Early this year, global e-retailer Amazon completed a year in India. In an email interview, Amit Agarwal, vice-president and country manager, Amazon India, talks about the company's achievements in reaching out to far-flung areas, expansion plans and learnings from its India experience till now. Here are edited excerpts:
Amazon started operating in India in early 2013; it has been a little over 1.5 years now. What are the nuances of the Indian consumer which you find fascinating?
Our experience of working around the world has shown that customers around the world are similar. I am yet to come across a customer who will say that he/she wants a smaller selection or higher prices. Customers around the world always want a vast selection at competitive prices and a reliable and trustworthy online shopping experience. Indian customers are no different.
You started by creating a logistics team. Is that unit still the biggest resource base in terms of headcount? How have you grown in terms of geographical expansion and employee strength?
Amazon Logistics is our logistics arm that manages all the logistics in India. We have our own logistics staff besides the external carrier partners like Blue Dart, FedEx, Gati, among others. To ensure last-mile delivery even in the far corners of India, we have partnered with the Indian Postal Services. IPS is one of the prime carriers that Amazon India uses as a delivery channel. Through IPS' extensive network we are able to service over 19,000 pin-codes through 140,000 post-offices across all 35 states and union territories in India. For example we even deliver to the pin code 790002, which is for a remote place called Balemu in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. During the just concluded festive season, sellers on the Amazon.in were able to ship their products to over 16,000 pin codes across over 900 cities using our extensive delivery network.
In just about 18 months we have increased our storage capacity from 150,000 square feet to over half a million square feet across our eight fulfillment centers in seven states.
What is the quantum of business you get through cash on delivery and online payment?
Cash on delivery continues to be a popular payment method contributing to more than 50 per cent of the overall transactions.
Are you also directly involved with Junglee? What's the idea to expand its scope from search to C2C classifieds?
Junglee.com is an integral part of Amazon's India strategy. However, Amazon.in and Junglee.com are two independent businesses serving different missions.
We launched Junglee in February 2012 with the vision of enabling customers to find and discover products available in India across online and offline stores. Since then, the business has grown dramatically. Junglee offers a unique, easy and convenient product search and price comparison experience for customers (on PC and mobiles) by offering them access to over 33 million listings across hundreds of categories of new and pre-owned products from 2500+ online sellers, 100,000+ offline sellers as well as to selection from nearby stores.
We believe that Junglee holds the key to organising the vast tail-end selection and make it discoverable for customers and help millions of smaller retailers and individual sellers to benefit from the digital economy.
Earlier, you reported to have over 6,500 sellers. What is the number now? How many orders are you processing on a daily basis compared with the year-ago period?
We have enabled over 100,000 sellers across Junglee and Amazon.in to take advantage of the growing digital economy. Specific to Amazon.in, we have over 16,000 sellers. We are working with sellers, at every stage of their lifecycle, be it helping them with basics like imaging and cataloguing or creating a level playing field as they service customers nationally or truly making them digital storefronts with transactional infrastructure at minimal costs.
Jeff Bezos's recent India visit was a much celebrated one given the contributions the Indian business is making for the global giant. What sort of pep talk did Bezos give you and the rest of the team during the visit?
Jeff was here to personally congratulate the team on the great work it has done. India is the fastest market for Amazon globally to reach a billion dollars in sales. He met the team here and motivated everyone to help raise the bar for online shopping experience in India.
How does the company feel about inorganic growth in India? Amazon has a history of lapping up niche e-tailers abroadâ€¦
We are always exploring ways to grow our business but we are happy and excited by the growth we have seen in the last 18 months and continue to stay focused on growing our business organically.
In which categories do you think you have an edge over your competitors? How has this changed over the last one year?
We completed 18+ months of operations in India and have received a fabulous response from both customers and sellers. We launched in India with two categories â€“ Books and Movies & TV Shows â€“ and in 18+ months, our total selection now stands at more than 19 million products across 38 departments and hundreds of categories, making Amazon.in India's largest online store. On an average we have launched a new department every 14 days since we launched in India. We have witnessed phenomenal selection growth across several categories and are already the largest store in 12 of the 38 departments that are on www.amazon.in including Books, Music, Video Games, Toys, Home & Kitchen, Luggage and Backpacks, Fashion Jewellery, Beauty Products, Movies & TV shows, Men's Inner Wear, Sports, Fitness & Outdoors and Pet Supplies.
We are also very excited at being the partner of choice for several brands who have launched their latest offering exclusively on our marketplace.
Which are the product categories that have received surprising traction in India as opposed to Amazon's other markets?
We have seen an unprecedented growth across all departments including the usual suspects like Consumer Electronics, Books, Shoes, Watches, Baby Products, Apparel as also the new ones like Gourmet & Specialty Foods, Pet Supplies, Party Supplies, Musical Instruments and Office & Stationary Supplies.
The early response from customers to our new stores like Musical Instruments & Professional Audio and Office & Stationery Supplies has been beyond expectation. Customers are ordering unique selection with the same enthusiasm as they are ordering popular products. For example, instruments like Ektara, Harmonicas, Bamboo flutes feature in the bestsellers list on our Musical Instruments store along with guitars and keyboards. We have received orders for musical instruments from places like Rajahmundry Rural in Andhra Pradesh, Bokaro and Hazaribagh in Jharkhand; for food products for birds, turtles and guinea pigs from places like Nadiad, Guntur, Visakhapatnam, Nagpur, Pondicherry, etc.
You joined Amazon in 1999. It has been over a decade and a half. What are the things that have changed in the work culture and what remains the same?
Amazon's undeterred focus on customer-centricity continues to be the centrifugal force that driving the Amazon engine.
By when can we see Amazon Prime coming to India? Could it happen in 2015?
As a policy, we do not comment on anything we may or may not do in the future.
What global best practices do you plan to bring to your Amazon India team?
Amazon is a very customer obsessed company and we always work backwards from the customers. Our experience of operating online marketplaces globally has provided us with learnings. If you look at the logistics infrastructure, Amazon has built one of the most sophisticated logistics infrastructure ever been built to serve sellers and customers globally. We can learn a lot from that and localise for India. We don't have to solve each of those problems right from the core problem statement. When we look at the technology platform, the website platform, all the way from search technology to personalisation to discovery, a lot of those tool sets can start with what our global platform is and localise for India. When you look at the seller platform and the seller tools that are available to help them run their business on Amazon, they can get advantage right from Day 1 from the entire suite of tools available at Amazon which is being used by 2 million sellers globally.
(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)