Does Flipkart need to move step in step with Amazon?

Flipkart, the leading Indian eCommerce company recently launched its own brand of Android Tablet devices, starting with a Digiflip Pro XT712. Flipkart claims that this step will take it closer to building an eCommerce eco-system. But, with the low price positioning of this device in an already crowded tablet & smartphone market – does this me-too strategy have a strong case?

(Near) Clones from different times, in different places

Flipkart is often referred to as being the Amazon of India. Flipkart, like Amazon started by selling books online and then expanded into other product categories. There was then a step towards selling eBooks via the eCommerce website. It then altered the business model to an eCommerce Marketplace model. Despite these similarities, does the move into tablets space seem right?

Indian Smartphone & Tablet Industry?

Questions come up immediately – Is this industry attractive enough? Is there enough incentive to compete here and try to achieve positive network effects? The Smartphone and tablet industry in India is an extremely crowded industry with over 60+ players in the space. A cluttered marketplace

Strong price competition and product commoditization are strong characteristics of this ma
rket
. The leading brands in India Samsung, Micromax & Karbonn take up 60% of the Smartphone space while the rest is extremely fragmented. Add to this the recent announcements at Google I/O 2014. The AndroidOne initiative will give further impetus to low-cost device makers making it hard for consumer to differentiate one tablet/smartphone from the other. And amidst all these dynamics, ENTER FLIPKART at the lower end of the price range.

A look from Amazon’s perspective

Amazon has a strong  experience with consumer electronics devices. The Kindle, when launched was the first of its kind. It was a new category of device a.k.a the e-reader with the much talked about e-Ink. It was a niche device that could render the Amazon eBook format and could leverage cloud delivery infrastructure downloading books via WiFi and WhisperNet.

The new Smartphone,  Fire Phone is positioned as a high-end niche device, competing not with the zillion other Android phone makers, but rather a few premium Smartphone makers in the US market – which is a completely different ballgame compared to the emerging markets.

The value proposition of Amazon’s Fire Phone is also well-defined and centered around Amazon services. Amazon Prime has substantial uptake in the US market. Bundling this subscription allows Amazon to further expand its user base. Trying to bump up transactions through the use of Amazon-specific apps & features is a clear intent. How well that strategy pans out or how drastic that step could be is a debate out of this scope.

For Flipkart, its not the same arena?

In fact it is not even the same game anymore. While this appears as a me-too response to the Amazon Fire Phone launch, I believe that achieving competitive parity can be useful but need not always be meaningful.

Digiflip, Flipkart’s inhouse brand, primarily appears to be an ‘electronic accessories’ brand. A Tablet to augment this line up of accessories is like driving in the opposite direction in a one-way to get into the business. In terms of positioning as well, the Digiflip Pro when compared to the Fire Phone is at a relatively different position on the pricing spectrum.

Over 2000 free eBooks are being offered as a goodie with this device, Flipkart also offers the Flipkart First subscription service, but I do not have enough to compare the popularity of this with that of Amazon Prime – I doubt though that similarities exist.

Will this boost online transactions?

It is widely said that e-Commerce & m-Commerce are the next big purchase channels for consumers. Flipkart is now a leading destination for device makers to sell Smartphones. Motorola sold over 1 million handsets through this exclusive-online retail partner in 5 months. Xiaomi is also planning to partner will Flipkart in its entry into the Indian market. Yet another Smartphone partner is in place – Karbonn, with whom Flipkart made exclusivity deals deal for cheap smartphone.

While these partnerships will boost the main line of business, the entry into ‘cheap tablet’ space could send the wrong-signal to these partners. These partners need to trust Flipkart to sell their devices on the website, than to feel threatened by Flipkart’s cheap competitive offerings.

That being said, would it not be more interesting to partner with these Android device makers like Samsung, Motorola, Micromax, Xiaomi, Karbonn and others to preload a Flipkart App on the device? Flipkart might want to extract more value at a lower cost by preloading the App an fulfil its eco-system intent than to start the line-of-business which is outside is core-business.

Leverage firm capabilities to find growth beyond the core

Flipkart has already started experimenting with its core business model by spinning off its logistics arm – eKart. While I see good merit in leveraging core-competencies to grow beyond its core, investing in this new line of business to gain competitive parity raises more questions than it answers.

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Are Vertical Integration and Coopetition based business model related?

Coopetition (Cooperation + Competition) has been an aggressively researched topic in the recent past. I was introduced to this term only during my studies at HEC Paris and while I read this interesting article – ‘Coopetition based business models‘ it brought a few more thoughts to my mind.

This piece on strategy-business.com puts forth various perspectives about Coopetition based business models. It raises valid points about organizational resistance and subsequent benefits of pulling through the strategy – not only to the firm but also possibly to the industry as a whole. It presents the potential impact of effecting an increase in the size of the whole pie, thereby dramatically increasing the firm’s own share.  In Amazon’s case, my interpretation is that while Amazon entered the e-commerce space as a consumer-goods-provider, it soon transformed itself primarily into a platform-provider – cleverly shifting its position within the industry value chain.

While reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of two more examples. One – from my not-so-distant past and the other from my current day experience.

In the Smartphone industry, Samsung & Apple are fierce competitors. Despite this fact, Samsung still makes the 64-bit A7 processor for the Apple iPhones (See here). Their partnership extended to more areas than just the processor.

In the Flat TV Industry, Samsung is a clear global leader in market share. Yet, notably Samsung is a major supplier of flat panel displays to several other TV makers in the industry. (See here)

In the consumer electronics industry, known for its rapid pace of innovation, is this a conscious strategic decision? Do vertically integrated corporations have an inherent competitive advantage over others in the industry value chain?

On the one hand, evolving customer specifications are a definite source of competitive intelligence for the firm – gaining insights on industry trend evolution. On the other hand, being suppliers of ‘critical components’ of a product gives the firm a higher bargaining power – allowing some control on the supply chain within the industry and also impacting product portfolio planning.

Read the original research ‘Coopetition based business models‘ via Strategy-Business.com

Can firms challenge critical mass in multi-sided platform markets?

I came across this nicely written piece about platform markets – “From Netscape to eHarmony: The High Risks and Big Rewards of Platform Markets” on http://strategy-business.com

Technology eco-systems are common in markets with multi-sided business models – For e.g the smartphone app-store connecting developers & phone-users, online-marketplace & storefronts connecting buyers & sellers.

The article introduces the term ‘tipping point’ – an alternate representation of a critical mass of users needed to create positive network effects. An interesting question raised herein is: How can you identify a platform market that is attractive to enter, and under which conditions is it appealing? Defining the granularity of the market & bringing in the right competitive advantage is one route to answering this.

Firms looking to displace dominant incumbents – be it in the smart phone industry, television industry, eCommerce industry or others – must think through the value proposition to switch current users.

Click Here for the original and complete article

“Revenge of the nerds” via The Economist

Revenge of the nerds‘, the article from The Economist delves in an interesting question. While financial technology firms will upset the apple-cart for bank & financial institutions, how far can this wave go? Developed economies are witnessing increasing application areas with the proliferation of smart phones, cloud based services and mobile banking platforms. How will incumbents create levers to achieve the  key success factor – gaining customer trust?

mPOS: Addressing new customer segments! A case of blue-ocean strategy!

In an attempt to better understand and apply the blue-ocean strategy, I decided to test the framework on a rapidly evolving market – the payment’s industry.

The solutions in the payments industry can be broadly classified into categories: those addressing emerging economies and those addressing developed economies. It naturally follows that the value propositions of the payments solutions in these two segments are quite apart and hence the associated value networks differ as well.

Here, I take a look at the developed economy market and specifically into a trend that has attracted several firms – mobile point of sale (mPOS).

In its simplest form, mPOS can be described as a payment-terminal (like the traditional credit card terminal) on your phone! Well it literally is that – pay using a mobile device (Smartphone/Tablet) and use funds from the traditional card accounts (magnetic stripe cards and the chip & pin EMV cards). Vendors like SumUp and Square Inc. are good examples.

The surge of companies in this space indicate a rapidly evolving technology area wherein there is yet to be a dominant technology. But it has seen innovative business models and new value propositions.

The key elements of the traditional credit card terminal used at retail outlets have the following characteristics:

Key elements

Value to customer

Upfront cost A significant fixed cost is involved to procure such a device (Anything between $150 to $1000 per terminal depending on product specifications)
Enrollment processing time This involves enrolling with payment solution providers and fulfilling a barrage of legal requirements to get the process started.
Pricing structure complexity In addition to an initial fixed cost, there are monthly maintenance charges that could be accompanied with long term agreement charges and other complex pricing structure.
Transaction volumes The high fixed cost and complex pricing structure necessitate a certain number of transactions to break even.
Payment authorization End users that swipe their cards through these terminals feel secure due to pin-entry provision.
Fraud prevention It follows that both front-end and back-end systems must complement to avoid fraudster from abusing the payment systems.
CRM information CRM software and other middleware solutions can enable merchants to pull out relevant sales information transacted through the payment terminal

The value curve for the traditional credit-card terminal industry would look as below:

Traditional Credit Card Terminals - Key Elements and its relative offering level
Traditional Credit Card Terminals – Key Elements and its relative offering level

Vendors likes SumUp and Square Inc. have however reversed this curve, and brought to the fore the mPOS dongle that extends the ubiquitous Smartphone (& tablet) into a payment terminal. Taking advantage of the app-store eco-system it provides merchants with a basic application for usage and also allows merchants to create customized apps to exploit the backend services. Merchants can take this a step ahead to analyze the sales data & customer preferences and thus derive business intelligence. All this comes at zero additional charges – the dongle comes for free – and in short turnaround time.

The grid below indicates the application of the Four-Action Framework (ERRC) – depicting a change in priorities of the key elements identified before, in addition to additional elements provided by the new offering.

Four Action Grid - mPOS
Four Action Grid – mPOS

Eliminating the high fixed investment and cutting down the enrolment process drastically, these vendors have been able to attract a new customer segment – micro-merchants – those that traditionally stayed away from the card-terminal and primarily dealt in cash.

mPOS vendors maintain a simple revenue model – charging a fixed percentage of sales revenue (typically 2.75% as of today). mPOS thus met the unmet need of a previously ignored segment of customer. An analogy I can think of here is text-based mobile banking (like M-PESA) in emerging economies – it met the banking needs of the un-banked customers in such geographies.

The value curve of the mPOS solution is overlay-ed on the previous chart as shown below:

mPOS vs. Traditonal Payment Terminal value curve
mPOS vs. Traditonal Payment Terminal value curve

Clearly mPOS is an interesting proposition for the payments industry. While the use of this ‘cool’ gadget may sync with the brand image of some merchants, there is need for caution. mPOS vendors must seek to address concerns, if any, of consumers reluctant to type in their PINS into a merchant’s phone or tablet!

The Fit for Growth℠ approach & Business Model Innovation

This post is based on my reading of “Fit for GrowthSM Framework for Telecom Operators: Aligning Capabilities, Costs, and Structure” by Martin Reitenspiess, Christine Rupp, Hannes Gmelin, and Chady Smayra, via Booz & Co.

It is an attempt to reconstruct the proposal made in the publication by drawing analogies to other pieces of work. This publication (from April 2013) from Booz & Co proposes a “Fit for Growth” framework to transition from price-based competition strategy to differentiation strategy. Not surprisingly the industry in question, Telecom, is industry characterized by the following observations:

  • Stagnating market due to saturation of primary revenue sources
  • Declining margins accompanied by price competition
  • Substitute OTT (over-the-top) technologies hurting the basic product offerings
  • Shift in consumer behavior demanding higher capital investments in technology upgrades

The figure below depicts the three tier approach proposed by the framework (the process above) and my simplistic interpretation of each step (the process below)

Fit for Growth Approach (by Booz & Co)
Fit for Growth Approach (by Booz & Co)

I couldn’t help but relate this approach to Business model innovation and its representation using the Business Model Canvas. One possible business model representation as described in Business Model Generation is the decoupling of Operations, Customer Relationship Management & Product Innovation.

Business Model Canvas (Source: Business Model Generation)
Business Model Canvas (Source: Business Model Generation)

An organization keen on business model innovation could use the Fit for Growth Framework and communicate the same using the business model canvas representation.

Once the leadership team decides to assess the ground realities of its business and charts out the current business model, it needs to take a call on which of the three aspects it will focus on. It naturally follows that leveraging current competencies is essential & management commitment to additional investments nurturing the key capabilities is imperative.

While additional funding may be secured from external sources, internal cost cutting is a long preferred approach. However this time, as the article suggests there are two ways of doing this. Firstly make ‘cost effective operations’ a way of life, not a one-time business exercise and more importantly identify rightly the good costs vs. bad costs. Secondly, the desired strategic focus area in tandem with the assessment of the current business model will bring out non-core area expenditures – seeking ways to cut costs dramatically in these avenues will go a long way in making a lean cost structure. My analogy between the proposed framework and business model innovation is depicted below:

Fit For Growth (& BMI)
Fit For Growth (& BMI)

The article has extremely interesting insights for this approach to seeking growth. However, I am in a fix about one specific observation. Exhibit 2 in the original article quotes “Experience Players” to be least profitable.

I would rather argue that experience players focus on the “customer experience” & hence should succeed in driving demand and raising the ‘willingness to pay’ among customers, while lowering non-core costs. Having said that, wouldn’t such a player also have a larger share of the industry profit pool?

Your thoughts?

P&G: A case for Strategic Innovation

This blog entry by Ken Favaro on strategy+business shares an insight into how P&G has done well not only in product innovation in the past, but has also demonstrated the ability to innovate in its business functions.

The article puts forth the need for more strategic innovation – or business model innovation, if I may dare to say so -for P&G to unleash the next wave of growth.

Click here for the article: Does P&G Need Product Innovation or Strategic Innovation?