Indian E-commerce: Moving on from GMV

It has been a nervous month for the professionals working for internet and e-commerce companies in India. Shutdowns and layoffs have been the flavour of the month, and business models have come under scrutiny. The effects of recent events at Stayzilla and Snapdeal have not been limited to job losses only. Weighed down by these developments in the sector, Rakuten, the Japanese e-tailer, has puts its India plans on the back-burner.

Stayzilla, an alternate and homestay aggregator, has shut operations. Investors including Nexus Venture Partners and Matrix Partners have invested USD 33 million across multiple rounds in the company. The founders have promised to bounce back ‘with a different business model’.

Snapdeal, announced that it will lay-off about 600 employees from the company including from its Vulcan (logistics) and Freecharge (payments) business divisions. The company has so far raised USD 1.75 billion from investors which include global heavyweights such as Softbank, Kalaari Capital, Temasek, Alibaba Group and eBay. However, Snapdeal reportedly is left with less than enough cash to survive the next 12 months. The merger talks with Paytm, facilitated by the common investor Alibaba, are not murmurs anymore and seem to be the logical next step in many ways. A very honest and important insight on the business model emerged from this episode, in which the founders admitted to ‘doing too many things’ and ‘diversifying and starting new projects while we still hadn’t perfected the first or made it profitable’.

The above incidents highlight the fact that Indian e-commerce in 2016 has been significantly different from its ‘glory days’ in 2015. GMV growth in 2016 was flat, even though long term prospects remain intact for now. The year-end sales were also impacted due to the demonetisation exercise carried out by the government. The cash on delivery (CoD) transactions, which account for approximately 50% of total GMV, were severely impacted due to the lack of availability of the new currency notes.

Figure 1: India e-tailing GMV (USD mn)

Source: Company data, IAMAI, Euromonitor, Credit Suisse

AHHHGMV, as the supreme emperor of metrics, has lost its sheen and the challengers which have come to the fore include revenue per customer (function of number of orders per year, value per order and commission), net promoter score (a measure of customer satisfaction) and overall user monetisation (including alternative sources such as advertising as well as new service offerings such as hyperlocal services).

The sustainability of business model is back in focus as a tool to evaluate potential winners and losers. Throwing money at the customers as discounts has not worked out very well for a lot of players. There has been a definite move towards trying to find other means of retaining customers. Going forward, winners are most likely to be companies that provide a differentiated customer experience. An obvious example is Amazon Prime which now brings more personalized experience to the company’s customers. Flipkart (Flipkart Assured) and Snapdeal (Snapdeal Gold) have similar offerings to enhance the stickiness of their customers. While ‘Flipkart Assured’ has seen limited success so far, Amazon Prime, launched at a very attractive price point of INR 499 per year, seems to be more suited for success going forward. Amazon has also clubbed its Netflix challenge – Prime Video offering with Amazon Prime subscription. With these offerings, the companies are trying to take focus away from discounts and towards customisation, quick delivery, consistency and reliability of shopping experience.

The control over supply side is a key element of constructing an enhanced and consistent experience for customers. Logistics is one of most prominent cost items for ecommerce firms, and depending on the category and value of the goods being delivered, could be 10% to 20% of GMV.

In India, the number of Amazon fulfilment centres has grown to 27 by the end of 2016. Shipping from stores is less efficient than from dedicated fulfilment centres. Amazon is looking to replicate their success in North America where they have invested billions in network of fulfilment centres. It has more than 75 such centres in North America, covering 25 US states. This gives Amazon an easy two-day reach over the entire US. Snapdeal has opened 6 logistics hub during 2016, with an estimated investment of USD 300 million. Paytm, flush with a USD 200 million funding from Alibaba, is reportedly firming up plans for a significant strategic investment in a logistics firm to improve its deliveries process.

The key growth drivers for e-commerce in India remain in place. There is a large aspirational population, faster and wider internet access, a never before push on digital payments and an opportunity to further penetrate the offline organised retail market. Nevertheless, the year 2016 has been a reality check. The Indian players have had to review their business models and take some tough calls to focus on sustainability. While the market may continue to be volatile in the short term, with more potential shutdowns and/or consolidation in the offing, we can now be more confident that the firms that do survive will turn profitable soon.


This is a guest post by Arvind Yadav,

Principal at Aurum Equity Partners LLP.


2015 India Technology Product M&A Industry Report: M&A and Investment landscape in India

iSPIRT, India’s software products think tank, SignalHill, technology focused M&A advisory boutique firm and Microsoft Ventures, accelerator program for high potential technology startups released the much-awaited 2015 India Technology Product M&A Industry Report. The report highlights key trends in the Indian technology M&A and funding landscape so far as well as predictions for M&A activity in the following year.

To access the report, visit: PMI Report

To watch the Think Next Roundtable: ThinkNext Video


(L-R): Sanat Rao, Partner, iSPiRT M&A Connect; Ravi Narayan, Director of Microsoft Ventures, India; Klaas Oskam, Managing Director, Signal Hill
(L-R): Sanat Rao, Partner, iSPiRT M&A Connect; Ravi Narayan, Director of Microsoft Ventures, India; Klaas Oskam, Managing Director, Signal Hill


According to the report, technology majors as well as large Indian ‘Unicorns’ are predicted to continue acquiring Indian technology product startups to fill technology gaps as well as talent requirements. Since 2011, there have been 190 M&A transactions involving Indian technology product companies, with a total estimated transaction value of $2.27B. That makes the average deal size in India stand at $11.3mn, far lower than that of mature startup ecosystems such as Israel ($113mn) and the US ($57mn). Furthermore, there’s a substantial difference in value between inbound and domestic transactions. Inbound M&A transactions (M&A by global acquirers) average $21.1M versus domestic deals that average $8.4M. Therefore domestic transactions may account for the lion share (72%) of M&A activity by volume (largely driven by the Indian ‘Unicorns’ including Flipkart, Snapdeal, OlaCabs) but a much smaller share (51%) by value.


From a sector perspective, there seems to be a clear trend emerging where the majority of M&A transactions and transaction values of B2B software companies is cross-border in nature, while domestic transactions account for the bulk of transaction value and volume for Internet & Consumer and E-Commerce deals.


From a funding perspective, VC/PE investments in India have hit an all-time high in 2014. Funding in the E-commerce and Consumer Internet markets have grown 38x from 2010-2014. $4.2B was invested in this space 2014 alone, with the two main companies (Flipkart & Snapdeal) accounting for > 50% of the Indian internet investment dollars. Investments in B2B software are also showing an upward trend.

With a fear of missing out, hedge funds & private equity funds are investing in ‘new’ Series B ($10-25mn) and Series C & D ($20-250m) onwards, fueling a frenzy in valuations. Prior to 2014, it would take startups at least 1-2 years to raise series B and C funds. In the last 12 months, this has dropped by half with companies reaching this mark in less than a year.



The report indicates that a generation of entrepreneurs is coming up in India, looking to build deep-tech companies in the country. Where B2B software companies are aiming at serving the global market, the Internet & E-commerce businesses are focusing on India. These are vision-driven and are focused on creating a market differentiator rather than “selling-out” early. These entrepreneurs are also likely to be angel investors and help other startups succeed, in parallel to running their own firms.

The report also highlights two key challenges that Indian entrepreneurs and startups face: Discovery & Readiness. Most startups are not on the radar of the large global tech companies either for business engagements or investment, which in turn reduces their chances of going through an acquisition. iSPIRT’s M&A Connect Program is solving this problem via targeted connects between US and Indian tech companies with specific technology gaps, and exciting India startups who can fill these gaps.

[Any startups with ongoing M&A discussions, please reach out to [email protected] for advisory support.] 


Finally, the report makes some interesting predictions for M&A and investments in India in 2015.

M&A activity will continue to accelerate. Domestic transactions will dominate E-Commerce and Consumer Internet, with large Indian “Unicorns” will aggressively make strategic acquisitions to enhance market dominance and strengthen strategic growth areas such as: mobile, data & analytics and payments etc. Cross-border M&A will dominate B2B / Enterprise Software transactions.

Acqui-Hires will continue to be a critical focus for US and India acquirers. Areas of interest include iOS &Android engineers and Machine Learning/Data Science experts, whose demand is rapidly growing.

Finally, from an investment perspective, E-Commerce and Consumer Internet sectors will continue to be hot into 2015. Internet of Things [IOT] will also receive significant interest from VCs.

Seems like the market is hot and there’s a lot of activity predicted for 2015. Exciting times ahead… Stay tuned!