Considering the benefits of selling online — mainly the ability to service customers without them getting out of their homes and to be able to scale up small businesses — sellers have made a beeline to sign up on e-commerce platforms. Amazon India’s vice-president—seller services, GOPAL PILLAI told PRANAV MUKUL in an interview that the online marketplace has consistently witnessed 50 per cent increase in seller registration and search terms like “sell online” and “sell on Amazon” post the opening up of lockdown, when compared with the pre-COVID numbers. He also spoke about the government’s plan on mandating e-commerce platforms to have a ‘country of origin’ tag on items listed and whether that could play a role in customer’s purchasing choice. Edited excerpts:
Amazon India is coming out with its Small Business Day on June 27. Traditional retailers have said they did not engage in sales, schemes, etc because the demand for non-essentials is rather inelastic. What makes you hopeful this program could drive demand?
Firstly, we want to give an opportunity to these MSMEs to showcase their unique products because we have noticed that Indian entrepreneurs are reacting and coming up with new innovative products during this tough time. For example, I found a seller who manufactured matching masks to shirts. Two, there are people coming out with products that have demand in the COVID world. These are work from home goods, cleaning products, appliances, etc for which there is a lot of demand anyway and this gives the opportunity to small businesses to showcase their offerings.
Has Amazon India recovered from the lockdown slump in terms of order volumes?
We have seen a spike from the pre-COVID numbers consistently for the last one month since we opened up. Obviously there are some categories like formal wear, which are not in great demand but there are a lot of products that are in steady demand. Overall, we have seen a sizeable spike post lockdown opening up and it was persistent, not for one or two days. For the last four weeks, we haven’t seen any drop in that spike. Secondly, new sellers are realising that e-commerce and modern digital commerce gives them an additional opportunity to sell through a different channel and we have seen 50 per cent plus in search terms like ‘sell online’, ‘sell on Amazon’, etc and we have seen a 50 per cent increase in new seller registration compared with pre-COVID — this has been consistent for the past 3-4 weeks. This shows that e-commerce provides dual purpose benefits. One is try helping customers get their products while maintaining social distancing — they don’t have to step out of their homes. Number two — this can help small businesses and their livelihoods at scale.
Does the call of ‘vocal for local’ hurt the brand sentiments for an international company like Amazon in India?
At the end of the day, we are compliant with all the rules of the country and we will continue to be compliant. We believe there are multiple factors that play a role in a customer’s purchasing decisions and it’s very hard to generalise it. There’s product, brand recognition, ratings, speeds, there are so many factors. At the end of the day we are a marketplace connecting sellers to consumers and we are interested in providing as many details provided by the sellers to the consumers so that they can make the right decision.
How do you respond to the government’s plan on mandating ‘country of origin’ tag for products on e-commerce platform?
If we take a step back, we continue to look for ways to offer the most relevant and robust detail pages as provided by sellers and search capabilities to offer seamless customer experience. Sellers are responsible for providing all the required information about the product they list and therefore we continue to educate the sellers about the need for displaying accurate and complete information about their products. Our first and foremost focus is going to be absolutely compliant with all Indian laws and regulations, ensuring we remain focussed on what the customers want and we work with sellers to provide the most appropriate information.
Has country of origin for a product become a major decision-making factor for customers purchasing products online?
If I take myself as a customer, I look for many information points including talking to my friends and family about whether they have used the product, what they think about it. I look at reviews. There are multiple factors. There was a study that said there were more than 20 events and decision-making attributes that people use in finding products. Every customer has their own way of finding a product because they look for certain information. It is really going to be individually driven and is very hard to generalise it. At the end of the day, customers are looking for value for what they pay, good quality, and how fast the product can be delivered.
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