Free meals, little rest: Amazon, Flipkart HQ turn war rooms for mega sale

Topics Amazon | Flipkart | E-commerce firms

Preparations have been on for more than 11 months but that doesn’t mean there are no last minute jitters | Representative image
As the clock strikes midnight on Saturday, the online platforms of Flipkart and Amazon will explode. 

After months of preparations, D-day will be here with millions of shoppers going online to grab the special offers. 

At Amazon India’s headquarters in the World Trade Centre in Bengaluru, the atmosphere in the ‘war room’ up on the 27th floor is electric. The final checklist is being ticked off as the e-commerce giant gets ready to ring the bell in on its mega sale.  

Preparations have been on for more than 11 months but that doesn’t mean there are no last minute jitters. “The India leadership are all parked here keeping a close watch on it all. The main brief given to us is that nothing should go wrong — customer experience is everything,” said a source inside the company.

It’s all hands on deck. A senior executive said it was a do-or-die situation. “No one takes leave, we are all in offices throughout the country, ensuring that the operations are in ship-shape condition. Only after the sales fever is over will people start taking leave,” he said.

At Attibele on the city outskirts, one of Amazon India’s largest fulfilment centres is teeming with activity. Maintaining the morale of almost 2,000 employees, both permanent and ‘seasonal associates’, is not easy. Music helps to keep spirits high. For the next week, a DJ has been hired to belt out Kannada, Hindi, Punjabi and English songs to create a peppy atmosphere. 

Some 30 kilometres away at Walmart-owned Flipkart on the Outer Ring Road, Bollywood music has also been enlisted to cheer everyone up as eleventh hour glitches are ironed out. Meals are served in-house because no one has the time to go out. When nerves become really raw, staff kick off their shoes and dance in specially created dance arenas in the reception area.

They can forget going home to eat. Since there isn’t even time to go home to sleep, 700 mattresses have been laid out for power naps.

“The working hours are crazy but it is worth it. Every employee is aligned to one single goal,” said Jyotsana Singh, manager, marketing for books, general merchandise and home at Flipkart.

Flipkart’s Big Billion Day or BBD is no ordinary sale. It calls for special commitment which is why some employees in the past have postponed their wedding day to be able to give it their all. 

“The employees go through this journey – the BBD - year-on-year, but their families are also putting an equal amount of effort in terms of support when the wives or husbands have to be in the office and don’t have enough time to spend at home,” said Ishita Bhatia, a director for the private label business at Flipkart. In 2017, Bhatia deferred her wedding by a few months as the original date was clashing with the BBD.

Leave the war rooms in Bengaluru and travel some 1500 miles to the rolling hills of Siliguri in West Bengal and Pintu Malik, a delivery executive attached to Flipkart, has been toning up his body. In the next few days, he will be scaling the hilly terrains of Siliguri to deliver large packets to places where no delivery van has probably ever reached before.

For Malik, it’s important to make BBD work. After getting a job with Flipkart in a small city like Siliguri, he has not only been able to send his son to an English medium school but is also adding a new room to his home.

“I get a lot of respect and love from my community when I deliver products like large appliances to customers as many of these items are not available at the local stores,” said Malik. “During the BBD, the number of packages I have to deliver increases multifold compared to normal weeks.”

Flipkart’s chief executive Kalyan Krishnamurthy has seen many BBDs in his time. He could be forgiven for being blasé about this one but he says he feels the same excitement as he did during the first one. “Don't forget we have a team which is winning disproportionately. And when we get to the festival season, we will come out with an even bigger winning margin,” said Krishnamurthy.

Flipkart is betting heavily on technology to solve some of the biggest problems. To support the BBD, it has created systems to ensure the website and app do not crash during peak hours with hundreds and thousands of users attempting to buy at the same time.

“We simulate the situations to test the stress these systems will face from users, figure out potential bugs and fix them,” said Shubham Shrivastava, a senior software engineer at Flipkart. 

The firm will use ‘real-time analytics and insights’ to predict the traffic and the consumption patterns across all customer touch-points. Every point of failure is addressed to withstand disruptions of any nature. Systems are continuously benchmarked and certified for peak performance. 

Critical processes such as the selection of products and their dispatch to the warehouse, their sorting in mother hubs, local runs and beat planning are all backed by special technology. Flipkart is also using concepts such as geocoding and address intelligence to be able to precisely locate customer addresses for deliveries.

In fact, Flipkart introduced the country’s first robot-based ‘sortation’ technology to help meet ever-growing customer and scale demands, ensure a better online experience for shoppers, and provide faster delivery. From 100 robots, it now has 450.

The company now delivers to 100 per cent of serviceable pin-codes. One seller anticipating big business to come out of this year’s BBD is Raju Lunawath, an electronic products retailer who has completely switched from having physical stores to becoming an online seller after adopting Flipkart’s platform.

“Last year during the BBD we witnessed 5x growth for our business, but this year we expect an added growth of 3x on top of that as the event gets bigger and better every year,” said Lunawath. Like Malik, he has prospered through his association with Flipkart. He has cleared his loans, bought a nicer house, and owns two cars.

All geared up

  • War rooms are equipped with gourmet food, snacks, energy drinks, bean bags, and foot massagers 
  • Anytime pick-up and drop service 
  • Teams at fulfilment centres have customised T-shirts, disc  jockeys, and 24-hour cafeteria
  • 90,000 temporary employees deployed 

  • 700 cots procured for Bengaluru campus for employees to rest 
  • Has 24-hour cafeteria; kiosks with food from around the world 
  • Music on demand
  • 50,000 additional staff hired

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