Indian online retailer Flipkart has quickly mustered a valuation tallying into the billions and has drawn comparisons to competitors like Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN). In a year where e-tailer stocks like Amazon and China's Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) have turned in huge returns, people may be hoping to also buy some Flipkart stock. But that's not possible as Flipkart remains a private company.
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Here are the details investors need to know and some alternative investment ideas.
Why you can't buy in
Founded in 2007, India's largest online retailer was estimated to be worth $11.5 billion earlier this year. While rumors had it that the company was looking to go public to raise much-needed cash late in 2016, those plans were apparently put on hold since the company got $1.4 billion in April from eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), Tencent (NASDAQOTH: TCEHY), and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). Another $2.5 billion investment was made by Softbank (NASDAQOTH: SFTBF) in August.
Now that the company is infused with ample cash, a stock offering to the general public is reportedly not needed. Investors will have to continue waiting to get in on Flipkart.
Why it still matters
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India is the world's second most populous country with over 1.3 billion people. However, unlike the most populous country China, India has a very young population with nearly two-thirds of the people less than 35 years old. The huge number of working-age people is expected to drive economic growth and consumerism in India over the next two decades.
That trend is manifesting itself already. According to the International Monetary Fund, India's economy as measured by GDP will have grown 6.7% in 2017, and that number is expected to accelerate to over 7% starting in 2018.
That kind of economic growth helps explain some of the runaway success that Flipkart has had in the last decade. It also explains why investors would be interested in getting in early with that kind of potential. For those of us on the outside looking in, though, there is another way to invest in the Indian consumer with a Flipkart IPO on the back burner.
Another door into Indian e-commerce
One option is to invest in an index fund specific to the Indian markets, like iShares MSCI India ETF (NYSEMKT: INDA). Included in the portfolio are companies that sell consumer goods in the Indian economy, everything from food and clothes to cars and electronics. However, it isn't a pure play on the growth of the consumer as investors also get bank and energy stocks based in India as well. Also worth noting is that there are certain risks involved with investing in an emerging economy like India that can make the fund's price gyrate wildly.
If you are looking for an investment focused on the consumer, though, look no further than America's online retail darling, Amazon. Amazon entered the Indian market late back in 2012 and is currently the underdog to Flipkart, but CEO Jeff Bezos has dedicated over $5 billion into operations there to play catch-up.
Back in July, the company held Prime Day -- a popular Amazon-invented shopping holiday in the U.S. -- for the first time in India. In September, Amazon invested in Indian retailer Shopper's Stop to help the company grow its number of locations. In exchange, Amazon gets to set up "experience centers" in-store to allow shoppers to get familiar with the online store. And in October, Amazon announced it was releasing its popular Echo device with Alexa digital assistant in India.
There is stiff competition from India's homegrown Flipkart, which has thus far been able to stave off the Amazon spending spree, but Amazon doesn't necessarily have to win the battle for the country to be worthy of its time and investment. India's consumer economy is just beginning to show signs of growth, and the future potential is huge. Amazon thinks India could be its biggest marketplace second only to the U.S. in a decade.
The digital retail giant isn't a pure play on India's growth potential, but until investors get a chance to buy Flipkart stock, it may be the next best option.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Nicholas Rossolillo owns shares of iShares MSCI India ETF. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and eBay. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.