After making inroads into India’s payments sector via WhatsApp, Facebook is eyeing a larger piece of the country’s fast-growing ecommerce market where the world’s largest retailers Amazon and Walmart are gearing up for a direct faceoff. 

The social media giant is in talks with several brands and businesses to list on Facebook Marketplace, according to two people familiar with the discussions. It will begin testing business-to-consumer transactions on the marketplace this month ahead of a soft launch planned for June, one of them said. Facebook “will build more tools (on its marketplace) for businesses to upload products and manage inventory and orders, and will also add payments to it by the end of this year”, the other person said. “For now, Facebook will start with directing consumers to sellers’ (Facebook) pages or websites.” 

Facebook launched its marketplace as a consumer-to-consumer interface in India about six months ago only to receive a lukewarm response to its attempt at creating a domestic Craigslist, competing with startups such as Quikr and OLX. 

Facebook confirmed it is testing ways to feature content from shops on its marketplace. “We first introduced Marketplace in India last November, and since then we’ve been continuously learning and evolving the experience to meet people’s needs. We’ll continue to explore new ways to help these communities connect through commerce,” a company spokeswoman said. 

India’s online retail sector is expected to grow to $27 billion this year after registering sales worth $19.6 billion in 2017, estimates Forrester Research. Global retailers are betting more on the massive growth potential for the fledgling market, which Morgan Stanley estimates will be worth $200 billion by 2026. While Walmart is getting closer to acquiring a majority stake in India’s largest online marketplace, Flipkart, Amazon has committed to invest $5 billion in its India operations. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, may also invest $1-2 billion in Flipkart if the Walmart deal goes through, ET reported first on April 27. 

Google is also preparing to tap the domestic ecommerce market more directly after recently investing in Bengaluru-based personal concierge app Dunzo and ecommerce company Fynd, said people familiar with the developments. 

A Google spokeswoman, however, denied such a move, saying “currently we have no plans”. The company operates Google Express in the United States via a partnership with retailers including Walmart and Costco. 

As for Facebook’s marketplace plans for India, industry experts said it would take time for sellers to recognise the social network also as an ecommerce platform. “Onboarding sellers on Facebook may be a challenge. I think it will take significant time before people understand and see value in (business-to-consumer transactions via Facebook),” said Shrinath V, an independent product consultant. 

Then there is competition from incumbent ecommerce giants. “Facebook Marketplace is going to compete with Flipkart and Amazon because all of them are ultimately fighting for the same customer,” said an industry executive, requesting anonymity. “But this is good news for sellers and brands because it adds another distribution channel for them.”. 

Facebook Marketplace is available in 70 countries and has more than 800 million people visiting each month to buy and sell goods. 

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