How Amazon Works With Indian Railways

‘Building a whole product with the railways was challenging; we had to figure out how to load and unload a train when it stops for only about five minutes at a station.’
‘We also helped them understand the revenues this would generate for them.’

Akhil Saxena, Vice President of Operations for APAC, MENA and LATAM, and Worldwide Customer Service Head at Amazon, is passionate about coaching people.

He also likes to binge-watch crime and thriller movies and try out different cuisines.

These days, however, Saxena is focusing all his energy on the Great Indian Festival sale event.

In an interview with Peerzada Abrar/Business Standard at the company’s office in the World Trade Centre, Saxena says this festive season, Amazon India is concentrating on faster-than-ever delivery speed.

The company is leveraging partnerships with Indian Railways and India Post, as well as Amazon Air, the cargo airline that the e-commerce firm launched this year to transport packages.

How are you gearing up for the festival season?

The researchers have told us that this year, the online shopping festival is going to be the largest one yet, growing year-on-year.

Customers are expecting better convenience, more reliable and faster deliveries, and good value for their money. We are striving to ensure that small- and medium-sized businesses and enterprises have all the opportunities to sell on Amazon.

Our platform, Amazon Pay, offers products like ‘buy now, pay later’ or ‘buy in EMI.’ The affordability and accessibility of products have also improved.

From an operations perspective, key initiatives include building a resilient network and speeding up delivery. We have partnered with Indian Railways to expand our network for speed.

Our partnership with QuikJet Cargo Airlines has been beneficial, and we have two Amazon aeroplanes, which are now set to handle almost 2.5 times the volume across 14 cities.

We have expanded the ‘I Have Space’ programme to about 456 cities and added 70 new cities. For transportation, about 650 carriers are partnering with us.

We are building all the capacity that we need for our customers to receive their products on time, faster than before, and with the convenience of shopping from home.

We are also in the process of creating tens of thousands of seasonal jobs. A significant focus is on hiring under-represented cohorts, including people with disabilities. We are partnering with the government to employ people with disabilities.

We continue to hire military veterans and are focusing a lot on hiring women. Due to increased volumes, there is indirect hiring in areas such as manufacturing and suppliers of packaging materials. Other such areas include security and housekeeping agencies, as well as catering services.

How is your partnership with organisations such as Indian Railways and India Post helping?

With India Post, we now offer the ‘cash on delivery’ service and are scaling that up. We are already in 100 cities and continue to work on expanding this service.

We started with two stations with Indian Railways and have now connected to 138 corridors, with about 100 trains carrying shipments every day. This partnership will continue to scale. Any new innovation that they introduce presents an opportunity for us to collaborate.

For example, they are currently working on dedicated freight corridors, and we immediately began collaborating with them on this initiative. This allows us to serve 116 cities with a one-day delivery promise using the railways.

So, the railways, initially used primarily for moving goods from point A to point B, has become more speed-sensitive, enabling us to fulfil one-day delivery promises. This is a significant opportunity that we are leveraging.

Building a whole product with the railways was challenging; we had to figure out how to load and unload a train when it stops for only about five minutes at a station. We also helped them understand the revenues this would generate for them.

Then, we built the processes at these 138 corridors and stations where we operate. Building these distribution processes was a challenging task.

You launched Amazon Air, a dedicated air cargo network, early this year. What are the plans to expand that service?

I think the scaling will happen as we anticipate more volumes coming our way. We already have two planes in operation. We also utilize belly cargo space on almost all the airlines in India.

We have a partnership with Quikjet, a cargo airline for Amazon Air. We also collaborate with other airlines like IndiGo, SpiceJet, and various regional carriers.

For us, it’s about fully leveraging this capacity. Regarding Amazon Air, the significant advantage is that customers now have full visibility of their shipments.

Also, we are not bound by commercial flight timings. We can operate at different times based on what’s most convenient for our customers.

This means they can shop later and still receive their orders within the promised time frame. For example, if you visit our Web site, you might see ‘Order by 12 noon and get it tomorrow.’ With Amazon Air, we can now say ‘Order by 7 pm and still get it tomorrow.’

This provides customers with an additional seven hours to place orders or make their decisions at their convenience while still enjoying faster delivery.

There are also other innovations we have built. We realized that sellers were struggling to find the right courier company.

We build ‘Easy Ship’, where we come to the seller and help with shipping and delivery of the products to the customers. We started with ‘Easy Ship’ in India and the innovation has now gone to global countries.

Another innovation that we did was ‘Seller Flex’, where sellers can process the order from their own shop using our technologies. We have taken this innovation to regions like Brazil, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt.

What are the expansion plans of Amazon in India, including partnerships with the government?

We have signed up with the government, that we (Amazon) would be joining Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC). It is an exciting opportunity for everyone to come online and enable digital commerce in India.

We are working towards (joining) ONDC and it would take a couple of more months. I think the scale-up will happen from the merchant side. For us, it is to provide platform integration between what we have and the ONDC platform.

Here people outside of Amazon can use our services and fulfill their e-commerce requirements. We are committed to India and it’s a very important market for us.

We’ve expanded ‘I Have Space’ (IHS) programme. We now have 28,000 stores of IHS. We have added over 150 trucking partners for the festive season. We are continuing to invest.

There is a strong demand from our customers who want to buy various products ranging from large appliances, mobile phones, consumer electronics, footwear, apparel, and home and kitchen products. These categories are growing rapidly for us, and we will continue to do what is right for the business.

Amazon launched its first shopping Web site in India in June 2013. How do you view these 10 years in the country?

It’s been a very exciting journey for me. I joined (Amazon) in 2013 and moved from a very different sector, which was in the EPC (construction business), to come to e-commerce. When I joined, we had only one fulfilment centre in Bhiwandi.

Over the last 10 years, we have built a very robust network, not just fulfilment centres but the middle mile and the last mile, the full transportation and customer fulfilment network.

If you were to visualize what was there when I joined, it was one FC (fulfilment centre) with 0.22 million cubic feet of storage capacity. That is equal to, let’s say, two Olympic-size swimming pools.

Today, we are at 43 million cubic feet of space. That is equal to 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools, where we have to keep the inventory of our sellers so that we can fulfil on their behalf.

Today, we have fulfilment centres in more than 15 states. We started off with one sort centre in 2013 and now sort centres are across 19 states with 2.3 million square feet of sortation area, where we sort packages for different destinations.

The whole focus since day one has been on how to enable small and medium enterprises to come and sell on Amazon.

The aim is to transform the way customers in India buy, and the way sellers sell and they do not have to worry about investment in infrastructure, technology and processes. This way they can focus on growing a profitable business.

We are also proud of partnerships that we have built over time like with (India Post and Indian Railways).

We invented a lot of solutions like ‘I Have Space’, for example, which is a mom-and-pop store network, which delivers to you because you are familiar with them.

Then there is the DSP (delivery service partner) programme. We have partners across more than 400 cities and they help us deliver our shipments.

What has also helped us is multiple partnerships with the government, for example, in the area of skilling.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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