Big Billion Days sale: Flipkart readies virtual war room for festive season

Walmart-owned Flipkart is locked in a battle with Jeff Bezos-led Amazon and Reliance’s JioMart for dominance in India’s online retail market
Jeyandran Venugopal has his task cut out as chief product and technology officer of Flipkart — to implement new technologies at a fast clip and large scale in order to bring millions of new customers and sellers onto the platform. 

With Covid-19 having accelerated the shift to e-commerce, Flipkart is expecting to host the biggest flagship sale event ‘Big Billion Days’ this month. Venugopal and his team are ready to pull it off — remotely.

“As a technology team, the BBD is keeping us on our toes and challenging us to rise up to the occasion. This is going to be an event at an unprecedented scale and all of us are going to be supporting it remotely,” Venugopal says in a Google Hangouts call, while working from his child’s room in Bengaluru. “We have done the preparatory work and are fairly confident we should be able to land a good BBD for our business and customers.”

Walmart-owned Flipkart is locked in a battle with Jeff Bezos-led Amazon and Reliance’s JioMart for dominance in India’s online retail market. The upcoming festive sales are expected to push up the annual GMV (gross merchandise value) of e-commerce companies to around $38 billion, a 40 per cent growth over the previous year, according to research firm RedSeer Consulting. 

E-commerce festive sales alone could cross the $7-billion mark. This is estimated to be 50 per cent more than what the e-commerce players had garnered last year. Amazon is also hosting the ‘Great Indian Festival’ this month.

Unlike other years when employees stayed back in the office even during nights at a stretch to prepare for the mega sales event, this time the action has shifted to the virtual space. Flipkart has set up ‘virtual war rooms’ where thousands of employees are coordinating for the six-day BBD event from their homes. Google Hangouts is being tapped 24x7 to ensure things go according to plan.

To tide over stress of its remotely-working employees, Flipkart has set up meditation and wellness sessions thrice a week at their homes. Employees are also being provided with laughter therapy and other such activities to help them achieve deep mental and physical relaxation.

“These are hard times for everyone,” says Rajneesh Kumar, chief corporate affairs officer. “These (initiatives) are a unique way for everyone to come together for motivation and engagement and it becomes even more important for such an event.”

For BBD, Flipkart has focused on technologies on consumer experience around vernacular languages. Besides Hindi, the platform is now available in Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu. During the upcoming festive sales, it is expected that more than half of the purchases would come from tier-2 cities and towns, with participation from about 50 million users. 

“Today, almost 70 per cent of new customers that come on our platform are from tier-2 and -3 cities,” says Venugopal. “So, this audience really values the element of being able to use the app in their language of choice.”

The ‘voice assistant’ would play a key role during BBD. The platform, also available in Hindi, would help customers in searching for products, understanding their details, and placing orders.

The company has built high-scale systems that can process massive volumes of data and extract insights in real-time during BBD. This includes handling thousands of queries per second. On a regular business day, Flipkart’s systems handle ‘clickstream data’ (user activity) amounting to over 100 terabytes. “A festive day at least does 6X of that number. We could be looking at (processing) almost a petabyte of data during just one day of BBD,” says Venugopal. To put things into perspective, one single petabyte is equal to over 13 years of HD (high-definition)-TV video.

To scale up the supply chain for BBD, Amitesh Jha, senior vice-president, Ekart, and Marketplace, Flipkart, says this year the company has added more than 3.4 million sq. ft storage (equal to 55 football fields) space across its supply chain assets. These include fulfilment centres, mother hubs, and delivery centres throughout the country. 

Flipkart has also connected the warehouses of over 60 brands to its own network spread across 130 locations across the country. This would ensure products reach customers faster from warehouses, nearest to their residence. “It will be one of the game-changers for the way e-commerce logistics happens in India,” says Jha.

Flipkart has also significantly expanded its kirana onboarding programme to include more than 50,000 mom-and-pop stores. These will, in turn, make last-mile deliveries to consumers in more than 850 cities. This year, Flipkart’s BBD has created over 70,000 direct and lakhs of indirect seasonal jobs.

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