Since its launch in India in 2013, Amazon has become the nation’s Apni Dukaan. In its eight-year history, the company has digitised 2.5 million SMBs, done $3 billion in exports and created 1 million jobs. While Amazon Web Services is the leader among the country’s cloud operators, Amazon Prime is driving the OTT craze in India. With its eyes firmly fixed on Bharat that comprises 85% of its new customers, Amazon remains bullish on India despite narratives against its foreign origin, accusations of killing India’s kiranas and flouting FDI laws. But Amit Agarwal, senior VP and country manager, Amazon India is not swayed by these ‘vested interests’. With ‘customer obsession’ at its heart, Agarwal talks about Amazon’s plans for India as it aligns its priorities with the country’s growth agenda. Edited excerpts from the interview:
What are the biggest challenges of doing business in India?
You could look at that question in two ways. First, the biggest business challenges we face. And I would say most of the challenges are actually opportunities. When you ask yourself, ‘How do you get SMBs to digitise? How do you make the mobile phone a gateway to e-commerce globally? How do you get local stores to become omnichannel and digitise their opportunities?’, you realise all these are opportunities. If you are referring to the policy environment, every country has its own unique laws and India is no different. So, rather than thinking about these as challenges, we think it is our responsibility to operate within the confines of law. Luckily, our priorities are perfectly aligned with India’s priorities. It is all about empowering SMBs to get selection, reducing cost of doing business to get more value for customers and building logistics and infrastructure. These drive jobs and so our business model is perfectly aligned with India’s future plans. We continue to push for a stable, predictable and enabling policy regime that is focused on allowing e-commerce to realise its potential because we are convinced that by doing that, the vision of Digital India, the scale of Skill India and the mission to take Make In India global will be realised.
When we talk about Atmanirbhar Bharat, there is an entire narrative about Amazon being a foreign company that is hurting Indian SMBs. Does that narrative irritate you?
I think we are probably as Indian as you would want a company to be when we have already, in our eight-year history, digitised 2.5 million SMBs, done $3 billion in exports and created a million jobs. There are very few companies who can boast of this accomplishment. We are very clear that we are in complete compliance with all laws and regulations. And what energises us, and me, every day is that the facts out there communicate a very different reality. So, the voices that you refer to are few but they happen to be louder than millions of SMBs that are reinventing themselves and embracing technology.
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Let me give you a story. There is a store called All India Handicrafts—a 40-year-old family-owned cane furniture business based in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly. They joined the Local Shops programme in 2020 and today, they are selling not only in their town but are also receiving orders from all across India. Their orders have grown by 200%. So, we are better served by listening to and being energised with these stories than paying attention to the narratives that might be motivated by vested interests.
There is an apprehension that when you digitise supply chains, you take away profits from the unorganised supply chains established decades ago that employ lakhs of people. Your comments.
Every time there is a new technology, there will be disruption. So, you either embrace and reinvent yourself or stand on the side and have a commentary on the lines of what you are talking about. I’m giving you an example of 10 lakh sellers who have taken steps to embrace that and have seen growth. Two lakhs of these are local stores. It’s not only about embracing technology to sell to customers in India but about creating new brands and selling globally. Another example is Chandralekha Creations, a Varanasi-based offline apparel business which is more than two decades old. This is as traditional as you can get—the ones who sell to distributors to get their products somewhat noticed by customers. They decided to go global with Amazon in 2016. Today, they are among the leading fashion brands in the US, the UK, Australia and the Middle East.
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My vision is that in a country the size of India, with 30 million small businesses, all of them should be digital, physical, hybrids entrepreneurial units that are wired up to serve customers to every single channel that they can. That is going to create employment and that is going to build robust businesses.
Are you actively working on changing the narrative or do you think your actions will speak for themselves?
The number of state governments that have approached Amazon and signed pacts with us point to the fact that you are focusing on a particular narrative and generalising it. Our entire business model is based on Digital India, making India go global and creating jobs. We like that more and more small businesses and consumers are dependent on us for their lives and livelihoods and the narrative will take care of itself.
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India has a history of internationally acclaimed companies being forced to leave due to constant policy flip-flop, enforcement action and all of this often backed by vested interests. Does this scare Amazon?
These things happen only when you’re successful. So, I would rather be that than be in a state of irrelevance. In some ways, I’m grateful that Amazon, in its eight years, has established enough relevance that we matter. And, when you matter, you should be inspected to see that you are doing the right thing. That is how the world works, right? Every country has its own laws and we are in complete compliance with the laws of India.
Why is Big Tech bullish on India? Read the exclusive interviews of the India heads of Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and IBM here - https://bit.ly/3eEhqPk