Case Study Overview
Leading Indian e-commerce platform Flipkart strives to upskill sellers in a personalized and highly contextualized way, irrespective of where sellers are in their business growth and digital literacy journeys. To this end, Flipkart is investing heavily in video and vernacular to respond to new seller segments. They also invest in insights and analytics, which complement on-call business support, and in conjunction enable Flipkart to deliver personalized and contextualized in-workflow training moments at scale. Some of Flipkart’s upskilling is transformational: that is, the organization is upskilling across a wide array of content from vocational specific tutorials like how to package particular types of products for shipping to financial literacy content that helps sellers understand the new goods and services tax (GST) and instruction in soft skills like good customer service. For Flipkart, the upskilling business case is all about seller success—the more successful sellers are on the platform, the more successful Flipkart will be as an e-commerce platform.
"India is a country with huge diversity—everybody has their own journey and they are at a different place, language is different, tech adoption is different, motivation is different. Our biggest challenge is how to understand and deliver value in a very customized fashion. [Flipkart] should be able to use technology to assess everything that is important for the seller. . . using our understanding of motivation across such a diverse ecosystem of sellers—and marrying it with business goals and delivering the needs for each of those cohorts— is a challenge. . . and doing that in a very scalable way. . . You have to think differently."
— Nishant Gupta, Head of Flipkart Marketplace & Seller Ecosystem
Innovations in upskilling: Flipkart’s investment in seller success
According to The Economist, India will see more people come online than any other country in the next 15 years and is already becoming the fastest growing e-commerce market in the world. At the same time, India is not necessarily a single market. The continent country is not only the second most populous in the world, but it has incredible cultural and linguistic diversity. Nishant Gupta, Flipkart’s Head of Marketplace & Seller Ecosystem, likens it to Europe: “Imagine 28 states, all speaking different languages, all different literacy rates, all lapping up technology at different rates. We are seeing an evolution of e-commerce on top of these demographics.”
Flipkart strives to upskill sellers in a personalized and highly contextualized way, irrespective of where sellers are in their business growth and digital literacy journeys. Training initiatives continue to evolve and respond to segments that are coming online to platforms.
At the heart of India’s e-commerce revolution is a series of success stories—from Mohit Vashisht, a sports and fitness entrepreneur from Jalandhar to Pramod Kumar, a healthcare appliance seller from Chikmagaluru to Ritu Kaushik, a handbag seller from Sonipat, a small town in Haryana. Each of these stories speaks to how Flipkart is upskilling sellers, but they also speak to the sometimes transformational nature of that upskilling; that is, upskilling that builds skills that are transferable to dignified work.
This case study summarizes how Flipkart is thinking about upskilling, particularly how its investments in different training approaches and content types play a role in seller success. The case study is based on interviews with Flipkart conducted in July 2019.
Since becoming a marketplace and opening up to sellers in 2013, Flipkart has invested significant resources into learning and development solutions to address the needs of its sellers—irrespective of where each seller is in his or her individual journey—both as a small business owner and in their personal development of digital and technology skills.
"The success of upskilling has to exist from the need for it. The seller community needs to feel the need to be upskilled. . . It is very important to get the motivation why somebody has to learn a skill and marry [content] with that purpose. . . [To that end,] we do very in-context learning and development for the seller community.
To ensure training is appropriate, Flipkart segments its sellers across two dimensions: (1) technology savviness and (2) seller lifestage (e.g., I’m a new seller and don’t know how to run my shop online or I’m already online but want to know how to use the tools on the platform to run my business more effectively). Sellers are further sub-categorized depending on the product categories they sell and how they sell them (i.e., as manufacturer/retailer, importer, or small retailer).
Segmenting sellers helps Flipkart guide relevant learning content to the most appealing approaches for different sellers at different stages because the company has realized that not every approach is effective and efficient for every type of seller. The biggest distinction comes with scale. Whereas small sellers are not yet invested enough to take time away from their businesses to travel to in-person training events, they do engage through webinars and by viewing other online training content, such as videos. By contrast, larger sellers already familiar with the platform do not attend the webinars, which cover more basic topics like “Sell & Grow”, “Growth Q&A with a Leader”, and “Advertising in both English and Hindi languages”. Rather, larger sellers are looking for personalized attention, and, as such, they do attend in-person seller events to engage with Flipkart representatives more holistically.
1 Content examples include how to upload a tax registration document; how to upload KYC bank account details
2 Flipkart’s Seller Apex Program aims to reduce costs for sellers by optimizing warehouse processes. The program targets sellers with their own warehouses that have reached a certain scale.
3 Flipkart’s Smart Fulfillment program is another initiative focused on optimizing warehouse processes for scaled-up sellers. Flipkart visits the seller’s location and learns the seller’s current warehouse layout and processes. Flipkart then trains sellers and their employees on managing warehouse operations using best practices, including upgrading their technology to effectively make the seller warehouse a “Smart Flipkart Warehouse”.
Video has become a powerful tool for Flipkart to provide formal training digitally to sellers at scale. People across all consumer segments in India are increasingly viewing video content as faster speeds of Internet and cheaper data become more prevalent. This is making video not only effective but also cost-efficient.
Flipkart’s SellOnFlipkart YouTube Channel has over 31,000 subscribers and hosts a variety of different content formats:
Seller Quick Tips and Tricks and Business Guidelines, for example, are “learn how” tutorials, like this video on packaging that has received 720,000 views.
Seller Success Stories tell stories about how a seller evolved over time and how Flipkart enabled them to do so. This seller success video, for example, received over one million views after only one week on YouTube. And this video has received over 600,000 views after three months.
Master Key videos, such as this one, combine advice from Flipkart senior team members, explanations of concepts, new platform features, and seller success stories into brief multi-segment videos.
Flipkart’s online training videos cover key upskilling training content categories. Many are platform- or technology-oriented, such as this video explaining how to use the “My Orders” dashboard, or this video explaining how to process an order. But other videos explain seller professional practices, such as this video that explains fulfillment generally before explaining Flipkart’s fulfillment offerings for sellers. Similarly, there is video instruction on how to package products by different product categories (e.g., health and beauty, mobile & accessories, automotive); how to upload professional images for clothing products, or on the regulatory requirements with which sellers have to comply. Flipkart has also added financial literacy content, like this video on India’s goods and services tax (GST) and content that covers soft skills like this video that explains how to answer buyer questions.
Given its success as a training tool, Flipkart is investing heavily in video, particularly vernacular content. This is because Flipkart has learned that, even when sellers can transact in English, when developing or improving a skill, learning happens more easily in a seller’s first language/mother tongue. Many of the over 150 videos on Flipkart’s YouTube channel are in English or subtitled in English; but Flipkart also has 50 videos in Hindi, 11 in Tamil. Nishant commented that “as e-commerce is progressing, people who are well-versed enough in English to figure things out by trial-and-error are already online. Now the next wave of growth in the seller community is coming from people for whom English is not the first language and who find it difficult to learn new concepts in English.”
Success of phone calls and integration with other approaches
Telephone calls have been successful as a way to onboard and incubate businesses coming online to Flipkart’s platform. They have a 60-day business incubation support program that is primarily on-call and trains sellers on how to manage their e-commerce businesses on Flipkart end-to-end. The topics discussed vary widely and include:
Good examples of catalog entries
Achieving product visibility on the Flipkart platform
Competing with sellers to get selection on the the platform
Identifying unique opportunity areas within a seller’s catalog and competing more effectively
Packing particular kinds of products
Shipping the product on time
Understanding the monetary transaction of orders as well as returns
Reading profit and loss statements
"We have people call sellers every two to three days on their phones at a suitable time. We discuss how to grow their business. We also call when the first few orders come in so they feel comfortable processing those first orders. We also share links to our seller learning portal." —Nishant Gupta
Calls are also a useful bridge to other approaches, such as online training delivered explicitly through videos or text on the site, or as follow-ups to a particular event or an opportunity discovered by Flipkart’s insights engines. For example, when a seller receives his or her first order, Flipkart shares a link to online content about how to process the first order. Likewise when the seller receives their first payout, they also receive an email containing content on reconciling the statement. Flipkart monitors who is checking emails and infer who is trying to figure out what. Depending on whether a seller has taken action after receiving an email with training content, this monitoring can trigger Flipkart to call sellers in case they have questions.
Flipkart has two insights engines that they use to customize recommendations for sellers: selection and pricing.
Selection: Flipkart collects customer data on product searches. The selection insights engine flags when the customer is not finding enough quantity or variety and shares this information with sellers in particular categories and recommends they expand their selection or quantities. The Flipkart team also follows up with sellers to help troubleshoot challenges the seller faces capitalizing on these opportunities. For example, sometimes the sellers need to understand the business case or needs access to a photo studio to list the product.
Pricing: Flipkart provides insights to the seller based on historical product performance both on Flipkart and other online marketplaces. Significantly, this analysis includes not only the seller’s own data, but also how multiple competitors’ prices may have affected conversion of the seller’s product. This helps the seller understand optimal pricing for conversions and competitiveness.
Flipkart outsources to experts to deliver additional value to the seller ecosystem. For example, very recently Flipkart formed a partnership with ClearTax, a chartered accountant FinTech firm. Now all of Flipkart’s sellers’ queries related to financial transactions —whether specific to Flipkart or on e-commerce in general—can be addressed through this platform (e.g., registering the business, getting a tax registration number to do business online, registering a trademark, filing tax returns, and other compliance reporting services). ClearTax provides financial services to platform sellers at discounted rates. Moreover, ClearTax gives sellers access to a GST Health Check report, an all-in-one tool that generates actionable GST insights into their business and allows sellers to check return filing status, compare returns, and understand compliance status. Nishant noted that this had been a particularly effective mode of delivering financial literacy content: “We recognized that we may not be able to solve each use-case ourselves, so we partnered with a company that specializes in this and can deliver lots of value to our sellers.“
Flipkart provides platform proficiency content, but they also engage with training across a wide array of content types, from vocational specific tutorials like how to package particular types of products for shipping to the customer and financial literacy like understanding GST to soft skills like how to answer a buyer’s questions or customer service best practices.
"We are a platform that does believe sellers as well as customers are the key to our success. All of our programs and initiatives center around building a flywheel where both participate as successfully as possible. This is especially true for business incubation but also for any of our initiatives." —Nishant Gupta
Providing general and portable skills is second nature for Flipkart. In fact, they have a whole “Ecosystems” program designed to identify areas outside of platform proficiency where the seller ecosystem needs support and where, as a platform, they can help meet some very specific needs. Accordingly, financial literacy and brand building have been ongoing areas of focus.
In July 2017, India changed from a VAT (value-added tax) to a GST (goods and services tax) regime. According to Nishant, “this was a huge change for the entire country and everybody’s life got touched if they were filing taxes.” During the transition, Flipkart launched a campaign and initiative called Flipkart GST Genie: an eight to ten month program that thoroughly explained how GST works to those affected, from the fundamental concept to how it impacts any kind of a business, how it impacts e-commerce businesses, and how it impacts seller businesses on Flipkart. By participating in the training, Flipkart’s sellers learned how the transition affected invoicing, taxation, and every other area of their businesses so that they knew how to work with the new scheme and consequently faced fewer challenges in adapting to the GST. Nishant told us, “We are very proud at the end of the transition that there was a third-party study in which sellers voted Flipkart as number one platform that assisted them during that transition.”
With their brand building ecosystem support, Flipkart works with sellers that aspire to make a brand out of a private label—all the way from logo creation, tagline, packaging design, and Facebook advertising to officially establishing the brand, such as by filing trademarks.
From a business model perspective, Flipkart is an e-commerce marketplace. As such, their success hinges on sellers as much as it does on customers. Indeed, Flipkart’s Gross Merchandise Value (GMV), that is, revenues generated from sales of product on the platform, comes from the sellers. In economies like India where there is significant demand to purchase goods online, sellers need to be a focal point. To this end, Flipkart uses “seller satisfaction scores” as a key metric within their business. Seller satisfaction scores are generated whenever there is an interaction between Flipkart and a seller.
Flipkart also tracks metrics specific to each upskilling initiative. For example, Flipkart tracks the following KPIs in its 60-day business incubation program: how many sellers listed how many products; how many sellers were able to dispatch a product on time; how many sellers are transacting on the platform; and how many are getting above a certain threshold of business. These metrics work alongside seller satisfaction scores to help Flipkart translate from upskilling initiative targets to achieving operational goals.
Flipkart’s upskilling journey isn’t without challenges. Nishant is very aware of the complexity involved in delivering customized insights that take into account each seller’s multifaceted journey as a business person and an individual while also recognizing the fact that sellers are spread out geographically across the country.
"India is a country with huge diversity—everybody has their own journey and they are at a different place, language is different, tech adoption is different, motivation is different. Our biggest challenge is how to understand and deliver value in a very customized fashion. [Flipkart] should be able to use technology to assess everything that is important for the seller; the seller can also give us those insights themselves explicitly, but using our understanding of motivation across such a diverse ecosystem of sellers—and marrying it with business goals and delivering the needs for each of those cohorts— is a challenge...and doing that in a very scalable way...You have to think differently." —Nishant Gupta
For Nishant and Flipkart, using technology to deliver customized, insightful training at scale is their biggest challenge and the problem they aim to solve. Rural, non-english speaking sellers are going to be the key to scaling up, and efficiently reaching them will take further innovation beyond call centers and “feet on the street.”
The learning from this case study, as well as Flipkart’s ongoing development as an organization, may be particularly useful for platform players and their partners in African economies as e-commerce grows and expands. For instance, it is clear that upskilling beyond platform proficiencies will be critical for platforms playing in this space to reach and train sellers effectively. Other platforms can learn a lot from how Flipkart’s training initiatives have evolved as well as where it is investing in technology that allows them to scale their initiatives, reaching hundreds of thousands of sellers from across a variety of rural geographies and incredibly diverse backgrounds.