Bangalore: Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd, the Indian unit of the world’s largest online retailer Amazon.com, has expanded its local marketplace platform aggressively since launching in June last year. To lead its India business, Amazon chose company veteran Amit Agarwal, who was once executive assistant to the company’s founder and chief executive officer Jeff Bezos. In an interview, country manager and vice-president Agarwal spoke about Amazon’s culture of obsessively delivering what its customers demand, the company’s plans to make money from its price comparison site Junglee and its views on foreign direct investment (FDI) in e-commerce. According to the present FDI policy governing online retailers, companies with foreign investment are only allowed to engage in business-to-business, or wholesale, e-commerce and not in retail trading.

You’ve been in India since June 2013. Has your view on India changed since and what is your view on India now?

I don’t think views should change in six-eight month periods. People are not thinking long-term then. Our view is the same: this is a long-term opportunity. It’s very, very early. There would be many winners, many formats, many inventions. We would see more inventions than what we see today and Amazon hopes to be a part of that over the next decade or two. So we are patient, relentless, long-term focused, and the last few months only give us existential proof that our model works and our focus on the customer input works. It just makes us more bold. At the highest level, our mission for India is the same as it is globally: we want to be the earth’s most customer-centric company. Our vision in India is also the same: we want to enable customers to discover, find and buy anything online. Our approach is slightly different in India. We have two websites—Junglee.com that has been around since a couple of years now and then Amazon.in.

What has the growth been so far?

We started Amazon.in with books and movies, and we launched with about 100-odd sellers. Our seller population has grown more than 30 times since our launch. We have very rapidly expanded selection. Now, we’re in 18 categories. We’re not just expanding into categories, but we’re also expanding selection in existing categories. In most categories, we’ve become India’s largest store—books, video games, music, home and kitchen, jewellery. More than 75% of our units are shipped using “fulfilment by Amazon". We were the first ones to launch next-day delivery. And there it is not about launching fast delivery for a small subset of selection; it’s launching next-day delivery for more than 150,000 items. So all in all, we’re seeing the flywheel spin, like we’ve seen in other countries.

How are you using junglee.com and what are the plans for the business?

Junglee is a very specific idea that is trying to satisfy the goal: how do we help customers find the best way to buy anything. It is run as a separate business, with a separate team, with that sole objective. Amazon’s interaction with Junglee is much the same way as a Myntra’s or a Jabong’s or a small site’s. Junglee has recently launched analytics to help sellers. HomeShop18, Myntra, others are benefiting from that because it helps them understand where their selection on Junglee is doing well and where it’s not. So Amazon benefits from Junglee the same way these sites do. There is no special benefit to Amazon. (But) Junglee is not a non-profit organization. The whole objective of Junglee is that we want to make hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run. How do you get there? You first create a great service where shoppers come to make purchase decisions and sellers get high-intent traffic that converts very well. We have opportunities to build a lot of value-added services that improve the engagement between buyers and sellers that we could monetize. At this point of time, we are focusing on building a great service. But a time would come when we would start launching these value-added services.

Which are your fastest-growing categories?

We see customers shopping for a lot of books, as you’d imagine. We see a lot of people shopping for consumer electronics, another category where people are looking for value. These two categories are very large. Very excited to see people shopping for a lot of diapers—that’s a big category for us too.

Learning points so far about the Indian consumer and the e-commerce market in India?

It’s been a reaffirmation of our belief that customers are same globally. There is a tendency for people to say that India is different or China is different. But we haven’t found one customer anywhere who says, give me lesser selection, high prices and slow speed. We haven’t found such a customer in India. So it tells us that we have the appropriate focus on inputs. But the way you deliver these has to be different. An observation is that many customers will interact with you using a mobile phone. India is one of the fastest-growing mobile properties globally as far as Amazon goes. How do you make sure that the experience on the mobile phone is comprehensive and compelling? Another observation is that the entire ecosystem of retailers, small and medium, is very compelling. They are very hungry and entrepreneurial in nature. They just need the right tools.

What’s your view on FDI?

The beauty about Amazon’s culture is that we are customer-obsessed. Customer-obsessed, not customer-focused. We support FDI in the industry because of our belief that if we were able to offer as one of the sellers on the platform, then we would be able to provide access to products that other sellers cannot. So that would increase the selection on the platform, that would provide more choice to customers. That would bring more customers to the table, so our seller-base would benefit from it. It would allow us to invest in logistics and supply chain at a higher level than what just the seller-base would allow. So there are a lot of benefits that FDI brings. But from an experience standpoint, I wouldn’t say that we cannot provide the same degree of experience. But we can do much more if we were able to operate as one of the sellers.

How are you building your team and where are you hiring from?

I look at it the way Jeff Bezos did in 1995. Talent is not a constraint. There are many smart people in India. What we look for are people who are very customer-obsessed. We have a few people from Seattle in my team who bring in knowledge of the Amazon culture. But we also have a large part of the team that has been hired locally. We look for inherent leadership traits. It’s not about hiring from particular spaces. We hire from across (industries). We also have the benefit of going to Seattle and asking for help when we are confused. In an industry that is growing so fast and is so new, there is nobody with reasonable e-commerce experience. You have to figure things out along the way.

You’ve been at Amazon for a long time and handled different roles. How has this job been and what did you learn from your stint as Jeff Bezos’s executive assistant?

It’s a dream come true. I can’t think of a better job at Amazon. I’ve been at Amazon for 15 years, so I have the benefit of having been involved in various parts of our business. I was part of the small team that created the marketplace, I was also part of the small team that created the cloud computing part. Then I was with Jeff for two years, then launching units in new countries. So I’ve been a kind of an entrepreneur within Amazon. And, absolutely, my experience with Jeff has been invaluable to help me with this. The customer obsession, “think big and invent" are things I was able to observe at close quarters. And all of them are the defining things for India. They are the things that will make people successful here.

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