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This engineer at Amazon is on a mission to help small traders go digital

Gopal Pillai, vice-president, seller services, Amazon India
As vice-president of seller services at Amazon India, Gopal Pillai’s role is to manage all aspects of the ecosystem in India including onboarding, enablement services, fulfilment channels and exports for the sellers. As part of this role, Pillai is also driving a key mission at the e-commerce giant which is to enable local shops all across the country sell online, supporting them with the required technology and training among others.

Over the past six months, Amazon has been running a pilot with over 5,000 offline retailers and local shops to bring the benefits of online selling closer to them. This programme helps customers discover products from local shops from the convenience of their homes while helping shopkeepers supplement their footfalls with a digital presence and expand beyond their normal catchment. Customers benefit from access to greater selection, faster deliveries, and additional value-added services, while local shops can transform themselves into digital stores.

“This could well be the defining moment when local shops leapfrog the commentary of ‘offline vs online’ and instead embrace technology to transform themselves into digital and hybrid stores,” says Pillai. “More importantly, we look forward to more and more local shops to join us so they can play a bigger role than ever before during this time of need.” 

He intends to take the learnings from months of running this pilot and weeks of its effectiveness during Covid-19, to scale this India-first initiative across the country. Local shops are required to use the newly launched ‘Amazon Delivery App’ to provide accurate delivery updates to customers and Amazon. All shipments are tracked on a daily basis on key metrics to ensure customers get what they were promised.

Additionally, shops can sign up for Amazon’s existing programmes that help them earn additional income. For example, a shop signing up for ‘I Have Space’ programme can act as delivery and pickup point, while those joining the ‘Amazon Easy’ programme can offer expanded selection to their walk-in customers. 

Pillai said thousands of shopkeepers from across the country are already taking advantage of the pilot to showcase a wide range of products ranging from consumer electronics to mattresses, kitchen items to grocery and consumables, apparel and shoes to gifts, and even fresh flowers and cakes. These retailers came from top metros as well as tier 1 and tier 2 cities such as Coimbatore, Surat, Lucknow, Saharanpur and Faridabad. Local stores are able to serve far more people in the city than they could have done if they were not selling online.

“The last few weeks have brought us across an unprecedented challenge (Covid-19). It was heartening to see how hundreds of retailers and shopkeepers across India, already part of the pilot, played an important role to help the customers in need,” says Pillai.

Amazon is also establishing ‘Digital Haats’ in 100 cities, villages, and communities to help businesses integrate into the digital economy. Pillai says, the ‘Digital Haats’ will provide services like e-commerce onboarding, imaging and cataloguing, warehouse space, logistics, digital marketing, and compliance. 

Pillai who hails from Tamil Nadu has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Madras. He started his career with TCS, before moving to the US where he spent about 17 years working at various tech companies and startups, including Amazon. 

Over the past 10 years, Pillai has held various leadership roles at Amazon across the US and in India. He moved to Bengaluru five years ago to lead the Marketplace Business for Amazon India. “I strongly feel this is one of the few jobs where you can make an impact at scale,” says Pillai.

Pillai says Amazon’s investments in technology and infrastructure have been singularly geared towards empowering the growth of small businesses. These include innovations like ‘Seller Flex’ that has transformed thousands of seller locations to become digitized warehouses. Then there is ‘Easy Ship’ that has allowed businesses to take advantage of Amazon’s logistics to reach customers nationally. The firm also has a ‘Global Selling’ platform which allows local manufacturers and brands to go global reaching over 350 million customers.

Earlier this year, Amazon announced an additional investment of $1 billion to digitally enable 10 million micro, small, and medium businesses in the country by 2025. The company also said, it aimed to enable $10 billion in cumulative exports by Indian businesses selling on Amazon worldwide, by 2025. 

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