I am as usual caught in a conundrum when I read some stories. On the 15th of August National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) launched a logout campaign against the deep discount coupons that are offered by these five aggregators Zomato, EazyDiner, Nearbuy, MagicPin and Dineout. Since then, more than 2300 restaurants across the country de-listed themselves from these food apps claiming that “discount structure, terms and conditions, by the food tech companies are unjust and unsustainable.” The president of NRAI said that to stay competitive in the market, some aggregators give a discount of buy one and get one free. Others have done the same thing differently; they have straight away offered a 50% discount, which means the same.
The story does not end here. On a particular Gold Card membership, such discounts are allowed on one item. But our desi brain works interestingly. The people go to restaurant A and take starters- 50% discount. They go to another restaurant to take drinks- buy two get two free! Finally, they go to the third restaurant and order the main course- buy one get one free! Using this method, they get the whole meal at a 50% discount which kills the business.
The worst part of the whole thing is that the discounts are being borne by the restaurants and not the aggregators. The association wants these discounts to be removed so that customers get used to not getting high discounts. It is a sort of detox action that is essential, according to the association. It appears that both the sides have understood the problems created by deep discounts and they also know that it will take some time to reach normalcy and come out of the deep discount issue.
You and I are naturally going to be unhappy with these changes. We have to now look for happy hours or special days to get good discounts. Now, these changes are going to take my outflow back to normal, which I do not like. But we should not forget that such gimmicks never work in the long term.
I always felt as if I am an uneducated person, though I have run a small business for more than 35 years. Giant organisations like Amazon and Flipkart have been in the deep discount game for quite some time. The difference is that they give deep discounts from their pocket. For years, they offer deep discounts, give Prime memberships and so on. They keep on investing billions of dollars for years. Amazon has never made profits in the last twenty years. But they continue to invest in the business to get more and more customers all the time. Uber CEO has recently made a statement that Uber may never make profits. What is the business model of such companies? Jeff Bozos has become “poor” when he settled his divorce, and his wealth is at lowly US $ 65/ billions. He bought some time back Washington post for an all-cash deal of US $ 250/ million.
Uneducated me does not understand the principles used in these businesses. Uber charges higher rates when demand is up. But I have seen that as a routine, they charge about 10 to 15 % more than an Auto Riksha in Pune. The price difference between an Auto Riksha and a car can be three lacs of rupees. Many Rikshas give mileage about 1.5 times more than the cars.
On top of that, Uber takes 30% of the amount we pay to the driver. To me, the driver may break even, Uber’s figures show that they make losses. Other than making vehicles available quickly to us, are they running a charity organisation? Is it not similar to deep discounts offered by Zomato or Amazon? Or for that matter, Oyo?
Venture capitalists, angel investors, put in their money in such companies. Venture capital is defined as capital invested in a project in which there is a substantial element of risk, typically a new or expanding business. I am sure that those who invest in such companies expect reasonable returns on their capital. By what I have described above, there are no returns, then why are the investments continued? Where is the source for such unlimited funds?
There is no doubt that Amazon, Uber, Zomato are market disruptors. They have shown the world a new way of doing business, which even 25 years back did not exist. New methods, new ways of doing things make a lot of difference in day to day life. Consider Airbnb. The concept is so good that it is helping people all over the world. It reduces the cost of travel and uses people’s assets which have been remaining idle.
Amazon, Walmart, Jio are game–changing companies which have made a big difference in our lives. But they are making these changes with their own money or at the cost of competitors. They are disrupting the market and making their competitors think; I am sure the competitors will come up with even newer ideas.
But this deep discount business with own money or someone else’s money is not a sustainable business model. I am not surprised that NRAI has revolted against it. I was talking to someone about these aggregators. It was felt that the aggregators probably sell the data of their customers to make money! When companies like Facebook have done it, what will stop the aggregators from selling data!
Ultimately, market disruptors come with ideas and business models which were never seen before. But one thing will never change. Such organisations have to make profits at some stage. Unless, of course, you are an Amazon or an Uber. But don’t forget that Amazon is the market leader in Cloud Computing business; so as a group, they make profits. Becoming a Unicorn company (market value exceeding One Billion US $) is fine for publicity; it will help companies get more VC funding. But if they don’t start making profits, such companies fall in the group of 95 % plus companies, which close down sometimes even without a whimper.