Customers outside a Big Bazaar outlet in Gurgaon Haryana, India, on January 13, 2019. Photo: AFP/Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto

Oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance Industries has increased its footprint in the retail space by acquiring Future Retail, the country’s second-biggest brick-and-mortar retailer, for 247 billion rupees (US$3.38 billion).

It will also strengthen Reliance’s e-commerce push to take on Amazon and the Walmart-owned Flipkart.

The all-cash deal will provide the Reliance Group, owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, access to close to 1,800 stores across Future Group’s Big Bazaar, FBB, Easyday, Central, Foodhall formats spread over 420 cities in the country.

It was a slump sale – sold for a lump sum consideration without values assigned to individual assets and liabilities.

Reliance’s retail arm Reliance Retail Ventures will acquire Future Group’s retail and wholesale business and the logistics and warehousing business. Ahead of this exercise, Future Group will merge five of its listed units across grocery, apparel, supply chain and the consumer business into Future Enterprises Limited.

The logistics and warehousing undertaking will be transferred directly to Reliance.

Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani assured that the transaction takes into account the interest of all its stakeholders including lenders, shareholders, creditors, suppliers and employees, giving continuity to all its businesses.

Fifty-nine-year-old Biyani began his entrepreneurial journey in 1987 and is considered the pioneer of modern retail in India and the man who took convenience shopping to the masses.

The need for capital to expand his retail business, which is highly cash consuming, and increased competition from other players and e-commerce forced Biyani to borrow heavily.

Apart from the group-level debts, the banks now have an exposure of another 120 billion rupees to the promoter entities of the Future Group. The deal will also help the group pare its borrowings.

Many times Biyani was forced to divest assets to pare the mounting debt of his retail empire and the acquirers include Aditya Birla, Warburg Pincus and Amazon. Future group ran into financial trouble earlier this year after Future Retail defaulted on debt repayment and lenders invoked pledged shares.

Reliance Industries had earlier disrupted India’s telecom sector and its telecom arm Reliance Jio now has the largest subscriber base. Now the group is pushing ahead with his ambitions in the brick-and-mortar retail and e-commerce space.

Mukesh Ambani is looking to pivot his conglomerate from being an oil and petrochemicals giant to a consumer-services powerhouse and reduce dependence on its legacy businesses.

Reliance recently acquired a majority equity stake in digital pharmacy market place Netmeds for 6.2 billion rupees ($85 million) earlier this month. It is also in negotiations to either buy out or purchase stakes in companies including Urban Ladder, an online furniture seller, and Zivame, a lingerie maker.