Reliance's JioMart turns to WhatsApp to break Amazon grip on grocery buyers

Indians can now use WhatsApp to order groceries from billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s JioMart via a new “tap and chat” option, as his Reliance Industries Ltd. challenges the domination of Inc. and Walmart Inc.-owned Flipkart. 

Delivery is free and there’s no minimum order value, according to JioMart users who got WhatsApp shopping invites with a 90-second tutorial and catalog. Among the daily essentials on offer are fruits, vegetables, cereal, toothpaste and cooking staples like paneer cottage cheese and chickpea flour. Customers can fill their shopping baskets within the app and pay either via JioMart or in cash when receiving their order. 

The move comes 19 months after Meta Platforms Inc., previously known as Facebook Inc., invested nearly $6 billion into Reliance’s Jio Platforms unit. The service taps into the popularity of India’s largest mobile operator, Jio, to reach users and relies on its biggest brick-and-mortar store chain, Reliance Retail, to execute delivery. WhatsApp has about 530 million users in the country -- Meta’s biggest overseas base -- and Jio has more than 425 million subscribers. 

Food and groceries are estimated to account for over half of the nation’s retail spending, which is projected to reach as high as $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to Boston Consulting Group. Ambani’s group has enhanced its position to capture a larger share of that market with the introduction of a no-frills $87 smartphone, which comes preloaded with the JioMart and WhatsApp apps, built in partnership with Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Like its U.S. partners and investors -- Google invested $4.5 billion into the company last year -- Jio has put a priority on getting more users connected and enrolled to use its services. 

Meta’s signature messaging service is rebuilding its brand in India with Reliance’s help, after several run-ins with the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has accused WhatsApp of failing to police content adequately. 

Reliance Industries and WhatsApp representatives did not respond to requests for comment. 

The WhatsApp grocery option sits alongside Reliance’s JioMart, which launched last summer in 200 cities, years after global rivals got a head start in Indian e-commerce. There’s still much opportunity left untapped as groceries remain a small albeit rapidly growing segment of online retail. Beside Amazon and Walmart, a slew of domestic startups such as SoftBank Group Corp.-backed Grofers, Google-backed Dunzo, Naspers-backed Swiggy, the Tata conglomerate’s recently acquired Bigbasket and newer entrants like Zepto are crowding the grocery delivery arena with promises of discounts and instant deliveries. 

WhatsApp as a shopping front promises to be a familiar entry point for consumers and retailers alike. Hundreds of millions of Indians already use it several times a day as a social, professional and entertainment conduit and won’t have to download or learn how to navigate a new app to start shopping. 

Kiranas, the country’s ubiquitous local neighborhood stores, would also be attracted to join as most of their operators are already on WhatsApp. Jio, Amazon and Flipkart are each competing to help those outlets with store management tech, credit and tax filing services and supply replenishment, while also hoping to harness them for neighborhood deliveries.  

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