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Amazon’s decade in India:The good, the bad, the ugly

Jeff Bezos, who built the world’s biggest e-commerce company, had little to prove when he brought Amazon to India’s shores a decade ago. But the world’s most populous country has a way of teaching new lessons even to the shrewdest.

From managing roadblocks, both foreseen and unforeseen, to discovering newer shades of consumer behaviour, Amazon’s decade in India has been action-packed. Its growth mirrored the evolution of not only the e-commerce sector but also the Internet. Take the boom in India’s digital landscape.

By the time Amazon entered India in 2013, Flipkart and Snapdeal had already started making Indians fill their ‘karts’. To counter them, Amit Agarwal (in the picture), who was part of Jeff Bezos’s senior leadership team in Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, was brought in.

Amazon started by testing the waters. One year before the launch, it laid the groundwork with the roll-out of Junglee, a discovery and comparison website it had acquired in 1998.

Agarwal was well versed in Bezos’s mantra of ‘customer obsession’. Some reports from the early years of the company’s India journey reveal how he used to dial into weekly calls with customers.

Over the years, Amazon’s ‘customer obsession-led’ playbook has become the north star for the sector.

“They brought in standardisation across processes — packaging, returns, customer service, etc. This also built trust among merchants and customers,” says a former senior executive at Amazon.

Armed with the learnings from this experience, Bezos went all in.

“We see huge potential in India…. It's on track to be our fastest country ever to get to USD1 billion in gross sales,” Jeff Bezos had said during his India visit in mid-2014 while announcing a USD2 billion investment in the country.

What India immediately added was the sheer might of its growing user base. Within a year of its launch, the country was contributing the “most new customers to Amazon outside the United States”, according to a Reuters report in 2015.

By 2018, Amazon said it had reached 100 million customers, and was already talking about the next 100 million.

Cut to 2023. Amazon’s user base has more than doubled, as per some analyst reports.

A part of this success was thanks to the introduction of Amazon Prime in 2016. It became the gold standard for loyalty programs in India, having grown to over 20 million members, as per analysts.

One constant for Amazon in India has been its intense fight with homegrown rival Flipkart.

Over the years, the battle between the two has seen frenzied discounting, big-bang sales, and a fight for exclusive partnerships.

The battle peaks when Amazon and Flipkart hold their annual flagship sales — The Great Indian Festival and the Big Billion Days.


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