NEW DELHI, India — As Amazon India’s four-day summer sale finished last week, the company revealed it to be its biggest event in terms of growth and sales for the year.
Manish Tiwary, vice president of category management at Amazon India, declared that the sale had created “large sales spikes of up to 90 times, led by fashion and consumer electronics.”
A little more than three years after launching in India, Amazon Fashion has been racing to grow its numbers. It’s been up against the country’s biggest e-tailer, Flipkart, which launched in 2007 and has been further consolidating its position with a series of acquisitions. Flipkart acquired India’s biggest fashion e-tailer Myntra in 2014 for $300 million, and another major player in the market, Jabong, in 2015 for $70 million.
Last month, Flipkart acquired eBay India, with an investment of $1.4 billion.
But Amazon India has a $5 billion check from Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos, who has a keen eye on the Indian market. The e-commerce industry in India is expected to exceed $100 billion in sales by 2019, with 35 percent coming from fashion alone.
“We’ve been growing in triple digits — last year we grew 250 percent. Apparel itself is the number-two category of products that are sold on Amazon India, with more than 15,000 brands,” Arun Sirdeshmukh, head of fashion at Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd., told WWD.
Less than a year into the new position, Sirdeshmukh has been translating his extensive industry experience into boosting Amazon Fashion’s position. Sirdeshmukh was earlier cofounder of fashion e-tailer Fashionara, and has worked as chief executive officer of Reliance Trends, the fashion and lifestyle business of Reliance Retail, and earlier with Madura Garments and the Future group.
Amazon Fashion has signed more than 150 brands including Aéropostale, Emporio Armani, Armani Exchange, Versus by Versace, Calvin Klein, Levi’s, Furla, Replay and Fitflop. Indian designers have also been high on the list, with designers such as Payal Pratap, Tarun Tahiliani and Monisha Jaising.
“If you see the Amazon journey in the U.S., it is quite different from the one in India,” Sirdeshmukh explained. “In India, we launched two brands — Amazon.in and Amazon Fashion at Amazon.in. So we marketed Amazon Fashion as an independent brand. Even in television commercials and in our communication we have always looked at it as a different business.
“The deal is when you hear Amazon Fashion at Amazon.in, it is, ‘Hey do you want to shop for the top brands which you will see at a department store?’ We’re calling that out even more on the site. There are typically two different consumers — those that are more brand conscious, and the other who is looking for a product at a wide variety of prices and may not be so affluent. We’re happy serving both those consumers, but we’re calling them out as if they are two different sites.”
The first $2 billion has already been spent and Amazon is closing in on becoming the top e-tailer in the country. “Our long-term ambition is to transform how India buys and sells. We will thoughtfully invest whatever it takes to do that,” Amazon India country head Amit Agarwal commented earlier.
Sirdeshmukh is not worried about the numbers at Flipkart.
“Let me put it differently,” he said. “You will hear this refrain from us all the time: We don’t obsess about our competitors at all. We obsess about customers. We obsess about carrying the widest selection of products that customers love, at the right price points, with the right nuances. Because the idea is that we are an online site and you have to carry everything there is. If not, we would be failing customers in some way, if we didn’t carry that product.”
A big part of it, especially with the launch of Amazon Prime in India last year, is making sure that the products were in stock and close enough to the customer for immediate delivery, a trial in a country as geographically diverse as India. “Delivery of products, with the one daytime commitment is a great challenge in the apparel category. Executing Prime is a big challenge,” he said.
While analysts complain that fashion appears to be part of a discounters’ game in terms of e-tailing, Sirdeshmukh observed that discounts “don’t mean bad,” or that “necessarily all of us are burning money — a lot of brands are partnering us in that process — without them we would not be going on this journey.”
An addition has been the launch of category-specific festivals — starting with denim in February, and coming up, a sneaker festival.
The e-tailer also has linked with India Fashion Week, now known as Amazon India Fashion Week, which is held twice a year in New Delhi. It completed its fifth season of sponsorship in March.
“It’s an association at a very fundamental level,” Sirdeshmukh said. “We love to see properties like these which help us build fashion credentials. We were looking at properties that would rub off with the serious fashion player. This meant a look at trends, media interactions, the designer community — in each way the connect is awesome.
“When it comes to trends and styles, several of the things that we see here help us in the forward view of what might be in-fashion. Those are key takeaways along with the opportunity to interact with the best in the business at occasions like these,” he observed.
Exclusivity has not really been the focus for many e-tailers, but Amazon has been using it as a differentiator. “We love to showcase products that are available exclusively with us, create a destination to go to, and makes us all that much more fashionable. We have launched some brands in India for the first time, Under Armour is the most recent. In different ways, we’ve done that with The Gap, Arrow, with Speedo, with a lot of players,” Sirdeshmukh said.
As analysts vie with each other to prove whether Flipkart or Amazon is going to be the winner of the country’s e-tail race, a third of all customers at Amazon are drawn in through fashion.
“You can imagine that fashion is a really critical category for us. So we are continuing to put our heads down and deliver the right experience for customers, we believe that growth will come. We know that we really have to work on the basics so that we provide customers the right experience on the fashion side and that is why we are scoring at this scorching pace of growth,” Sirdeshmukh said.