Tuesday 17 January 2017

[Interview] Customer-centric focus will take you a long way, Amazon’s advice for sellers

gopal pillai

A lot happened in the Indian ecommerce industry in the year 2016. The first half of the year was dominated by the government’s decision to allow 100% FDI in the marketplace format of ecommerce. And the second half of the year was dominated by demontisation. With that in mind, Indian Online Seller decided to ask ecommerce giant Amazon India about the biggest highlights and learnings of the year 2016.
Gopal Pillai, Director & GM – Seller Services, Amazon India opens up in an exclusive chat with Indian Online Seller and shares details about Amazon’s journey in 2016, the online marketplace’s priorities in 2017 and a lot more.

What were the biggest highlights and learnings of 2016?

The year 2016 has been a monumental year for us. Amazon Seller Services has seen tremendous success. We are extremely excited, proud & humbled by the progress we have made over the last year. Particularly so because we have been instrumental in transforming the lives of thousands of SMEs who sell on Amazon.in. And, it is still Day 1 for us! Our innovations, technology support and seller-centric services have attracted thousands of SMEs to Amazon.in this year. Our seller base has already grown by 160% y-o-y. Expansion of our seller services offerings and focus on seller enablement and seller capability building initiatives to enable more and more sellers to benefit from the digital economy, emerged as a core program this year.
For us the real measure of our success is in the way we are able to bring about a transformation in the way India buys & sells. Just to give you an example, our partnership with DC Handloom accelerates the online marketplace opportunity for hundreds of resource-constrained weavers in handloom clusters across the country. Our measure of success is when we are able to empower this community to take their authentic regional selection like ethnic wear, traditional sarees, handicrafts etc. not just to customers who are not just residing in the far corners of India but also internationally.
We helped several Indian businesses take their ‘Make in India’ products to millions of active customers across the globe through our Global Selling Program. We launched many big brands across key categories such as Ethnic Wear (Fab India, Manyavar, Biba), Shoes (Liberty, Ruosh), Grocery (Amul, Organic India, 24 Mantra), Health and Personal Care (Himalaya) and Hardlines (Hindware).

What according to you is the biggest contributor to Amazon’s success in India?

Customer satisfaction forms the core of our business strategy and has been one of the biggest contributors to Amazon’s success in India.
Our customer-centric focus is pervasive in our culture. We constantly seek to be to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, down to our logo which incorporates a customer smile. Amazon India endeavors to provide customers the opportunity to find and discover virtually anything they want to buy online by giving them more of what they want – vast selection, low prices, fast and reliable delivery and a trusted and convenient experience.

How would you rate Amazon’s performance w.r.t to Sellers during the festive sales in October, compared to Flipkart and Snapdeal?

The festive season in October brought cheer across the ecosystem making it the best ever shopping season for our sellers. We launched 20,000 new sellers on the platform 5-6 weeks before the festive sale period. Over 200 new sellers joined the crorepati club in October this year. Over 15,000 sellers witnessed their biggest sale days during the Great Indian Festival. In fact, our sellers received orders from customers residing in 97% of India’s pin-codes!

What is the percentage increase in the seller base?

When we launched Amazon.in in June 2013, we had only 100 sellers on our platform. Today, over 140,000 sellers in India are using our services and the number is increasing every day!
We are witnessing seller growth of over 160% YOY. 90% of our sellers use our logistics and fulfilment services.
What’s also interesting is where they come from. Close to 50% of our sellers reside in tier II & III towns, indicating our reach, as well as the opportunity to go further.

What are the best selling products on Amazon?

With an impressive overall selection of over 95 million across categories, Amazon.in has established itself as the preferred online shopping destination to millions of active customers in India and across the globe. Our total selection grew close to 150% since last year. Home, Apparel, Wireless, Books and Kitchen are among the top categories on the platform basis the number of merchants with selection.
Our sellers from India also get good traction from Amazon’s worldwide customer base for products like tapestries, bed linen, kitchen products and wooden handicrafts in home category. Leather jackets, ethnic wear, fast fashion, shoes and bags in apparels and branded health and wellness products like organic consumables, spices and health supplements sell in great volumes as well. We also see huge demand for product categories like medical books, movie DVDs, fashion jewelry, engineering equipment, sports and leather luggage (duffle bags and messenger bags).

What does it take to become a top-rated seller on Amazon? Any advice for sellers who are struggling at the moment?

We always advice our sellers to understand customer needs and accordingly work towards providing them with a seamless shopping experience. A good shopping experience never fails to please. Good business will always be a result of satisfied loyal customers which will in turn boost the seller’s business.
Customer-centric focus will take you a long way. Sellers must leverage on the goodwill or unique selling prepositions they have built over time; the rich knowledge of the local market, personalized service, proximity of decision-makers to the customers etc. Sellers must continuously fortify these existing competitive assets to stay at the top and make competition irrelevant.
At Amazon.in we take pride in hand-holding our sellers and enabling them to successfully run their online business. We run an extensive online education program called Seller University for educating and onboarding sellers. Our initiatives like Service Provider Network (SPN)and Amazon Trained Ecommerce Specialists (ATES) provides accessible on-demand services to sellers who are not online savvy or constrained by time & expertise to start or manage their online sales channel and thus help them discover, launch and succeed on our platform. We have presently trained over 300 service providers and over 1900 ATES across India.

How does Amazon handle copyright infringements on its platform?

We take the issue of copyright infringement on our marketplace by sellers very seriously. Sellers are mandated to sell only genuine and original products on Amazon.in and they sign an undertaking to do so.
If it is brought to our notice that sellers are using our marketplace platform to sell fake or counterfeit products, we work with the sellers to bring such products down from our website.
In case of repeated offenders we do not hesitate to take strict action and may even go to the extent of delisting them from our marketplace. There have been several instances where sellers have been delisted.

With demonetization being the buzzword of 2016, what are your views on demonetization and the focus on digital/cash-less economy?

While we saw limited short-term impact due to the recent currency change announcement, we have already tremendous customer response in adopting electronic payment methods at delivery with 10x growth in electronic payments at the doorstep. We reintroduced Cash on Delivery starting Nov 11th. Customers continue to value the vast selection, great value, and fast and reliable delivery on Amazon.in, and we are back to growing over 100% YoY.

Please tell us about Amazon’s priorities in 2017 for Seller Services

We will continue to work towards transforming the way India buys & the way India sells by working backward from seller needs to design, conceptualize and innovate on seller services to help the community. We will continue to strive towards ensuring more and more small & medium enterprises in India are able to benefit from the digital economy using our marketplace. It is our constant endeavor to ensure a healthy mix of big sellers and emerging businesses to ensure diversity of products and a robust ecosystem that eventually helps us offer the best to our customers while offering a win-win to everyone in the ecosystem.
Through the launch of new seller enablement initiatives, we are committed to connecting an ever-greater number of sellers to customers, offering pan India and even global market access.
We are committed to bringing inclusive growth in the country by creating access for sellers to remote areas of India by leveraging our technology and infrastructure.
We will strongly support the government’s initiative of taking ‘Make in India’ products global, empowering resource-constrained sellers especially from tier II cities and below to explore the world of digital commerce.
We are invested in India for the long-term and will continue to incubate creativity and innovative thinking in the organization. For Amazon, India remains the fastest growing country outside the US.
Our single-minded focus continues to be on working backwards from the customer & seller needs and innovate on their behalf. This is in our DNA. It has worked for us in the past and looking at the past 3+ years of our growth in India, we have every reason to believe that we will be able to take this to the next level in 2017.

Sellers have raised concern over Amazon seller support’s quality of service. Issues are taking longer to get resolved and sellers feel queries are often stonewalled. Would you like to address this issue?

We have multiple channels of communication with our sellers to address their concerns with speed and ease. We constantly endeavor to drive engagement with different segments of sellers to help them resolve their business queries and enable them to derive maximum value out of our programmes.

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