nation, RedSeer’s findings are more troublesome. According to the research firm’s estimate, Flipkart — together with e-commerce businesses Jabong and Myntra that it owns — commanded 63% of the market share during the festive season. Amazon India settled with just 22%.
An Amazon spokesperson in India declined to comment on the finding, but expressed concerns with the way RedSeer conducts its surveys. The spokesperson said these “speculative reports … lack robust and credible methodology.”
Amazon India did not share its internal findings, but volunteered to cite a Nielsen’s survey of 190,000 users in 50 cities. Per Nielsen, Amazon commanded 51% of all transactions during the festive sales, 42% of all orders, and 45% of all “value.”
The spokesperson added that “this event has been our biggest celebration ever.” The company received orders from 99.4% postal codes in India, and saw participation of more than 65,000 sellers from 500 cities. “Over 88% new customers came from small towns,” the spokesperson said.
Flipkart did not respond to a request for comment.
Many in India have been watching the e-commerce sales as a test to see if it could kickstart the slowing consumer spending in the nation. The sales, leading up to the Hindu festival of Diwali, has traditionally been the season of lavish and reckless consumption in India.
And for Amazon and Walmart, a lot was riding on this festive season. The first half of this year has been slow for Amazon and Flipkart in India, said Meena. The e-commerce giants were subjected to disruptive changes in local e-commerce policy earlier this year, which forced both to delist hundreds of thousands of goods overnight from their marketplaces.
At a conference last week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross expressed concerns over some of India’s recent regulatory changes, saying that India has become one of the most protectionist nations in the world. Indian newspaper The Economic Times reported last week that Amazon had cut investment in its India business by a third this year. Citing the report, Ross said disruptive policy changes influence the way global giants see the Indian market.
But disruptive policies is only one of the causes of concerns for international giants. India’s economy has slowed to a six-year low. Forrester’s Meena said the sales last week was the time when both Amazon and Flipkart could have bounced back. According to industry reports, e-commerce businesses generate nearly a third of their annual sales in India during this festive season.
But even as the growth rate has slowed, Meena said the fact that both these companies, along with other online retailers, were able to generate so much in sales is good news for them.
“Overall 2019 has been a slow year for e-commerce,” he told TechCrunch in an interview. “Two things are clear, though. One is that there remains a big opportunity for e-commerce in India. Second, consumers from smaller cities and towns are increasing their online spending.”
In the meantime, both Amazon and Flipkart have steered clear of sharing any meaningful internal data. Flipkart said that its marketplace had registered “2X sales growth.” The company said it had seen “3X transaction growth” and electronics grew over “70% from tier 2+ cities.” Amazon said “fashion grew 5X” and beauty items saw “7X” jump in sales.
The companies have never disclosed exact figures, so it is impossible to fathom how one should assess this growth.