The numbers are out. Flipkart: Sold 15.5 million units. Amazon: Sold 15 million units. Snapdeal: Sold 11 million units. These are the stats touted by big online retailers soon after their discounted sale which ended on Thursday.
First things first. These are vanity metrics trotted out for the purpose of chest thumping, signalling and mileage in the press. The more you read into them, the less they mean something. The claims of victory from all parties needs to be loud, of course. After all, crores of rupees have been bled from the bottom line in a quest to claim this victory.
Even so, let’s try and make some sense of these numbers.
First, let’s start with the only real (as in told by the companies) available numbers to compare — the units sold. Amazon, which released its numbers a day before, claimed a total of 15 million units sold in its five days of sales. Flipkart has claimed 15.5 million units in its sale period including its Myntra and Jabong numbers.
On the face of it, it looks impressive for Amazon. Single-handedly, it seems to have matched Flipkart plus nearly all of online fashion commerce (powered through Myntra and Jabong). But let’s dig a little deeper to get a more nuanced perspective. Amazon has claimed that its Prime membership is the largest-selling Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU). Good for Amazon! But including Prime membership sales numbers is not a fair comparison of performance when Flipkart’s numbers don’t include an equivalent SKU.
This means that Amazon’s volume numbers need discounting for sales of Prime memberships. While we do not know what’s the ratio of Prime membership sales (an earlier version of this story said 1/3rd of the total units sold, or one out of every 3 units, was a Prime membership, but in a later communication, Amazon did not confirm this and said that “paid Prime membership was the highest selling product in Amazon.in’s history during Great Indian Festival”) it is safe to say that comparable volumes drop below the 15 million range (If Prime membership sales accounted for one-tenth, for instance, the volume drops to 13.5 million). In any case, the Flipkart collective (FK + Myntra + Jabong) wins out in volume terms. It’s anybody’s guess if Flipkart (without Myntra and Jabong) managed to beat Amazon’s volume numbers.
Let’s speculate a little — quite a bit in fact — about the gross merchandise value (GMV).
No one has shared these numbers except for a titbit from Flipkart, which has claimed a historically high sales of Rs 1400 crore on October 3 (one day of sale). The assumption is that this is only Flipkart numbers and does not include Myntra and Jabong. Flipkart is rumoured to have had a target of over $500 million in sales at the beginning of the sale at a group level. This number could be higher, but lets go with $500 million for the sake of argument.
By their own claims, they’ve exceeded the targets by 40%. That would make the overall sales during the period around $700 million. That’s more than twice their 2015 Big Billion Day mop-up of around $300 million. Phew!
It’s impossible to guesstimate Amazon’s GMV, on the other hand, but I think it would be safe to say that it is below Flipkart’s numbers. Why? For one, a substantial part of their GMV comes from a Rs 499 Prime membership. But also, as evidence suggested during the sale (albeit anecdotal), Amazon was definitely driving a much larger breadth of products which were also low value, including significant focus on consumables. This is likely to mean that they did not quite reach the lofty value targets that their Indian rival did.
Instant verdict: Flipkart’s big billion day was definitely the winner – bigger and more successful than its only other credible rival, Amazon.
In the medium to long term though, Amazon may just turn out to be the winner from this sale period. With a high Prime subscription base, customers willing to engage repeatedly and buy functional, consumption-led items, they may have mopped up the regular shopping base that is likely to come back the week after or the month after. This may just propel their leadership quest further.
Also, in the larger scheme of things, the numbers, however impressive they are, need to be discounted. It is necessary to view them with a pinch of salt, nay, a handful of salt. A Rs 10,000 crore GMV for the two companies may very well mean Rs 5000 crores in real sales (with 35% discounting and 15% returns). The reality is that it could be even lower (assuming some built-in inflation of numbers).
The numbers are impressive but it isn’t enough to beat my contention from earlier: Indian e-commerce is still an urban-elite phenomenon serving a small fraction of consumers.