It's yet to be ‘Day 1’ for Amazon in India: Ravi Desai to BrandSutra

12:20 AM Oct 04, 2021 | Srabana Lahiri

RAVI DESAI, Director, Mass and Brand Marketing, Amazon India is upbeat about the huge potential of the Indian market for the brand, even as he talks of customer obsession, increased voice and language support, affordability programmes to fuel consumption and expectations from the month-long Great Indian Festival that began on October 3

Working hard... having fun.... making history … that’s what Ravi Desai writes on his LinkedIn profile about the five years he has spent at e-commerce behemoth Amazon India. The brand has reinvented its ecosystem to address the challenges it has encountered in the country, adapted to Indian nuances and is looking ahead to the next level of growth, powered by a connected India.


Here are some edited excerpts from a conversation that Ravi Desai, Director, Mass and Brand Marketing, Amazon India had with BrandSutra:


Amazon has typically outperformed its previous years’ festive sales figures each year. What are your expectations from the Great Indian Festival this year?

One of our biggest priorities this year is the safety and wellbeing of our customers, our sellers and all our ecosystem partners. We're still not out of the pandemic, and a lot of the employees are likely to be dialling in to a virtual coordination room of sorts. We were worried about whether we'd be able to do justice to the close coordination required in festival time, but we have settled beautifully into the rhythm.

At Amazon, we think about our controllable inputs more than the outcomes of the business. In terms of the inputs, we are very excited that we have 8,50,000 sellers and growing – that’s an unprecedented number. In addition, we now have 75,000+ local shops, that are also participating in this year's Great Indian Festival. Customers don't need to step out, to fulfill their festive requirements. They can actually log on to Amazon and buy from local shops as most popular shops in larger cities should be active on Amazon. A number of brands are launching new products on Amazon during the festive season – Samsung, One Plus, Xiaomi, Sony, Apple, Lenovo to name a few in electronics; Lakme, Maybelline, Forest Essentials, Body Shop, Nivea in the beauty space; Dabur, Tata Tea, etc., in the CPG space and more. Amazon has partnered with a host of banks including HDFC to make festive shopping affordable. We have Amazon Pay ICICI co-branded credit cards as well. Across all dimensions, our inputs are far better than they were for last year's Great Indian Festival.

What are the innovations in shopping experience that you are betting on this year? How far have voice and language support benefited Amazon?

Innovation starts with our customer obsession. Let's say less than 150 million Indians are comfortable transacting online in English. As our endeavour is to sell across 20,000+ pincodes in the country, we added five languages last year. This year, in addition to English, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Gujarati and Telugu, we added Marathi and Bengali to expand our regional language footprint. We are very excited about voice as an interface, integrated into the Amazon shopping app itself. You can actually search for products and refine your search, pay bills using Alexa. Once you get a hang of it, you will not go back to click, wait and tap on the page. You can use your voice to set up some of those recurring tasks. Sellers too will be able to register on and manage their online business using any of these nine languages. It becomes so much easier for people to transact in a language that they understand well.

Alexa serves two ends of the spectrum - the Prime kind of customer who transacts a lot, comes back very often, looks for convenience and wants to be done with her shopping experience very quickly. Then, the next 100 million customers who may not be very savvy about typing in things like an email address or log in ID or a password, searching and refining that search, etc., but they like to use voice instead. We have extremely encouraging signals on the stickiness of the voice experience.

You recently said that consumers will go back to fulfilling their wants, instead of just meeting their needs. What other consumer trends do you observe?

We commissioned a study recently, conducted by Nielsen, to survey customers as well as sellers. The first thing we found is a huge undercurrent of optimism about this festive season… More than 78% of the surveyed Amazon sellers are expected to reach out to new cohorts of customers. Optimism rules around new demand from customers, as people had put off certain kinds of purchases when the pandemic impacted them, and they are now coming back.

If you were to calibrate the potential of the Indian market for Amazon. On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you have reached, and what opportunities do you see ahead?

A phrase we use very often at Amazon is, ‘It's still Day 1’. Only about 500+ million people in India are on the Internet. Perhaps less than 100 million people have shopped online for any product, so far. We are in our eighth year in India and we are not even reaching one-fifth of the total Internet population today. On the other hand, there is a ‘smartphonisation’ of mobile phones happening year after year, with a regular upgrade of people accessing the Internet for the first time.

I won't use a scale of one to 10, but we remind ourselves internally that we are perhaps at the crack of dawn, and it’s not even Day 1 yet.

What are the challenges before Brand Amazon today?

We need to keep reminding ourselves that India is not a homogeneous country – if you understand a certain part of the country and its cities, you cannot use that same playbook to serve customers elsewhere in the country. We will need to remain customer obsessed to understand the heterogeneity of India. It is a challenge and an opportunity as well. We have heterogeneous spheres even in the terms we use – if it is Deepavali somewhere, it’s Diwali in another place. You start with an eye bath if you are in Tamil Nadu. You are eating sweets and bursting crackers if you are in Western India. That is the biggest opportunity that India offers and we are super excited about it.

Across your career, is there any on-ground experience that you can recall, which went on to become a great marketing lesson?

There’s a telling anecdote from my first three months at Amazon. I was doing some customer dipsticks in a residential, traditional part of Bangalore city, where adoption of Amazon hadn’t happened as much as it had in places like Whitefield, Indiranagar, etc. My research partner and I were at the home of a customer who was a home-maker, but also did something on the side to supplement the family income. Her husband ran a shop, while her kids went to school. She said something that stuck with us: “Amazon is the conversations I have with my children on the dining table. They have friends who have bought on Amazon, and they come back with ideas and anecdotes about the kind of products which they want for themselves too. I try to buy them through offline shopping, but I just can’t find those products.” For us, the whole idea of Amazon touch-points are the app, our advertising and communication, and some stories we read about Amazon. But for her, Amazon began with conversations with family members who in turn were inspired by others in their social circle. She said that she eventually downloaded the app and shopped. But she didn't have a great experience because the product that she finally bought was not up to her expectations.

That stopped her journey there. The eye-opener for us was that once a customer who's been on the fence for a while makes up their mind to cross over the fence and try you for the first time, it is extremely important for her to have a great experience. So, we tried to figure out if we could pick up this anecdote and go deeper with it. What we had perceived as her touch-points, versus what she experienced, was very different. If you don't get your estimate experience right, you can keep marketing around your brand, but that marketing is not going to be very effective.

What would you call your marketing mantra - one credo or philosophy that you believe in?

In one word – reinvention. I've been in marketing for a couple of decades now. I understand India well, I understand the playbook well, I understand the changing customer landscape well. I've worked a lot in the packaged food space with my previous organization, and I thought I understood the customer in Tamil Nadu versus the customer in Maharashtra very well. But when it comes to e-commerce, it is entirely different for very different reasons. So, you need to go back and revisit all of the first principles. That's why you need to keep reinventing yourself, driven by your customer obsession – it’s one of our leadership principles as well. So, customer obsession married with reinvention is my mantra.

‘Books on Amazon are my earliest recollection of buying something online’

I bought the Prime programme at Rs 499 very early after Amazon’s launch in India. I had a few books on my wishlist, and had not been able to lay my hands on them. So, the first thing I did was to buy those books on Amazon. Before that, my transactions online were related to banking and stuff like that. But I had not bought physical products. It was a great experience and I've been a pretty loyal and frequent Prime customer ever since. I’ve had a few cribs once in a while, but it’s great to receive products at speed and is unbelievably convenient. You tend to take it for granted. Today, there is very little in my house that is not bought online.

‘I’m passionate about food and football, and teaching my son Maths and Science’

I am a passionate foodie and cook occasionally on weekends… I can even travel for food. It comes from my mom's side, which has a lineage of passionate foodies! Growing up in Mumbai, I studied at Don Bosco, Matunga where football was a deep passion for students. I played a little when I was in school, but continue to be a passionate football fan. I watch the EPL and the La Liga over weekends. A game of football with some delicious food around, is my dream weekend! I have a 15-year-old who is in Grade 10, and I'm trying to teach him Maths and Science, to get his foundations right, and it's been an exciting and rewarding journey so far on that front.

(To view our epaper please Read Now. For all the latest News, Mumbai, Entertainment, Cricket, Business and Featured News updates, visit Free Press Journal. Also, follow us on Twitter and Instagram and do like our Facebook page for continuous updates on the go)