And I thought my job was hard…

On the fourth day of Big Billion Days (topic for another day) with the intense part of the event behind us, some of us decided to go out and help with deliveries. The purpose was two fold, put the focus of the organization on service now that the sale event was going well, and go meet our consumers first hand and get feedback.

With my awesome delivery car driver, Prakash

I remember sleeping a total of 15 hours in those 5 days and being slightly disoriented from all the midnight countdowns and afternoon naps on bean bags. So to some extent being out in the mellow Bangalore sun felt good (in about 15mins of being outside, I felt like toast).

Yeah, its sweltering. Wonder how delivering in Jaipur feels like

In a whirlwind six hours, I met chartered accountants, engineers, construction workers, delivery folks, home makers, kids, security guards. Went to warehouses, construction sites, a school, a high end furniture startup, and some apartment complexes. Everywhere I went, I was invited into the house. Everyone raved about our service and also gave passionate feedback on what we could do better. There was no mellowness there. It was a lot of love and a lot of sincere feedback to get better.

One old lady in a nearby village told me about how she couldn’t figure out how to shop on the app because we changed the color of our Buy button. She did not read English but knew how to search, see product photos and hit buy. When the color changed, she was not sure anymore where the Buy button went!

Mothers put in requests for more toys, even showed me photos of exactly what they wanted. One of the customers, Ashish showed me 20 (!!) boxes of stuff that he had ordered over past month. There was a delightful startup called Zefo that was trying to become the Flipkart of high end furniture. They were operating out of a very nondescript warehouse. I loved their spirit and those Flipkart boxes strewn around their office.

The folks at Zefo

Many misconceptions were broken. Security guards at a school used a credit card to pay, while a construction worker in a really dusty site asked for slotted timed deliveries because it was impossible to know when to step out for the delivery (he worked in the basement where there was no signal!). Jairam pulled out his scratched up mobile phone and showed me how the order was supposed to be delivered by 7pm and how inconvenient it was that he did not in what time range before 7pm. So much for slotted deliveries being a high end feature!

Mr. Bora and Mr. Uppadhyay - Ardent Flipkart customers

Most folks used the mobile app to buy stuff (not just during BBD). The more I ventured into the village, or in construction sites (where a majority of the orders came from), there was no option but the mobile app. A majority of Indians will never see a laptop, and it was obvious how they will do the majority of their online shopping. And they will indeed do a lot of online shopping since there is really no offline retail for most of their needs.

And it was a revelation to look at the phones. All Android. Most lower cost devices like Moto G. These small, dusty, scratched up devices hold the key to the entire world for these folks. We have to figure out how to ensure a great experience on these phones, even if there is bad network, low memory and small battery life.

I was also quite overwhelmed by how hard the delivery folks worked. Imagine carrying a bag of packages around in hot Indian afternoons, waiting outside the customer’s house hoping to catch them at the right moment. Most deliveries involved waiting for anywhere from 5–15mins before you could connect with the customer. The next time we berate the poor delivery person for being late, I hope we realize how much we make them stand around for us. And do remember to offer them some water! It is incredibly dehydrating to be out and about all day.

20mins of waiting at a hot, dusty construction site and my goose is cooked

Finally, the biggest takeaway from the day was that our consumers do not have a transactional relationship with the company. They have an emotional connect and when we do well, they love us, and when we mess it up, they are almost hurt. They want us, almost need us to get better at everything that we do. They have grown up with us, and we represent them in more ways than most.

But this is probably not just about Flipkart. A new breed of Indian companies are rising, on the back of an immensely ambitious generation of youth, all of whom want to reinvent the country against all odds and incredibly broken infrastructure. What we deliver is not just phones and pans and footwear. We deliver hope. Hope that a generation of people will rise up and single handedly pull an entire country to the top. That is a lot of ambition. And its worth delivering on.