An employee at an Amazon fulfilment centre on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India. Picture REUTERS/ABHISHEK N CHINNAPPA
An employee at an Amazon fulfilment centre on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India. Picture REUTERS/ABHISHEK N CHINNAPPA

Bangalore — Amazon offered a rare peek into the pandemic-era growth of its Indian business while it battles Walmart in its biggest overseas market.

The US online giant said it has enabled exports of Indian-made goods worth $3bn and created over a million local jobs since it began operating in the country about a decade ago — about $1bn of that and 300,000 jobs since January 2020 alone. About 250,000 new sellers have joined Amazon.in since and more than 50,000 offline retailers and neighbourhood stores are now on the platform, the company’s country chief said.

The numbers illustrate the frenetic pace of growth in Indian online retail after the pandemic accelerated buying and selling in segments beyond smartphones and fashion. But Amazon has to contend with Walmart’s Flipkart and home-grown competitor Reliance Industries in India, an increasingly important growth market since Amazon’s exit from China about a decade ago.

American firms also face tightening regulations, anti-trust scrutiny and accusations they’ve elbowed local players aside.

Amazon India head Amit Agarwal said the Seattle giant is on track to fulfil commitments made when founder Jeff Bezos visited the country in January 2020: to digitally enable 10-million businesses, handle e-commerce exports worth $10bn, and create 1-million additional jobs in India in the five years to 2025.

“Covid-19 has made businesses realise they need to be more resilient, robust, because there’s no notion of only offline or only online anymore,” Agarwal said on Thursday. “The internet is like electricity — everybody will use it.”

Bezos has made India the centrepiece of his global ambitions, a burgeoning market for not just online goods but also video content and gadgets. The country, one of the last big consumer markets still up for grabs, will generate $200bn in e-commerce sales by 2026, Morgan Stanley estimates.

It’s also a source of talent. Amazon has hired locally in fields such as machine learning and software development, while employing an army to staff its giant fulfilment centres. It’s also profiting by helping more than 70,000 Indian exporters sell everything from toys and bed linen to jewellery and tea to 300-million customers across 200 countries.

Reliance and Flipkart, which is said to be preparing for a fourth-quarter initial public offering (IPO), are using the same playbook, but Agarwal said Indian e-commerce remains embryonic and can support several major players. Amazon will focus on local execution while complying with local regulations as they evolve, he said.

The ministry of commerce and ministry of information technology have been pondering a raft of laws and rule changes to protect consumer data and eradicate anti-competitive practices, while a backlash against US and Chinese internet giants grows.

Agarwal said Amazon is compliant but stressed a stable regulatory system — particularly during a time of heightened global uncertainty — is essential to drawing more investment into India.

“We are more than happy to be inspected; our job is to focus on the customer and India is a long-term investment for Amazon,” he said, adding that it’s not the time to make changes. “Changes are very disruptive and any rule changes require adherence and changes on our part.”

Bloomberg

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