• Amazon India’s growth threatens to unsettle ecommerce firms like Flipkart and Snapdeal

    Amazon India has gained significant growth momentum this year that threatens to unsettle domestic giants Flipkart and Snapdeal, with the online retailer’s shipments having increased 150% in the first calendar quarter from a year earlier.

    Amazon India Managing Director Amit Agarwal said in an interview to ET that the company continued to grow at an “extremely fast” pace compared with the rest of the industry and that he expects the aggressive growth momentum to continue through the year.

    “We were growing at 3-4 times the rate (the overall) landscape was growing. So we exited 2015 with a very high bar for growth in 2016,” said Agarwal, who was recently inducted into Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’ global leadership team. “What we saw in the first quarter of 2016 was that momentum has not slowed.”

    Amazon India is locked in a battle for market leadership with Flipkart and Snapdeal, and all three have aggressively spent billions of dollars on marketing, strengthening their supply chains and acquiring customers with predatory discounts. But while Flipkart and Snapdeal are struggling to raise money and grappling with spending cuts, Amazon’s US parent has pumped in hundreds of millions of dollars into its India operations.

    ET reported on April 28 that Amazon India was the only major online marketplace to register an increase in unit market share in March, dislodging Snapdeal at second position. Amazon has injected at least Rs 6,700 crore since January 2015 into its India unit, Amazon Seller Services more than half of that since December.

    Agarwal reeled off more chestthumping numbers: Amazon India’s shipments in 2015 increased by 250% over the prior year; the number of active sellers on the platform more than tripled to 85,000; the number of sellers registering more than Rs 1crore in annual sales more than doubled; and Amazon India added 90,000 new products daily between January and March.

    Amazon India, like other ecommerce companies, however, is grappling with recent regulations that could require making significant changes to its business model. While the government allowed 100% foreign direct investment in online marketplaces, it banned predatory pricing through heavy discounting and put restrictions on any single vendor accounting for more than 25% of overall sales.

    Agarwal, presenting an optimistic front, said the government’s new policy gave Amazon India sufficient clarity for it to invest more on seller-related initiatives such as Amazon Tatkal, which enables small businesses to onboard its online platform in under an hour.

    ET reported last week that Amazon India’s executives had emphasised on government officials recently that online marketplaces should be allowed to do their own promotions for the domestic online retail sector to grow. They had also sought clarity on whether an ecommerce firm could advertise discounts offered by sellers.

    Industry experts caution that the new regulations may force a brief pause on Amazon India’s efforts to snatch market share from Flipkart, still the country’s largest online marketplace by a margin. But several also said that Amazon’s execution in terms of building its supply chain and its global experience would give it an edge over its domestic rivals.

    “Amazon’s systems and technologies which they built, learned (from), matured with and experimented with over the past 20 years are far more powerful than that of other players,” said Rutvik Doshi, director at venture capital firm Inventus Capital. “Their on-ground execution in terms of building a deep and wide catalogue compared with other players, combined with their technology, makes it much easier to discover products.”

    Agarwal said Amazon India is the market leader in key metrics such as customer satisfaction and product range. Amazon India has 55 million products listed on its platform while Flipkart has more than 40 million.

    “We (India operations) continue to be Amazon’s fastest-growing geography. Pretty much in all the inputs that we track… we know we are the leader,” said Agarwal, emphasising that Amazon India measures volume growth in terms of “actual units shipped, after returns and cancellation”.

    As for merchants, Agarwal said the overall number of sellers on Amazon India was more than 4 lakh (as compared with 3 lakh for Snapdeal and 1 lakh for Paytm).

    But “we don’t fool ourselves with sellers engaged with the platform… what we track is the total number of sellers who are active, which has grown by 250% yearover-year to more than 85,000”, said Agarwal. “That number is more important than just signing up sellers.” Dean Lowry Jersey

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