It is a war that’s been in the making for two years – and may finally happen now that Tatas are in enough businesses to launch a super app. The super app may see an all-out Tata-Ambani retail war whose war clouds have been building up.

Tata is launching a super app to take on Reliance. Its app, due to launch tomorrow, will have not only shopping but will soon link its airlines – Vistara and Air India – its hotel chain – the Taj group of hotels – its grocery chains – Big Basket and 1mg – its apparel stores – Westside – to consumers. Tanishq and Tata Motors are not on board yet.

Super apps first started in China with WeChat, the messaging app that essentially acts as a platform for facilitating life online in the world’s most populous country. WeChat doesn’t just let you message your friends and see their updates in a feed; it can also be used to take out a loan to buy your next car.

In a crowded landscape of apps, becoming a super app is mainly about becoming more integrated into people’s lives and maintaining a grip on their attention, whether it be an endless feed of short videos or an easy way to find clothes to buy, wrote The Verge in November last year.

“Any company that has an app, you’re really focused on getting to the point of being a Home Screen app,” said Nicole Quinn, an investor at Lightspeed Venture Partners who has backed the mental health app Calm and Cameo, an app that lets you book shoutouts from celebrities.

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Coin payment

The Neu super app from Tatas will allow consumers to make payments using NeuCoins, cards, UPI, EMI and more. NeuCoins are rewards that let users shop for products and services from different categories. So, if you buy an electronic item and get points, these can be redeemed to buy a stay in any of the hotel properties or buy medicines from 1MG or buy grocery on Bigbasket.

Long build-up

Tata’s super app has had a long build-up. Mint newspaper reported The Tata Group’s talk to Walmart for a $25 billion investment in a super app in 2020.
“Just as the Chinese duo of Jack Ma and Pony Ma have carved up major chunks of their country’s internet businesses, the battle for control of 1.3 billion Indians’ data could become a two-horse race,” wrote Bloomberg’s Andy Mukherjee at that time.

“The advantage is with the 63-year-old Ambani, with roughly 40 crore regular subscribers for his 4G telecommunications network. He also has India’s largest retail chain. The kind of super-app that has succeeded in China and Southeast Asia requires a reason for customers to visit it regularly. Commerce is incidental. Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has its popular Alipay wallet. Pony Ma’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. has WeChat, a messaging service, and WeChat Pay,” wrote Mukerjee.

“But if Ambani wants to spawn India’s Tencent, Ratan Tata can aim to launch its Alibaba. The conglomerate, which owns Tetley tea and Jaguar Land Rover car brands, has its tentacles in more than 100 businesses, all with their supply chains. If Tata can provide a portal to its vendors to sell their wares, host data and discount bills, expansion into business-to-consumer or consumer-to-consumer websites — like Alibaba’s Tmall or Taobao — shouldn’t be too hard.”

Mukesh Ambani’s shopping spree in the last five years has allowed Reliance to build a retail behemoth, along with a communications platform.

In the Western world, social media companies are playing catchup on super apps, reported Verge. They’re morphing from single or dual-use case apps — messaging friends or browsing feeds of content — to encompass more and more of what people do online.

The biggest risk to companies with super apps — or ambitions to become a super app — is the increasing scrutiny of the tech industry’s power with regulators in the US and Europe increasingly more critical of the biggest internet platforms.