Amazon Battles Walmart/Flipkart For Control in India

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By Published On: May 21, 20180 Comments

After losing out on a deal to purchase a stake in Flipkart, Amazon has reached out to remote Indian communities to gain greater control of the country’s e-commerce market.

Amazon is looking to gain popularity in India by hosting workshops in remote communities for artisans, to help them sell their crafts online through its Indian marketplace.

The US-based e-commerce giant claims it’s looking to increase the appeal of its online marketplace by adding hundreds of handmade arts and crafts to its retail site that aren’t available anywhere else online.

Among the merchants Amazon is recruiting are artisans located in Bhuj, a small town in western India that’s a 15-hour drive out of Mumbai.

“If I can sell online, demand will go up,” a 56-year-old man specialising in the art of Rogan, a practice that uses coloured gummy pastes to hand paint motifs on cloth, told Amazon during the workshop held in his hometown.

The Amazon workshops have been developed to teach the most talented, least tech-savvy artisans on the art of online selling. The classroom sessions are held in the seller’s own tongue, which for Bhuj is Gujarati. The sessions cover everything from payments and refund, and include the services of local wedding photographers who take pictures of the goods on offer.

Local Internet café operators are also trained on how to use the Amazon app, so they can help merchants who are struggling to sell their goods. This is especially important since a lot of locals don’t have access to Internet services at home.

“All you need to start selling is a bank account, a tax number and an internet connection,” Aditya Agarwal, a regional manager for Prione Business Services, an Amazon partner, told session attendees.

Local artisans are reportedly told that full assistance will be provided to them if they choose to sign up, with no seller fees charged unless their products sell on the site. They’re also told their first 40 products will be photographed for free.

While interest is reported as high at these events, common questions and concerns include things like understanding customer reviews that are written in English, how they collect payment cheques, and how they can handle returns.

One Amazon seller who is from a nearby village in Bhujodi has been working on the site for two months. As an 11th-generation weaver who makes stoles and saris by hand, Hiriji Premji has expressed two major grievances.

“Each piece takes days to make, so how do we build stock?” the 45-year-old asked the room. “Some saris take months to weave, but impatient buyers want overnight delivery.”

According to Agarwal, these concerns will all be addressed as the training sessions are just the beginning – ongoing support is also provided.

The workshop has helped demystify e-commerce and bring artisans’ wares to a global market, says Gopal Pillai, director and general manager of seller services for Amazon India. In the weeks since the training, 13 artisans have registered as sellers and six of them have begun selling online for the first time, he said.

This move comes after Walmart announced its US$16 billion deal with Flipkart to purchase a 77 percent stake in the local marketplace. Currently, Flipkart has the greatest monopoly in the Indian marketplace, with Amazon still trailing behind. Amazon was rumoured to have made an offer to purchase shares in Flipkart but was rejected by the board due to its conflict of interest.

With eBay also announcing it will sell its shares in Flipkart and re-launch, Amazon will now have a greater level of competition in the growing market. Current projections estimate the Indian e-commerce industry will grow to US $200 billion by 2026, with Amazon on-track to pocket a decent portion of that revenue.

While it’s unlikely Amazon’s interest in the artisan community in the far reaches of India is unlikely to be as genuine as it seems, this initiative does have the potential to open up a new network of unique sellers for the marketplace that could see sales surge in the region.

With some sellers already thinking about teaching their skills to other villagers to keep up with demand, the program could also offer vital revenue streams and digital skills to remote communities.

Amazon is expected to continue hosting training sessions across the country in the coming months.

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Heather Bone