2020 store opening target will be met: Krish Iyer

Chinese e-commerce major Alibaba, preparing for a direct India entry, had recently declared it was bigger than American chain Walmart in terms of revenues. Walmart India, which has restricted itself to the cash-and-carry or wholesale business, is however not showing any signs of taking on the Chinese rival in this market. Krish Iyer, president & chief executive officer at Walmart India, tells Karan Choudhury the company is focused on its own business, not looking at competition. Edited excerpts:

How would you compare your investments in social initiatives across geographies with your scale of business in a particular country? Where does India figure in the scheme of things, as you only have 21 cash and carry stores here and no retail outlets?

I would not be able to comment about other countries but India is a long-term play for Walmart and because of that, these things make a lot of sense in terms of bringing a holistic approach to the market, even with the cash and carry business. Our current focus is entirely cash and carry and is a significant part of Walmart’s global business. We have cash and carry business in other parts of the world, too.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is planning direct entry into  India. They have also  announced that they have beaten Walmart in financial numbers. How do you view their entry? Is Alibaba a bigger threat than Amazon in India for you?

It is not about comparing with others' business but about staying clearly focused on our goals. We are doing that. This (cash and carry) is the business we are allowed to do in the country and this is where we are focused on, as it has a very high potential. This is our strategy and mission in the country, which involves making small businesses prosper, and this would be our continued approach.

Do you think the significance of multi-brand retailing has reduced over the years for a group like Walmart?

I cannot comment on  multi-brand retailing, as our focus is on cash and carry.  

Walmart India’s business expansion targets are for 2020. Last year, you set a target for 50 more cash and carry stores in India by 2020, of which one was opened in August 2015. But, there’s no number set for 2016 and 2017. Isn’t that in contrast to Walmart’s global goal of 200 to 240 stores in international markets by the 2017 fiscal?

Opening a store takes about three years, from the time you finalise a property to the gestation period. All I can say is that we are well on track in terms of meeting our goal of 50 additional stores by 2020. There are no targets for 2016 and 2017 as a timeline to open stores can vary between 24 months and 36 months. It all depends on how fast the various approvals are received.

You have been in talks for tying up with e-commerce companies such as Flipkart, Shopclues and others. How is that working out?

Basically, it is a membership business. Anyone who has a business licence can become a member. With the play of online, many of them approached us for membership and we have been evaluating and looking at all the licences they can produce, and are in the process of making them members.

What is the kind of investments Walmart is making in its social initiatives?

We do not talk about numbers. I can say the investments are reasonably significant.

What are the social initiatives about?

On the intent of sustainability, environment and social responsibility, Walmart has always been leading globally. In India, it continues to be our big focus. The three areas where we are focusing are helping small farmers, training and education, and women and the economic environment.

We recently added renewable energy as one of the important goals and started investing in that area, too. As part of that, in September 2011, Walmart globally made a commitment that it will source about $20 million in five years and that we will also double our sourcing in the international market. We have done extremely well on that front and accelerated our focus in the past couple of years.

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