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Amazon, Walmart seek tie-ups, IT Min cites ‘independence’ to reject offers

Walmart India had approached with the offer sometime in February and had discussed the possibility of buying all the Grameen e-stores for expanding the reach of its own retail outlets as well as augmenting the capacity of Flipkart’s last-mile delivery.

“They made the offer, but the finer details were never discussed. We refused them in the very initial stages that Grameen stores will not be sold,” a senior government official said. (Reuters)

In an effort to enter domestic rural markets, global retail giant Walmart India had approached the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) with a proposal to buy out the entire chain of 1.4 lakh Grameen e-stores run and managed by the Common Service Centres (CSC), sources close to the development told The Indian Express.

Walmart India had approached with the offer sometime in February and had discussed the possibility of buying all the Grameen e-stores for expanding the reach of its own retail outlets as well as augmenting the capacity of Flipkart’s last-mile delivery.

“They made the offer, but the finer details were never discussed. We refused them in the very initial stages that Grameen stores will not be sold,” a senior government official said.

Walmart India did not respond to questions seeking details of the proposal they had made to the IT Ministry. Apart from Walmart India, its global rival Amazon’s local subsidiary, Amazon India, had also approached the CSC with an offer to help the Grameen e-stores “scale up all their stores” but that too was refused by the Ministry, according to the sources.

“We already have four kinds of apps and platforms which help run the entire ecosystem of Grameen e-stores. Amazon India’s proposal was that they offered us the technical know-how and offer of upgrading our stores. But that takes away our own independence and the freedom of the village level entrepreneur (VLE). So we turned down their proposal as well,” another IT Ministry official said.

Amazon India, too, did not respond to questions seeking the details of the proposal they had made to the IT Ministry. The CSC, a special purpose vehicle of the IT Ministry, had in April 2020 launched the Grameen e-store concept, allowing the existing VLEs to start selling essential items in villages and other rural areas by connecting them to wholesalers in urban areas.

Of the IT Ministry’s 4 lakh CSCs, about 1.4 lakh have so far received permission to start operations as Grameen e-stores, while the aim is to give all the CSC the necessary technical and other support infrastructure which will allow them to run e-stores, one of the officials quoted above said. For this, the CSC had designed four apps, one each for the customer and the VLE in the area, one to track the person delivering the products and one business-to-business app to manage the supply of goods to the VLEs.

“So while the customer can use one app to place their retail order for items of daily use, the VLEs in turn use a second separate app to collate all the orders in their area and then request for the products in bulk. To track people who ensure delivery to individual homes or from the wholesalers to the VLE, we have another app. And finally, the B2B app at the CSC level to manage all the orders and ensure timely delivery,” an official said.

Over the last year, starting April, the Grameen e-store of the CSC have tied up with several leading global and Indian fast moving consumer goods brands such as PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Nestle, Tata Consumer Products, Shahi Masala, Adhar Foods, and Unibic biscuits. “We have forayed into the delivery of white goods from companies and agencies such as Whirlpool, Tata Croma, and Bajaj Electric. Some more companies will be brought on-board in months to come,” one of the officials said.

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