Responsible for building the operations of the biggest e-retailer in the world in India, the 39- year old Amit Agarwal, VP & Country Manager, Amazon India, has big plans in the budding domestic e-commerce sector. His 14-year stint with Amazon US included a two-year period having worked as advisor to Founder Jeff Bezos. In this interview with DMA, he elaborates about the business model in India,Amazon’s ‘glocal’ innovations, m-commerce his expectations from the Indian government’s FDI policies and of course, the Amazon drones.
You were associated with the Indian market as Junglee.com. Why choose this timing to enter India as a standalone player?
We began our journey with Junglee in Feb 2012 and then launched Amazon.in in June 2013. In India, we operate as a marketplace model and enable local retailers to serve customers nationally. Junglee has emerged to be the number one search and comparison shopping site in India. Today we have over 30 million listings.
As for Amazon.in it has been a very exciting and busy 6+ months. We started the launch with books and movies store and have added 15+ categories as of today, over 12 million offers, 4,40,000 products, over 10 million books, more than 2+ million eBooks and have a continually growing pool of sellers on our marketplace, which has grown 20 times since launch in June 2013.
The e-commerce industry in India is still nascent but has a huge potential. We believe there is a room for multiple formats and players, and most importantly for innovation.
Amazon’s vision is to be the ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’, what are your prime initiatives towards surprising the Indian consumers with Amazon’s brand magic? What are your top steps towards gaining foothold in this space, considering a lot of local player competition?
We are going to relentlessly focus on expanding our selection, bring significant cost savings, provide fast and reliable deliveries, and raise the bar for online shopping experience in India, much like we have done everywhere else in the world. Some of the initiatives that we undertook since we launched were:
Expanding our product range: Within a span of six months, we launched more than 15 categories including books, movies and TV shows; the kindle family of e-readers, tablets and eBooks; computers, mobile phones and accessories; cameras; portable media players; toys & games; baby products; personal care appliances; health care devices; watches; fashion jewellery; home and kitchenware and beauty products.
Building trust: For any e-commerce company in India building customer trust is essential. They need to feel secure and confident about any transactions they perform online and also feel assured of customer service and product guarantees. We believe we offer that trust and comfort. Customers can now shop with confidence from any seller on Amazon.in and benefit from a safe and secure online ordering experience, convenient electronic payments and cash on delivery, easy returns, Amazon’s customer service with 24×7 supports, and a globally recognised and comprehensive purchase protection provided by Amazon’s A-to-Z Guarantee. We also recently broke new ground for the industry and introduced the Guaranteed “One Day Delivery” service.
Strengthening m-Commerce: As mobile internet traffic now outweighing PC traffic, we launched Amazon apps for both iOS and Android devices. Today, Amazon.in (amongst all Amazon sites around the world) is our fastest growing ever in terms of mobile traffic and sales. We are also seeing significant traction for repeat purchases.
Aiding sellers: For Sellers, we provide a platform to help them grow their online business profitably by our offering of the twin services of Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) and Sell on Amazon (SOA) is unique in the industry. The SOA program enables the seller to list and sell products on Amazon.in. With FBA, seller’s can store their products in Amazon’s warehouse, and we pack and deliver the orders to customers, provide customer service and handle returns. Sellers have greatly appreciated our FBA service, which offers them lower cost of doing businesses – they can list an unlimited number of products with no listing fees and do not need to make any investments in storage, packaging, warehouse operations, delivery infrastructure, customer service, and reverse logistics.
How challenging is India as a market for Amazon?
The Indian e-commerce space is still in a very nascent stage with significant potential for innovation to improve customer experience. We believe that the growth is at an inflection point and there is tremendous opportunity. A couple of key areas for our focus are as follows:
Customer Trust: Besides offering enhanced features to develop consumer trust regarding payments and returns, additionally, we review each category and develop specific features that help customers make an informed choice for eg, for jewellery we have detailed descriptions on how to measure your ring size, besides the regulars: displaying photographs that enlarge and show the product from all angles, offering product reviews and recommendations which help consumers make an informed choice. Likewise for watches we have a ‘No Questions Asked’ returns policy.
Helping SMEs to go online: One of the largest stakeholders in this industry, we are continually looking for ways to provide them with a nationwide reach and provide them with tools and services that will enable them to grow their business profitably. Sellers have greatly appreciated our FBA and SOA programs. We will continue to do the heavy lifting on behalf of sellers so that they can focus on providing our customers with vast selection at low prices.
We are focused on giving customers more of what they want – low prices, vast selection, fast and reliable delivery, and a trusted and convenient experience – and provide sellers a world-class e-commerce platform.
India happens to be among the top 5 markets of Amazon app downloads, what are your other strategies to capitalise on mobile marketing?
With increasing penetration of smartphones and broadband penetration, and a rising affluent middle class, India is all set to be a massive market for m-commerce.
While the top six metros remain the biggest spenders, there has been a substantial jump from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities too. Today, Amazon.in is our fastest growing (amongst all Amazon sites around the world) ever in terms of mobile traffic and sales. We want to make online shopping a convenient and on the go experience for as many of our customers as possible.
Following the encouraging response to Amazon’s shopping app for Android phones, we launched the Amazon app for our customers on iPhone and iPad. Online shopping firms prepared to invest in creating world class mobile platforms will be able to capture greater market share in this space.
What are your growth plans in India? Your targets for the next two years?
Our vision is to help consumers find, discover and buy anything and everything. As such customers should expect us to:
continuously expand selection in existing categories; bring unique collections and add new categories; enable next day shipments by ensuring high in stock selections
increase convenience of shopping by enhancing the anytime, anywhere and on the go shopping experience through connected devices and screens
enhance the choice of payment options
increase our reach and delivery speed across the country
deliver on the globally renowned customer service and experience commitment
What are your expectations from the Indian government’s FDI regulation scenario in e-commerce?
We cannot comment on any future events. However, we believe opening up this sector to FDI will be good for consumers and Indian businesses as it would allow us to partner with local manufacturers to source products not carried by other sellers on the marketplace, giving Indian consumers unique and wider choices at lower prices. Allowing FDI also positively impacts infrastructure development in the country.
Indian consumers are value-for-money centric. How does your communication and branding reflect that?
We want to offer our customers the widest selection at low prices and a reliable and trusted online shopping experience. For our retailers, we are focused on becoming a trusted and meaningful sales channel, helping them succeed and grow their business online. To improve the online shopping experience of consumers in India, we introduced the following:
We launched a unique service – the pin code service. Under this feature, when a customer placed an order between a set time frame and fed in her pin code we would deliver the product within X days.
We recently broke new ground by introducing the Guaranteed ‘One Day Delivery’ service for items fulfilled by Amazon in India.
We are focused on making the Amazon.in app and website even more convenient and innovative for our consumers.
Junglee is another example. As per comScore, over 600 new online shopping sites were launched between August 2012 and September 2013. Clearly consumers need a shopping guide that can help them navigate through the maze of options. One in four online shoppers now visit a comparison shopping site before completing a purchase on a seller website. India is the only place where we run a comparison shopping site for online and offline sellers and Junglee has emerged to be the number 1 search and comparison shopping site in India. Today we have over 30 million listings across 25 categories, from over 1600 seller websites and 50,000 nearby stores.
Finally, what’s your take on the widely spoken about – Amazon drones!
As Jeff Bezos said putting Prime Air into commercial use in the US will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations. So stay tuned