By Jayraj Patel
Flipkart plans to challenge Amazon by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) programs, the same technological assets that Amazon perfected in its own country, and the Indian angel has a head start that may be hard for the Silicon-valley giant to overtake.
The company’s flagship unit, ‘AI for India’, will primarily work on designing and applying unique and personalised AI and ML models for Indian buyers and inculcate these models within the company’s eco-systems. Co-founder Sachin Bansal expressed his thoughts on the company’s new program in a Flipkart Stories blog post suggesting that “AI may have a greater impact on business in India than any other place in the world”.
AI for India
AI and ML technologies offer exciting solutions that will significantly impact the traditional way of business in the Indian e-commerce sector. Chief data scientist Mayur Datar, who joined Flipkart from Google in 2015, will be heading the exclusive AI team along with other senior executives including Kalyan Krishnamurthy.
These technologies will speed up the customer purchase process as intelligent systems and algorithms will provide the most relevant products and promotional packages to every customer. Flipkart plans to integrate these intelligent systems from warehousing and logistics to generating an interactive interface that constantly simplifies the user experience.
Project Mira, the Indian version of Amazon’s Alexa has the potential to reduce customer effort significantly and is currently under development. It is reported that the Indian smart-bot Mira will be able to understand and communicate in local languages and accents as the voice-based segment remains untouched at present. This would allow Flipkart to reach a wider customer base as online retail contributes a small chunk – 2.5% of the total retail pie in India.
Earlier this year, Flipkart’s principal scientist and head of image sciences, Krishnendu Chaudhury, spoke about the company’s plans to predict product sales using AI systems which will allow them to effectively design tactical and operational plans in the long term.
The Flipkart advantage
Flipkart started operations in 2007 and has since bundled up on vast amounts of data on Indian customers and their buying patterns, using which it can design the most relevant and customer-centric program’s that directly strike a chord with the customer’s heart and mind. Currently, Flipkart has around 135 million customers after they grew 85% in terms of gross merchandise value from the previous year.
The big bully already knows AI
Jeff Bezos led Amazon started operations in 1997 and is currently the largest e-commerce company in the world. In the USA, Amazon dominates the e-commerce race and has been actively involved in using AI technologies to foster innovative new methods to conduct business. The company is among the likes of the world’s most innovative companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple.
Amazon entered the Indian market in 2013 and has grown faster than Flipkart in a shorter span of time to capture a major chunk of the pie. Earlier this year, an Amazon executive who did not want to be identified told the Economic times that “Amazon India is growing much faster than the market and grew 1.5 times more than Flipkart” between April and September 2017. Also, he made it clear that Amazon’s Indian arm is focused “on the same parameters that we were last year – growth of customers and geographical distribution’” Amazon has already launched their flagship Amazon Echo line of speakers (with Alexa) in India this October.
Who will win in India?
The economic landscape in India with increasing foreign investment, infrastructure development in urban areas, and increasing internet access has fostered a suitable environment for the AI and ML technologies to flourish. Globally, India is only behind the USA in leading the AI race as more than 50% of the companies using AI technologies in India have ventured beyond the pilot and testing stages and implemented them on scalable levels.
Flipkart’s AI for India program has been developed to implement AI and ML technologies that can work and grow in the Indian e-commerce and commercial landscape as they attempt to design and implement these technologies exclusively for the Indian subcontinent. Flipkart’s understanding of the Indian customer certainly gives them an edge over their rivals and in 2018. We may see promising breakthroughs and solutions that transform the landscape.
However, using the same time-experience argument, Amazon has led the global e-commerce race and already bolsters several hardcore capabilities that design and implement AI and ML technologies. Even though it has been in India for a shorter span of time, it would be incorrect to assume that they have a lesser understanding of the Indian customers than homegrown Flipkart.
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