Amazon.com Inc’s Andy Jassy, who’s taking over as chief executive officer this summer, is doubling down on India even as challenges mount in what is arguably the e-commerce giant’s most important growth market.
In one of the first appearances since his appointment, Jassy told partners and customers in India the US company will focus on ensuring the country’s small and medium businesses will thrive when working with its platform. He announced a $250 million venture fund to invest in startups working on innovations for such businesses, as well as agriculture and health care solutions.
“Small and medium businesses are the engine and lifeblood of economies,” Jassy said in an online discussion with Amazon’s India head Amit Agarwal on Thursday, the opening day of its four-day local seller event that’s held virtually this year. “We are passionate about accelerating SMBs.”
Jassy’s appearance, announced just hours before the event, is a sign of India’s importance for the US giant that’s trying to tap the market of 1.3 billion people as part of its global ambitions. At the event’s debut edition in New Delhi last year, Bezos was the star speaker.
Local vendors protesting Amazon’s expansion tactics are holding a parallel virtual summit called “Asmbhav”, meaning impossible in Hindi. That’s riff off the title of Amazon’s event, which is “Smbhav,” or possible.
The organizers of the rival event on Thursday called for stricter regulation, and demanded that central agencies investigate foreign platforms “to save the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of small retailers.” India’s central bank should investigate foreign-exchange “violations by foreign e-commerce platforms,” the groups said in a statement.
Since being named as successor to founder Jeff Bezos in early February, the 53-year-old cloud-services veteran has said little on how he intends to steer Amazon through the next years. While Amazon seems unstoppable in markets such as the U.S., fueled by demand for online shopping and web services, in India the company is facing challenges such as stiffening competition and opposition from local small-business owners.
The events are being held just as India’s government prepares to revise foreign investment rules in a move likely to affect global giants such as Amazon and Walmart Inc. Authorities could further tighten the rules that prohibit the e-commerce giants from owning or controlling sellers on their online platforms, striking deals to sell exclusive products such as smartphones and home electronics, and discounting goods sold.
Jassy said one of Amazon’s goals is to help India’s neighborhood shops to digitize, and the company plans to bring 1 million such stores onto its platform by 2025.
The ascent of Jassy is coming at a fraught time for Amazon. Its businesses have benefited from the coronavirus pandemic, but the Seattle juggernaut is also facing antitrust investigations and market challenges in countries around the world.