Though Amazon is a somewhat late entrant into the online shopping arcade, it is surging ahead. Geeta Padmanabhan on how the e-commerce portal manages to keep people hooked

Free shipping on a 100-rupee book, delivery times guaranteed to the minute, working with local vendors to make sure that goods are wrapped properly, training couriers to make good on promised delivery times in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, cash-on-delivery option, extra permits so shipments don’t get stuck at any point. In the future, delivery guys ringing your doorbell within 30 minutes of you hitting “buy”, a mini-drone (FPV-octocopter) to drop consignments, beating bad roads and traffic. Indians should be convinced to click on, that’s all.

Amazon is a somewhat late entrant into the online shopping arcade. What do they do to surge ahead? A. S. Rajgopal, MD/CEO, NxtGen Datacenter & Cloud Technologies, a company that helps customers build online stores, says “Great value and ease of use. Looks pretty simple to us, but there’s a great deal of science behind their operations.” And Amazon keeps itself in the news. If it bought an online education company one day, it introduced a foolproof payment mechanism for Internet retailers the next. It sold wine online in New York, updated its tablets, announced a fashion design competition. It has mini warehouses in supplier compounds for faster shipping. You can buy a box of 4,000 nails on Amazon and have it delivered to your door free.

Indian shoppers are hooked. “I didn’t think people would give up the pleasure of rifling though new books for the clinical alternative of buying books with 1-Click,” says Vidya, who has a bulk Amazon account. “Boy was I wrong. The cheaper prices and the unlimited inventory were just too much for readers to pass by. I’ve seen people browse books at bookstores, and then take out their phones to order them on Amazon. And once big-box stores began to close in my neighbourhood, I had no choice but to climb onto the Amazon bandwagon.”

Books galore

After a near-exhaustive book catalogue, the company smartly converted to a super-mega department store, she says. You can buy a whisk or a wireless router, compare products/prices/reviews before doing it. “Introduction of Amazon Prime (instant-gratification heaven!) was the moment I became an avid Amazon fan. At times I’ve had consignments with the distinctive Amazon flair delivered daily.” Their return process is not great, she says, but prices are so low that “I’m okay with having a pile of unwanted/un-returnable appliances in my garage and a pile of unread books on my nightstand.”

“I have turned into a ‘shopaholic’, thanks to Amazon!” says Lakshmi Menon, Assistant Professor, Department of Food Science, MOP Vaishnav College for Women. She usually shops at Amazon for books (Kindle section), home/kitchen appliances, computers/accessories. “Things come well-wrapped and Amazon sends constant updates on the status of delivery.” The Kindle version of e-books is a winner, she said. With the Kindle Cloud-Reader, you read books online. “It has helped me create a virtual ‘space-saving’ bookshelf!”

Books, mobile phones/cases, clothes and accessories go into Food Technology/Management student Swetha Sundararajan’s Amazon cart. “Wide range, umpteen choices!” she says, flaunting her latest splurge: a cellpphone case. Orders reach before the promised date. “I have no reason to complain, I haven’t received anything faulty,” she adds. With its wide range of products/brands and international connectivity, Amazon is able to bring to India concepts such as Black Friday, currently prevailing in the U.S. “It’s sure to attract more customers here.”

Dr. Usha Ravi, Dean, Academics, Professor and Head, Department of Food Science, MOP Vaishnav College for Women, routinely orders books for teaching and reference. “I recently purchased a book under the ‘used book’ category for an innovative course called Food Merchandising,” she says. “This book was available only in the U.S. and was shipped to me in approximately a week’s time.” Amazon is successfully creating a ‘cyber-plaza’ experience in India, she says. “A Google search for any book shows Amazon topping the list, that’s good positioning!”

Amazon will work wonders on the Indian shopper, feels Lakshmi. With the choices, and the convenience of buying things with a click, “I end up buying more products online,” says Swetha. Usha “no longer walks across to the bookstore to ‘scan and search’ the bookshelves. “I’m able to sit in the comfort of my workplace and fit my ‘book-shopping spree’ into my academic activity,” she says.

Some others have stories of how Amazon keeps customers happy. People have reported getting additional streaming video-service entertainment free with prime shipping service, and Amazon refunding cash and asking them to keep the purchase. Josh McFarland, CEO, TellApart said he bought a $20 pair of flip-flops from Amazon, and when he wanted to return them, the company told him not to worry. It would give him a refund anyway.