US ecommerce giant Wayfair opens technological development centre in Bengaluru to drive global innovation agenda

Ecommerce home decor giant Wayfair’s new technological development centre in Bengaluru will house multiple technical roles to serve its key markets in the US, the UK, Canada, and Germany.

US ecommerce giant Wayfair opens technological development centre in Bengaluru to drive global innovation agenda

Thursday September 07, 2023,

7 min Read

Boston-headquartered ecommerce home decor giant Wayfair has opened a new technological development centre in Bengaluru, India – its first-ever in the APAC region. The Bengaluru centre is designed to house diverse technical roles, underscoring Wayfair's dedication to technological excellence.

Wayfair's journey is remarkable, positioning it as the archetype of a digital-first home decor enterprise. It not only set the industry standard but also fuelled technology-driven growth in this niche. The cornerstone of Wayfair's distinction is its recommendation engine, which employs imagery to curate buyer recommendations. This unique approach gains further momentum with the strong engineering acumen of the India centre.

The India centre’s role is being championed by global stakeholders, with many senior stakeholders periodically visiting to influence the charter. The global leadership team, including Kate Gulliver (CFO), Fiona Tan (CTO), Nitin Kapoor (Executive Sponsor, Wayfair India Technology Development Centre (TDC)), Kevin O’Riordan (Head of Supply Chain Tech), and Rohit Kaila (Head of Technology and Site Leader, Wayfair India TDC) ,have all been instrumental in driving a unified global vision.

Speaking about Wayfair’s India TDC, Gulliver said the focus is really to add to “our existing technology team and get the talent that we can’t get at other places. India is a confluence of many things – a strong technology ecosystem, strong domain expertise, and a microcosm of next-gen technology, everything aligned to our company vision.” The confidence in what the Indian ecosystem has to offer is so high, she added, that the company had no plans currently to open centres in other locations in APAC.

The Bengaluru centre currently has 100 technology professionals on board and is growing at a steady pace. “We would like to grow to about 250-300 professionals by the end of the year. India has a very strong market for ecommerce supply chain. Many of these areas are critical for our future growth, as a result of which we are hiring top professionals to ensure that we have a strong, talented team in the market,” Kaila said.

In October 2022, Wayfair hired Kaila, a top former Walmart tech executive based in Bengaluru, to oversee the new centre. Kaila was Vice President of Engineering at Walmart for five years, and previously worked for Intuit and Yahoo! in Bengaluru.

Hitting the ground running

Wayfair’s entry to India has been intentional in every way. Right from having a strong set of sponsors, the India centre was seeded with a high-calibre leadership team to ensure high maturity of the centre from the get-go. The set up was also done in an accelerated manner. It partnered with Zinnov, a global management consulting firm, to accelerate the time to set up – be it legal, financial, talent and HR advisory, and other regulatory aspects- and also to help scale over the last few months.

What Wayfair was interested in is setting the right stride both statutorily, and from a brand perspective. The firm, which has historically favoured speed over control, took a partner approach, and worked with Zinnov, a firm that has an extremely strong pulse of the market, to navigate unknowns and focus on technology, its core business value.

Commenting on the synergies and the expertise, Kaila said, “Our partnership with Zinnov enabled us to accelerate the process of building the team in India. Wayfair is an extremely nimble and fast-moving company. Given the speed at which Zinnov operates, our DNAs matched well.”

Bengaluru – The destination of choice

Shedding light on why the company zeroed in on Bengaluru for this global capability centre (GCC), Kate drew comparisons with other parts of the world where the concentration of ecommerce retail talent is not as specific as Bengaluru. “It is different from everywhere else because there are other places where you can go for tech, but the talent pool gets extremely diluted across multiple industries.”

Fiona Tan, CTO, Wayfair, who recently spoke at one of India’s largest tech conferences, shared, “In terms of talent pool, particularly for ecommerce, I can’t imagine a better place than Bengaluru to be in. There’s a lot of innovation and ideation happening in Bengaluru, which is frankly, more advanced than the US. So, it seemed like a very natural choice to set up our centre here.”

Seamless synergy across borders

About the work culture at Wayfair, Kaila said despite the company being around for over 20 years, it still has a very strong startup culture given that it is a founder-driven company. “When we started, we wondered how to get top talent from well-established retailers to come work for us. Interestingly, a lot of people wanted to work in an environment that still retains a startup culture. And that has been one of the biggest draws,” he said.

On fostering collaboration across global centres dispersed in different geographical locations, Tan explained the importance of building atomic teams to promote self-sufficiency and ownership. By distributing responsibilities between teams in different regions, the company mitigates the burden of constant communication and time zone differences. She emphasised the need for sensitivity and mutual understanding among teams to ensure a balanced and supportive work environment. “We give full ownership and responsibility from a product, machine learning, and software engineering standpoint to the teams in India. This model allows us to divvy up the work and get things done effectively,” she added.

Wayfair’s future in India

Going forward, Wayfair aims to continue increasing its share in the markets that it currently operates in, which include the US, the UK, Canada, and Germany. Only 25% of those markets are online.

“While we have had a very consistent share gain, there’s still significant penetration to look forward to. We are looking to go the multi-channel route in the US and will be launching a physical retail store in the spring of 2024. The team in India is helping to drive many of those efforts,” Gulliver shared.

She spoke about the supply chain, which has been a key differentiator for the ecommerce giant. The team in India has been working closely on creating a seamless supply chain and providing 20,000 suppliers access to the company’s platforms.

“We believe our partnership with the suppliers is fairly unique in terms of how we’ve helped them grow and build their business. They need to be able to access our platforms very easily and navigate them quickly. While the operating growth will occur in the markets that we’re in, we need the team in India to help deliver on those plans and promises,” Gulliver concluded.

Wayfair is one of the more recent global companies to set up an India centre. There are over 1,580 GCCs in India and there have been over 150 companies that have set up shop in the last three years alone according to the Zinnov-Nasscom GCC 4.0 report. This trend reflects the maturity of the Indian tech ecosystem fueled by the presence of ecosystem orchestrators, including services companies and consulting companies such as Zinnov who help with the GCC-as-a-service model. Today, not only large fortune 500 companies but next-generation technology companies like Wayfair also want to set up shop in India to unlock the value this ecosystem can provide.

Nilesh Thakker, Managing Partner, Zinnov, commented on the firm’s partnership with Wayfair. “We have helped Fortune 500 companies set up shop in India in the past. Now, we see an influx of next-generation technology companies like Wayfair approaching us to define their innovation. What we found unique about Wayfair is the startup culture that they continue to nurture even after being such an established firm. Wayfair’s Bengaluru centre has the makings of an engineering talent magnet, with the dynamic GCC ecosystem, service provider community, and startup ecosystem fueling the city’s tech talent clout.”