Amazon's India business improvises a lot

Amazon has had to completely change the way it approaches its business in India, because that country is just a completely different story than anything else, anywhere.

At least, that's the general conclusion from words Amit Agarwal, who leads Amazon's India efforts told Jay Greene at The Seattle Times.

According to the publication, the company had to completely rethink its international-expansion strategy, and that included less science, less precision and more “cowboys” and MacGyvers.

The company has had to build a team of “cowboys” and “Jeff Bots”, capable of moving fast and improvising the way they work.

“The original strategy Agarwal and his team presented was too methodical, too precise and, perhaps most crucially, too much like the rollouts of Amazon’s other international markets, in countries where the economies are developed, Greene writes. “In India, where the infrastructure is overwhelmed, where the rules are opaque, where retailing is primitive, Amazon’s familiar playbook would flop.”

“I don’t need computer scientists in India. I need cowboys,” Bezos told the team.

For example, Amazon can't work with a postal carrier to ship goods to households from its giant fulfillment centers, because of crazy traffic and a vague address system.

Instead it had to build a couple of spread out "micro-warehouses" that ship goods to smaller distribution centers, where packages are then either whisked off by motorcycle-driving delivery people or dropped off in bundles at local stores, where customers can pick them up.

Even though Amazon has to thread uncharted territories and improvise along the way, it won’t give up on the Indian market because it is extremely lucrative. Right now, it has the third-greatest number of internet users in the world, after China and the US, and is similarly ranked in smartphone penetration.