Why Walmart and Amazon Are Battling So Fiercely Over India

May 7, 2018, 6:41 PM UTC
Flipkart Delivery Packets
NEW DELHI, INDIA JULY 11: The picture featuring Flipkart delivery packets on July 11, 2013 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Ramesh Pathania/Mint via Getty Images)
Ramesh Pathania—Mint/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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No less an authority than Wikipedia attributes the origin of the proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” to Sanskrit, an ancient Hindu language. How appropriate, then, that the saying’s latest proof point is the battle unfolding among global tech players in India.

India is a massive market with relatively puny e-commerce volume and therefore a must-have opportunity for the world’s biggest retailers. Amazon (AMZN) already is pumping $5 billion into its hoped-for Indian marketplace. And Walmart (WMT) is said to be finalizing a $15-billion controlling investment in e-commerce startup Flipkart there.

So far this all makes sense. Walmart got schooled in North America by Amazon. Neither company has covered itself in glory in the tough-to-win China market. Competing in India is an existential must for Walmart, the retailer that disrupted Kmart and Sears and doesn’t want to end up as the 21st century version of those dinosaurs.

But wait, there’s more. Alphabet (GOOGL), parent of search-results publisher (see what I did there?), Google is said to be investing alongside Walmart. That makes perfect sense if you consider the battle between Google and Amazon. Each competes to fulfill shopper needs, Google through search ads and Amazon through its own retail platform. Each has thrived but wants more share of future transactions. Enter Walmart on the side of Google. The two already announced a limited partnership last year and now are showing they’ll continue to partner against their common foe.

There’s even more here. Walmart does business in China with JD.com, which is closely allied with Tencent, the gaming and messaging company that is an arch-foe of Alibaba, the e-commerce goliath. Guess who’s already an investor in Flipkart? Yes, Tencent, which is challenging Alibaba’s (BABA) once-dominant position in payments with its own offering associated with WeChat, which Tencent owns. For its part, Alibaba is an investor in Indian payments company Paytm.

It’s a tangled web these enemies have woven. Competition in fast-growing markets like India is the only thing that will untangle it.


The New York Times has published an outstanding profile of European competition boss Margrethe Vestager. If you want to understand how Brussels thinks about Silicon Valley, read this. (Revealing nugget: When Vestager’s term ends she might not get another because the leader of her own country, who belongs to an opposing party, may not re-appoint her.)


If you followed me over to Data Sheet last week I hope you enjoyed my switcheroo with Alan Murray. We’re back to normal this week.

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