“mStick Baby Safety Adjustable Anti-Lost Harness Extends upto 1.5 meters”

“Coolkart Professional Safety Security Spiral Coil Elastic Harness Leash Anti-Lost”

There’s nothing particularly unique about these wrist links, which keep a child and parent leashed together, available for sale on Amazon India’s website. An Excel list of these products, along with details like their Amazon product identity number, seller name, and pricing is also innocuous. 

Except this list was in the hands of special seller acquisition teams at Walmart-owned Flipkart, Amazon’s fiercest rival for supremacy of India’s e-commerce market. This list was just one of many that contained Amazon-specific details of products, ranging from baby care to home improvement tools. 

One thing all these products had in common was that they were listed on Amazon but not on Flipkart. 

So, in 2019, Flipkart armed its 18 special seller acquisition teams—which it assembled in October 2018—with these Excel sheets. According to four employees in these teams and internal documents accessed by The Ken, the teams had one singular task—get these products and sellers on Flipkart. “Amazon was their only focus,” one employee said. All employees spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.

One e-commerce company trying to onboard another’s sellers and products is not unusual. Usually, however, according to sources at Flipkart The Ken spoke with, this sort of work is left to category teams. For example, the electronics team would be tasked with ensuring their portfolio wasn’t dwarfed by that of their rival. Creating special, category-agnostic teams to scour the country, therefore, is far from ordinary. And unlike Flipkart’s usual seller acquisition teams, these comprised only of contract employees.

Flipkart’s move smacks of an urgency that stems from the large and widening chasm between itself and Amazon when it comes to sellers and products. In 2019, Amazon said it has more than 550,000 sellers on the India marketplace with 170 million products across more than a hundred categories. This easily bests Flipkart’s 80 million products across 80-plus categories and 100,000 sellers. And while there is little to separate Amazon and Flipkart in high-profile categories like smartphones, electronics and large appliances, Flipkart lags Amazon’s catalogue in categories with long-tail items—baby care, personal care, and the like. 

Not only did the seller acquisition teamswith full-time contractors internally called Feet on Street—concentrate largely on these categories, they also focused solely on merchants and products that were on Amazon but not Flipkart. The lists they were given contained details of hundreds of products and merchants. These details could be obtained through scraping Amazon’s website for data. The Ken has seen these lists but could not determine how Flipkart obtained these details or if any data was proprietary, if at all, to Amazon.

AUTHOR

Abinaya Vijayaraghavan

Abinaya is a Bengaluru-based writer, covering the sprawling and exciting world of Indian e-commerce. When she is not trying to understand alpha sellers and complex supply chains, she enjoys travelling and playing badminton. Abinaya was previously a reporter at Reuters.

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