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Indian e-com at nascent stage with significant improvement potential: Amit Agarwal, VP, Amazon

5 Aug, 2013

It has been a while since Amazon Seller Services Pvt Ltd, part of the world's largest e-commerce firm Amazon.com, brought to India its dedicated marketplace for the subcontinent—Amazon.in. However, this was not the first e-commerce property for the company in India. In February 2012, it had launched Junglee.com, an India-focused online shopping search site. With two standalone properties under its belt, Amazon is gearing up to take on competitors—including Flipkart, Snapdeal, Jabong and Myntra—in the country's e-commerce sector.

While the company started with books and videos, it later added electronics to its offerings and is now looking at expanding across categories (according to rumours making the rounds, apparels and fashion will be the next one). We managed to get in touch with Amit Agarwal, VP and country manager, Amazon India, to get some insights into the company's plans in India, its views on the Indian e-commerce market, and more. Here are the edited excerpts:

What will the next category be for Amazon India?

Amazon.in launched its marketplace on June 5, 2013 with two categories—books as well as movies and TV shows. Within a month, we announced four more categories. Today there are six product categories, including mobiles and accessories, cameras and photography, portable media players and the kindle family of e-readers, ebooks and kindle fire tablets. We are looking forward to expanding this selection soon.

How has the response from consumers been to the Amazon India launch?

We are encouraged by the response so far. Even in mature markets, we are learning, innovating and launching new categories. Our aim is to become the most customer centric company. In India too we are committed to enabling customers to find and buy anything online. We see a significant opportunity to serve consumers and retailers as we go about implementing this vision.

Indian e-commerce is still in a very nascent stage with a significant potential for innovation to improve the customer experience. We will be relentless in our efforts to provide a vast selection, low prices and fast and reliable delivery to our customers and help retailers across India succeed and grow their businesses online.

Can you share some initial numbers, in terms of traffic, visitors, etc?

We don't share these numbers. Ever since we launched our operation in 1995, we have had a regular stream of shoppers with delivery addresses in India. The first order from India came in as early as 1996, within months of Jeff Bezos launching Amazon.com. Since then we have had a consistent stream of Indian customers shop from our US/UK websites. One of the things we always do is, listen carefully to what customers are asking for; for years customers were asking for a dedicated Amazon site in India. So we see a huge opportunity for us to reach out and deliver shopping experience to a much larger set of Indian consumers.

How do you select your sellers/vendors?

In most countries that Amazon operates in, a seller of any size who wishes to avail of the 'selling on Amazon' service can set up his/her own account and begin selling online on the Amazon platform. In India, to ensure a reliable and trustworthy shopping experience for our customers, we start by evaluating seller's ability to maintain high standards of customer experience; we extend an invitation to the seller after the evaluation. We will enable the self-service model of doing business on the Amazon platform in India as well. What are your plans with Junglee? Will its value proposition change?

We launched Junglee in February 2012 and since then it has grown significantly. We have over 1,000 sellers across 23 categories and over 20 million products. As we grow, we continue to learn and innovate. For instance, we recently enabled a 'businesses nearby' feature in a few categories. With this service customers in top metros can locate thousands of physical stores from where they could purchase the product in case they prefer not to buy from online stores.

Our vision for Junglee is to enable customers to determine where to buy anything, anywhere (online or offline, within or outside India). Our vision for Amazon.in is to be the shopping destination that customers choose to buy anything online. Products on Amazon.in can also be accessed through Junglee; as customers check prices and compare options, they can include Amazon.in as a possible option to buy products.

We believe both are integral (to the firm's operations) and have their rightful place in achieving our vision of becoming the most customer-centric company in India, enabling customers to find and buy anything online. We will invest in both and will be relentless in improving the customer experience.

What is your view on the e-commerce ecosystem in India?

The e-commerce industry in India is still nascent; but it has a tremendous potential. There is room for multiple formats and players, and most importantly for innovation. We are going to focus on expanding our selection, bring significant cost savings, provide fast and reliable delivery, and raise the bar for online shopping experience in India, like we have done in other countries.

How has the response from sellers been?

We are encouraged by the response we have got from sellers. Sellers of all sizes participate on our platform. We started with over a hundred sellers and in less than eight weeks that number grew many times. Now we work with over a thousand active sellers.

Our sellers are not just choosing the platform as a sales channel but are also partnering with us in helping them fulfil orders through fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). According to sellers across the globe, FBA enhances sales. FBA also replaces upfront capital expenses with a 'pay as you go' model and reduces the operational burden on sellers. Sellers are using this flexibility to choose the number of products they want to have fulfilled by Amazon.

Are you planning acquisitions in India to grow faster?

We have just started in India. Our focus is to deliver a vast selection at low prices, reliable and fast delivery and a trustworthy online shopping experience for our customers. It is too early to comment on anything else.

(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)