Business Today

Battle for Supremacy

All market battles of the past pale in comparison to the big fights taking place in the different e-commerce segments in India today.
twitter-logo Prosenjit Datta        Print Edition: May 24, 2015
Business Today Editor Prosenjit Datta
Business Today Editor Prosenjit Datta

India has seen some extremely colourful and bitterly fought marketing wars in the past when two or three combatants jostled for supremacy in high growth markets. In the mid-1980s, Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever) suddenly found itself facing a rival that came out of the blue. Till then, the company was the king of the FMCG market, dominating the soaps, detergents and personal care categories. A fledgling Ahmedabad-based company, Nirma, created a product aimed at the bottom end of the detergent market. The Hindustan Lever vs Nirma war became a talking point in all marketing circles, and even business schools.

In the 1990s, Unilever's old global rival, Procter & Gamble also upped the ante. It introduced products that were meant to paint the leading HLL brands as fuddy-duddy and mid-market. This war continued for half a decade and before the market settled down finally, both companies had thrown their most potent advertising, and best marketing brains into the battlefield.

In a parallel battlefield in the 90s, Coke and Pepsi, too, duked it out for market supremacy. Pepsi had entered first, and it had battled Ramesh Chauhan's Thums Up and other brands initially. Then Coke came in. It was Coca-Cola's second entry - having been thrown out during the Janata regime by George Fernandes in 1977.

In more recent times, the mobile market has seen some interesting battles. First there was Nokia vs Samsung for the market leadership in India. Then after Nokia faded away, Micromax came out of nowhere to challenge Samsung in India. Now both Micromax and Samsung are facing the onslaught of the Chinese challengers - Xiaomi, Lenovo, Gionee...

But all those battles pale in comparison to the big fights taking place in the different e-commerce segments in the country today. Flipkart is fighting with Snapdeal and Amazon in the horizontal e-commerce space. In fashion, Myntra, now owned by Flipkart, is trying to stay ahead of Jabong. In online classifieds, OLX and Quikr are trying to kill each other. Zomato and Foodpanda are raising enormous sums of money and gobbling up smaller start-ups as they aim for supremacy in the food space. In furniture, Pepperfry and Urban Ladder have pulled ahead of the herd.

The e-commerce space is unforgiving across the world. In most categories, it is a high volume, low margin game. (Fashion and Furniture in general have better margins). In markets across the world, the accepted wisdom is that only one player survives. In that sense, what we are witnessing is different from what other battles have been. In FMCG, colas and even consumer durables, there has been space for two or three players.

Business Today's e-commerce team - Goutam Das, Taslima Khan and Manu Kaushik - bring you the strategies and tactics being tried out.

Talking of battles, India's most flamboyant tycoon Vijay Mallya has lost much of his empire. He is now fighting to retain what little he still has in terms of businesses. (Personally, he remains a rich man).

Finally, Narendra Modi will complete one year as prime minister on May 26. What has he achieved in these 12 months? We bring you the report card.

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