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‘Selling online is challenging’: how Amazon India is busting this myth among MSMEs and artisans

posted on 31st December 2018
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With the rapid adoption of ecommerce in India by retail giants and larger sellers, it was likely that Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and artisans would get left behind.

The repercussions resulting from a huge technological leapfrog, such as ecommerce in a developing country, are scary to imagine. Amazon India looked at this as a golden opportunity to put all small businesses and entrepreneurs on a level playing field. It wants to enable businesses and artisans to sell online and has been working on several initiatives throughout the year.

One of the largest efforts in this direction was Amazon India’s first Small Business Day on December 16, 2018. During the online event, micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses got their products discovered by customers. The specially-curated event displayed products under various programmes such as Kala Haat, Amazon Saheli, Amazon Select, and Amazon Launchpad.

“We are thrilled with the success that our sellers saw during the first-ever Small Business Day. We loved hearing the stories from these small businesses who quit their day jobs to sell on Amazon full-time, hire more employees and grow their businesses,” says Gopal Pillai, Director and GM, Seller Services, Amazon India, in a chat with SMBStory. “But what’s most exciting for us is the way customers from all over India came together to show their support for small businesses and we couldn’t have asked for more.”

How Small Business Day fared

Sellers received orders from over 20,000 pin codes across the country in what was a 100+ category mela of unique products. Small businesses and entrepreneurs on the marketplace saw an average spike of 1.4 times their average sales during the one-day event. Pillai remarked that the success was sweeter because the event was held outside the usual Indian festive season which generates the most traction on ecommerce websites.

“We have over 4,00,000 sellers on the platform usually, but this time we wanted to give customers a special day to purchase unique products made by small businesses,” Pillai says. “We marketed the campaign through print ads and on-site banners, and also got support from the MSME Ministry and The Federation of Indian Micro and Small and Medium Enterprises (FISME).” The company said it worked backwards from sellers’ needs to design, conceptualise, and innovate on new initiatives to transform the way they sell and address the customer’s desire to shop for unique products.

According to the company, handmade products by weavers and artisans were the most popular and saw a spike of over 60 percent over an average business day during Small Business Day, followed by emerging brands (40 percent over an average business day) and eco-friendly products (25 percent over an average business day). Sellers from all over the country, including areas such as Leh (North), Aizawl (Northeast), Andaman (South) and Porbandar (West), offered their products to millions of customers during the event.

Christy Tressa George, Looms & Weaves, told Amazon India, “Being a small brand based out of Kerala, Amazon has given us the confidence of dreaming to be a bigger brand that can reach out to more Indian households and provide them authentic Kerala-based handmade and other hand-crafted quality products. Small Business Day has given a lot of confidence to many sellers in my network, who now wish to sell on Amazon and leverage this platform to build their business, no matter what size they are.”

Manjeet Singh, Embee Enterprises, echoed George’s sentiments. “I have been manufacturing and selling electronics products on Amazon for the past three years competing against big brands. Nobody knew my Made In India brand ‘Tronica’ earlier, but with the help of this platform, constant feedback, and reviews, my brand has become popular among Indians. Amazon Small Business Day was a great opportunity for small sellers like me to showcase and sell indigenous goods.”

Tribes India, the brand under Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED) saw a 4x spike over an average business day during the online event. 

Further, close to 2,000 sellers saw a spike of more than 4x and over 4100 sellers saw a spike of over 2x over an average business day. Top categories include organic skin and hair products, handmade and handloom products, natural baby products, party toys, and lawn and garden equipment. According to Pillai, copper utensils also sold well.

How Amazon India is targeting MSMEs

Success comes as no surprise considering Amazon India’s strong focus on SMEs this year. First, it targeted developing service provider networks by growing it to over 900 service providers in around 100 Indian cities.

“We have been helping SMEs go online by supporting them with imaging, cataloguing, transportation, sponsor product documentation, account management, and more. Across the board, we’re helping those businesses which lack the required technical and operational skills,” Pillai explains. “Then, we also made a lot of progress this year on our seller mobile app. We launched a host of helpful features for those SMEs that run their businesses through mobile phones.”

Amazon Saheli, an initiative to help women entrepreneurs achieve financial independence, also gained momentum in 2018. The dedicated storefront on Amazon.in displays women entrepreneurs' products and facilitates their sale.

Amazon India’s Kala Haat initiative reached considerable scale too. The programme identifies artisans and weavers across India and makes their work available to Indian and global customers on Amazon.in. Working with 15 government agencies, Amazon India brought over 1,50,000 artisans online.

Pillai often encounters small businesses which are eager to scale up. “I hear so many inspirational and powerful stories about these micro businesses which contribute significantly to India’s GDP. For them, accessing customers is a big challenge and we aim to bridge this gap irrespective of geography,” he explains. “We let them focus on making quality products, and with our help, these products gain visibility.”

However, he admits that there is still skepticism among micro businesses about selling online. According to him, the company’s initiatives help bust the myth that selling on Amazon is a huge challenge. “Education and awareness on the ease of selling online are required,” says Pillai. “Access to working capital is another challenge we are addressing. By going through our lending networks, businesses don’t use up too much time by going to banks and financial institutions for loans.”

The emergence of new or unique categories in MSMEs is another trend Pillai has identified. The success of items in categories such as organic skin and hair products, handmade and handloom products, natural baby products, and party toys, etc is a testament to the careful planning gone into executing Small Business Day. In the near future, these trends will continue to play a vital role in determining the company’s plans. “We now seek to invest further in developing service provider networks, mobile apps, and automation tools, as well as launch new initiatives,” he says.

The ecommerce giant’s steps in the sector are certain to attract attention from all stakeholders. With things slowly coming together in the MSME ecosystem, the future certainly looks bright for sellers who jump aboard the digital bandwagon.

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