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Sell anything to anyone, the mantra inside Amazon's festive sale war rooms

Alnoor Peermohamed/Bengaluru 10 Oct 18 | 01:13 PM

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In the caffeine-fuelled festive sale battle for dominance in India's e-commerce space, Amazon drew first blood with its early access deals for loyal Prime customers. Just as the company was gearing up to open the sale to everyone in India last night, it said that Prime members had bought two times as many products in the first 10.5 hours of the sale when compared with the first day of its sale last year.

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Employees who stayed all night monitoring the performance of Amazon's Great Indian Festival sale to ensure there are no glitches, were really hoping that the Prime early access sale was a small indicator of how big this year's sale will be. Most of them were looking tired with hectic activities along the day, but were hardly able to suppress the excitement. They know that the five-day long sale is a strong validation of nearly nine months of hard work they have put in building systems and processes to handle the peak loads during the sale.

“Prime Early Access (the amount of goods sold during this period) is already two times of what it was last year," said Amit Agarwal, Country Manager for Amazon India, to a loud cheer from employees seated in one of the many war rooms setup at the company’s head office in Bengaluru. “A lot of hard work has gone into building all these features, so thank you everyone."

Agarwal said that Prime members bought televisions, a lot of large appliances (in the 10.5 hours of the early-access sale, the e-commerce giant sold more large appliances than it has ever done in an entire day), apart from smartphones. Unlike previous years of its sales, the focus seemed to be less on smartphones which continue to drive a large chunk of gross merchandise volume (GMV) for online sellers in India and more on other big-ticket purchases.

While Amazon is trying to stay away from a war of words claiming it will outsell rival Flipkart this festive season, the drive to outdo its arch nemesis couldn’t be more real. Some senior employees that Business Standard spoke to strongly refuted the claims that Flipkart is number one. Moreover, there’s a stark difference of ideologies on how to sell to customers and conduct sales. Flipkart’s approach to splitting up the sale into specific days for different categories, these employees claim, is “just making it harder for customers to buy products".

According to Agarwal, Amazon’s mantra is selling anything to anyone at great price points in order to delight them and ultimately offer such great service that they keep coming back for more. It’s a company-wide agenda that Amazon India has adopted which gives every team a common goal.

“Our approach is to be part of every customer’s daily life. Customers eat; they wear; they watch, listen, call, they wash, and that’s what a typical customer is. Our job is to service their needs across bases, and for us it’s very important that customers look at us as a place where they come to buy anything online," said Agarwal, in response to a question that rival Flipkart had accused it of selling mundane, small ticket items during its sale period to drum up order numbers.

About 20 floors above, in another war room that is looking into helping more sellers sign up onto Amazon, one can get a sense of the wide verities of products that have been bought by the Prime members. A large whiteboard flaunts the names of the sellers who’ve seen maximum growth in sales during the early hours. It captures the sellers’ performance in each of the individual categories such as mattresses, massage chairs, women’s ethnic wear and even pepper spray.

In one such war rooms, Gopal Pillai, Director of Seller Services at Amazon India, is seen congratulating his team for the diverse nature of products finding traction during the early sale. Pillai looks after one of the most critical tasks of identifying and signing up sellers months before the start of the sale to list their wares on Amazon. His team is the driving force behind getting sellers to offer the eye-watering discounts that customers see on its platform, since Indian laws prevent e-commerce marketplaces from fixing prices of products.

In the run up to the sale, Pillai says, he personally met over 300 sellers as part of an event the company organised for them. This wasn’t just restricted to the 300 large sellers on Amazon, but sellers who were really looking to bump up sales on the back of the festive season hysteria. 

Amazon now has over 400,000 sellers on its platform, selling everything from smartphones and large electronic appliances to sarees made by traditional weavers and even industrial tools and supplies.

"To give you an idea of how diverse the sale is, We sold eight times the number of treadmills and five times the number of pepper spray (cans) as compared to any business as usual days. And it's not just a few sellers doing well, we've already seen 67 % growth in the Crorepati seller club and this festive season will be another lever for that number to go up," said Pillai. “So we’re looking forward to that over the next five years." 

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