Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this year’s Bengaluru Tech summit. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well. It has been a difficult period for all, but I am inspired by how it has brought the indomitable human spirit to the fore. It leaves me very optimistic that we will emerge stronger, grateful, and more resilient than ever.

Kudos to the organizers for bringing together India’s flagship IT summit despite the pandemic. Though not at the iconic Bengaluru Palace, I am excited we are still able to come together virtually to discuss, debate, and understand the latest technological innovations and the profound impact of IT on our businesses and daily lives.

Amazon’s journey from Bengaluru

In 1997, Karnataka was the first state in the country to formulate an IT policy. The industry-friendly IT policies of successive state governments, rich talent pool of highly skilled professionals, high-quality institutes of higher learning, the resilience, tenacity and innovation of companies and start-ups have all made Bengaluru what it is today.

Amazon’s own story is strongly tied to this city. I came here in 2004 and got started with handful software development engineers. I remember we were all writing code huddled in a tiny office space in Divyashree Chambers near Richmond Road. Imagine a typical scrappy Bengaluru start-up, looking to make a difference. It was the beginning of Amazon’s presence in India as the company drew on the talent in this city for a rapidly growing young technology company, then barely 10 years old.

And again, in 2013, we set up with a small team, starting with just 100 sellers selling books in 10 cities. I remember how we cheered every time an order was placed. We had this zeal to transform the way India buys and sells. Today, it humbles me to see how far we have come – nearly 700,000 sellers, mostly SMBs, offering India’s largest selection of hundreds of millions of products to customers across the country. It is inspiring to hear stories of toys from Channapatna or the traditional sarees from Pochampally selling to customers in Leh in the Himalayan region and Majuli islands in Assam. In fact, recently during our Great Indian Festival, nearly 99% of India’s pin-codes placed at least one order in the first 48 hours.

With almost 100,000 direct employees in India, including tens of thousands of employees in the many global technology teams based here, Indian talent today touches almost every part of Amazon’s global offerings. Bengaluru is at the heart of technology and innovation, and we, at Amazon, have certainly been privileged to work with some of the brightest and most talented IT professionals, and experience the unique dynamism, resourcefulness, and inventiveness that continues to propel India.

Equitable internet access as the accelerator of change

As we look ahead, it promises to be India’s moment in the world, and as our CEO Jeff Bezos predicted recently, the 21st century promises to be India’s century. Technology and mobile internet have transformed daily lives globally, and India is no different. But these are likely to have an even more profound impact on India, as a scalable lever to drive inclusion and equity for society. Urban centres will no longer claim preferential access to products, education, healthcare, or entertainment. MSMEs will not be limited by their local catchment as they dream big. Entrepreneurs will not be held back by their scale, with access to world-class infrastructure at the outset. We are at an inflection point, and are likely to look back at mobile internet, and e-commerce in particular, as a social and economic leveller that transformed lives and livelihoods in India.

Indian e-commerce is early in its evolution, barely 3% of total retail consumption, but is already ushering in faster digitization across the consumption value chain, and enabling expanded access and opportunities for customers and businesses across the country. I come across many inspiring example every day – a school teacher based in Leh is able to access all the art and craft material she needs for her students; a local startup, Jack in the Box, is redefining creativity toys for kids and receiving thousands of orders from customers in the US without having to invest in distribution infrastructure. A digital first tea brand out of India makes its way on Oprah Winfrey’s favourite list!

E-commerce is blurring the lines between online and offline, between local and global. Businesses will no longer have to choose – they can seamlessly complement in-store services with doorstep convenience for customers in their locality; and dream beyond to reach customers across India, even globally. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Indian SMB is already at play as they embrace e-commerce. Chandrakala Creations from Varanasi, a two-decade old offline apparel business, decided to go global with Amazon in 2016. Today they are recognized as an Indian fashion brand among customers in the US, UK, Australia, and the Middle East. Tens of thousands of neighbourhood stores across the country are expanding their influence as pickup points, logistics partners, and experience centres, for ecommerce, and truly becoming digital entrepreneurs.

Digital payments have started competing with cash in convenience and trust. Technology and Machine Learning are enabling access to credit. Online experiences are adapting real-time to customer preferences and limitations, be it language, digital sophistication, or internet speeds, while keeping privacy and control with the customer. Customers will be able to seamlessly move across using voice and touch, between reading information and watching videos, even experiencing the product from the comfort of their home. Services will anticipate what customers need and when they need it, to enable unique zero-click experiences that might seem science fiction today!

Covid-19 response and the heightened interest in e-commerce

While the future remains exciting, we have to battle the immediate challenges posed by COVID-19. Customers and businesses are increasingly relying on technology to get back on their feet. The crisis has particularly highlighted the resilience and optimism of the Indian entrepreneur, as more small businesses and shops are embracing technology and online to reinvent themselves. We realize, and are humbled, they are relying on us more than ever before, and we take this responsibility very seriously. We recently launched a service allowing local shops to establish a digital presence on Amazon to serve customers in their locality online. We are inspired by the undeterred entrepreneurial spirit and the resolve of India’s micro-entrepreneurs, as they adapt and embrace technology to jumpstart their livelihoods.

For instance, a small offline shop Sadhana Water Solutions in Bangalore retails water purifiers, inverters, and batteries. Realising that the extended remote work was leading to a rise in demand for inverters/ UPSs and customers increasingly preferring to buy online, the savvy shop owner started selling on the Amazon marketplace in June. Within the first 30 days, he has seen the online channel help record INR 90,000 in sales, a significant part of his total sales already

This is likely to be a structural shift that propels us faster towards the vision of a Digital India, catapults Make in India to go global at scale, and creates digitally enabled robust businesses that will power millions of livelihoods and help us realize an atmanirbhar Bharat.

Way Ahead

India must grab this rare opportunity with both hands, by focusing on enabling policies that accelerate this shift. It is important that we ensure a stable and predictable policy framework that attracts long-term investment, and proactively remove paper-cuts impacting ease of doing business online. Simultaneously, we need to prepare our uniquely large young demographic for the world ahead, by enabling universal internet access and enabling digital literacy; emphasizing focus on science and engineering; and embracing Machine Learning and AI as unique levers to drive transformation at scale.

We at Amazon, truly feel fortunate and humbled to be able to play our part as a catalyst in digitally transforming lives and livelihoods, and as a partner to enable India unleash its potential in the 21st century. We recently pledged to digitize 10MM SMBs, enable $10B in exports, and create an incremental 1MM digital jobs by 2025.

Personally, I feel grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And once again, I am energized by the entrepreneurial spirit of this city and the fellowship of the ecosystem. I speak on behalf of my entire team when I say, it is still Day 1.