In a clear sign of his interest in India's e-commerce sector, Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of China's Alibaba Group, is likely to visit India again at the end of April, his third trip to the country in about six months.
On Monday, Ma met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a short trip to India.
Sources said China's largest e-commerce company was eyeing a "significant play" in India's e-tailing segment and exploring strategic investments not just in online retail firms here, but also in business-to-business e-tailing, logistics, payments services companies, etc.
Ma is also exploring strategic play in one of the largest media houses in India, with sources saying he is keen on content-making companies. But such plans are at an early stage.
ON ALIBABA’S RADAR
Micromax, Paytm, ShopClues and Flipkart
‘CONTENT’ IS THE KEY
According to sources, Alibaba Group has mandated at least three investment banking firms to scout for large and mid-sized Indian companies in these segments, in which the company could make strategic investments. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, which worked with Alibaba Group for its $25-billion New York Stock Exchange-listing, were working with it in India, too, sources said. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is also learnt to be working with Alibaba to scout for strategic partners in India.
Responding to an emailed query, an Alibaba spokesperson said, "As a matter of company policy, we do not comment on rumours and speculation." "Alibaba Group is looking to replicate in India what it has done in China," said a source. "They are different from usual investors. They don't want to invest in one e-commerce company and stop there; they want to be ecosystem players in India."
During Ma's next visit, Alibaba could possibly acquire a stake in Micromax, with reports suggesting the mobile maker had approached the e-commerce giant. Alibaba Group was also considering New Delhi-based ShopClues, sources said.
Earlier this month, sources said talks between Alibaba and Snapdeal were stuck due to differences over valuations.
Several industry representatives said the Chinese e-tailing major had held talks with India's largest e-commerce firm, Flipkart, too.
"They (Alibaba Group) are very interested in India and their teams are spending a lot of time evaluating all options," said the founder of a company approached by investment bankers, one who had met an Alibaba team about 15 days ago. "There is no decision as of now, but things could firm up in the next 60 days. However, they are not in a hurry; neither are Indian entrepreneurs."
During his meeting with Modi on Monday, Ma discussed the potential of e-commerce and mobile telephony in driving small and medium enterprises, among other things.
In China, Alibaba Group runs multiple companies and affiliated entities in e-commerce and allied segments. Besides the business-to-business trading platform, alibaba.com, the group has entities such as online payment escrow service Alipay; consumer-to-consumer online shopping platform Taobao Marketplace; tmall.com, an online retail platform to complement Taobao; group shopping website juhuasuan.com; comparison shopping website eTao.com; third-party online payment platform Alipay, e-commerce data mining and processing platform Alibaba Cloud Computing; and AliExpress, an online retail service for small Chinese businesses.