September 21, 2012

India Welcomes Walmart Tesco Carrefour : FDI in Multi-brand Retail


Finally on September 20, 2012 Government of India allowed Foreign Direct Investment in multi-brand retail in India. It’s possible now for global retail majors like Wal-Mart, Tesco & Carrefour to enter the market which has 300-400 millions strong middle class. Without going into political economy aspect of the move let’s look at the management & marketing side of the multi-brand retail in India. Retail & aviation has many similarities in India particularly. Retail majors need to learn lessons from India’s aviation industry as both cater to same customer base.

Lessons: Largest of the domestic corporate giants have burnt their fingers in organized retail in India during more than decade long period. Top three of them have reported losses. Retail in India is a fragmented unorganized business evolved alongside the social structure of communities. India has more cultural diversity than entire Europe as language, food habits, customs, religions & even Gods change every 50 kilometers in India. Hindustan Lever Limited had attempted to monopolize ice cream market in India two decades ago by buying out major brands but they could not fight with local satraps.

Basics: India has population of the size of China living on 1/3 of the area. Publicity managers of brand India have projected that what makes India attractive is presence of 300-400 million middle class consumers. Let me flag this figure right here from marketing perspective. Since Indian society is highly fragmented & culturally diverse therefore it’s a challenge to find various ‘consumers profiles’ embedded in this large population of consumers.

India buys few cars just [1/6 ] as compared to China. This figure is very significant as majority of Indian people prefer buy a house before car unlike in rest of the world.  India has no problem with congestion as all metro cities are teeming with people hence retail experience to India may not be same as routinely described in classical retail plans. On the issue of buying on credit or cash Indian consumers are no different than others but majority of Indians don’t have credit cards.

Entry Strategy: What business model Walmart would use in India is the billion dollar questions. Will they go for company owned company operate [COCO] route to begin with or take the franchise route? I believe later route may be more suitable as it would cut cost of entry & provide for safe landing for this controversial roll out. If Walmart recruits 25 major franchises in the beginning it would provide substantial leverage in domestic market to navigate the social reaction in the first phase.

POS & billing: In my opinion POS strategy would be the waterloo for Retail in India. Walmart, Tesco & Carrefour would be wise to invent a new POS strategy as no other country resembles in India in buying behavior. I would recommend that CXOs of retail giants should invest lots of their time at airport lounges & Metro railway in Delhi & Kolkata to grasp the behavior of Indians and ignore Mckinesy consumer reports. It’s impossible to succeed in retail without strategizing this final moment of truth in retail trade.

India is really a more diverse country than it appears on paper. Retail industry may have to take Indian Railway route & organize the operations that could handle the diversity of buyer needs in India. Historically Indian may have lived under centuries of foreign domination but they have succeeded at maintaining their lifestyle & culture and this must serve as guiding principle to any executives involved in this service sector. 

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