Walmart, the $486-billion US chain and the largest in the world by revenue, isn’t talking about its planned foray into the Indian multi-brand retail sector. It maintains it is focused only on the cash-and-carry, or wholesale business, which allows 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI). About 18 months after splitting with Indian partner Bharti and Asia head Scott Price’s controversial comment that “FDI has passed”, the American group is concentrating on taking its cash-and-carry business online.
Asked about the conflicting signals coming from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on FDI in multi- brand retail, Walmart India president and chief executive Krish Iyer, in an interview with Raghavendra Kamath, says the government knows what is good for the people. Edited excerpts:
My job is to run the current business successfully and grow what is allowed under law. The government knows what is good for the people and what to open when. We continue to watch all developments and run the business successfully.
In the past, you spoke about challenges in doing business here. The central and state governments are taking many steps to boost ease of business. Are you satisfied with these? What are the areas in which you expect change?
In the past year, we have been encouraged by the steps taken on enhancing the ease of doing business here. There have been good results in some states such as Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana in terms of setting up single-window clearances, etc. Challenges such as those pertaining to multiple approvals are past.
Apart from opening a store in Agra, are you planning any new store this year?
No. It takes two and a half to three years to open a store. Once we start opening stores, the pace will pick up. We are confident of opening 50 stores in the next five years.
For how many stores have you rolled out e-commerce? How has the response been?
So far, we have rolled out e-commerce in 18 stores and it has been received very well. For two more stores, work has to be done. We will complete that by August.
What were the challenges you faced in rolling out e-commerce in your stores? How did you address the glitches?
Those challenges were similar to those for any new roll-out — training people, ensuring deliveries are taking place on time, and so on. We have overcome the challenges.
Competition is picking up both in the offline and online cash-and-carry business. How do you address that?
I think India is a large and emerging market. More new players are good for the sector and the consumers.
As e-commerce is part of your stores, are you looking to open smaller physical stores?
No. It is a standard format. We will continue to open 50,000 sq ft stores.
Any plans for business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce under the marketplace model?
No. We do not have plans for B2C. We are focusing on the cash-and-carry format.
How much have you invested in India so far and what are your plans on this front?
We do not talk about numbers.