Is the Ecommerce Cart Flipping?Is online retail headed south? Are top etailers like Flipkart experiencing a cash crunch and is this crunch a result of falling sales or on account of deeper discounts being offered due to competition? Or is it due to lack of funding from VCâs and falling valuations? These questions need to be asked since etailers are now in the market for bank loans, an area of funding that no blue-blooded etailer would have looked at even six months ago.
By Sunil Garodia
It all started in the last quarter of 2015 when the prima donna in the etail space, Flipkart, got as much as Rs 1400 crore from Kotak Mahindra Bank and Deutsche Bank by pledging assets. In March, it disclosed that it had accessed a further credit line of Rs 450 crore from HDFC Bank by pledging fixed deposits.
Now it has been disclosed that Paytm has borrowed Rs 300 crore from ICICI Bank in two tranches by pledging fixed deposits and mutual funds. While Paytm has said that this is a treasury management move to shore up working capital without liquidating paper assets, analysts are viewing this as a sure sign that the sector is witnessing a slowdown in terms of VC investments.
As is well known, etailers fund the discounts on their marketplace from their own pockets (read the article How Flipkat, Amazon and Snapdeal Fund Discounts in Livemint here). Increasing competition in the marketplace, with up to 80% discounts being offered in mega sales which now occur at alarming frequency and an urgency to grab customer eyeballs making these players spend big bucks on advertising has meant that the drain on the kitty is much more than what they are getting from the VCâs or internal revenue generation.
Pledging assets to âshoreâ up working capital in their business model can be dangerous. These firms are hoping that VC sentiment will improve and funding will start again so that they will be able to pay back the banks and get the assets released. They are also betting on continued upward revision of valuations. But where will the profits come from? In the absence of solid figures on the balance sheets, there will come a time when the VCâs will look the other way. The sellers on the marketplace also need to be wary. Pressed for cash, these etailers might choose to delay payments, as they are the ones who collect from the customer. If that happens, sellers can leave in droves. Then, the cart will truly flip.