The world’s richest man is in India, and he’s not only hoping to quell the growing protests that are threatening to engulf his business, but also giving away sops to get people on his side.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos arrived in India yesterday on a short visit where he’s expected to meet with several leading dignitaries. Bezos first stopped at Rajghat, where in the presence of Amazon India head Amit Agarwal and girlfriend Lauren Sanchez, he paid respects to Mahatma Gandhi.”Paying my respects to someone who truly changed the world. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi,” he tweeted.
Just landed in India and spent a beautiful afternoon paying my respects to someone who truly changed the world. “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." – Mahatma Gandhi. pic.twitter.com/xDXAT9cBgf
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) January 14, 2020
Today Bezos attended Amazon’s inaugural SMBhav Summit, and addressed small and medium business owners in Delhi. He had a couple of big-bang announcements up his sleeve — he said that Amazon would spend $1 billion to digitize 10 million MSMEs and help them grow by selling online across the world through the Amazon Global Selling program. He also said that Amazon will use its heft to export $10 billion of Indian goods internationally. “We are going to use Amazon’s size, scope, and global footprint to export $10 billion of ‘Make in India’ goods by 2025,” he said.
But even as Bezos tried to woo small sellers, there have been pangs of resentment around how Amazon has been conducting its business in India. The Confederation of All India Traders, a trade group that represents around 70 million merchants, is planning protests in 300 cities across the country this week, purposely coinciding with Bezos’ visit. The body has also been putting out content that’s reminiscent of the protests against British imperialism, asking Bezos to “go back.” The trade body alleges that Amazon and Walmart-owned Flipkart flout India’s FDI regulations by promoting their own products at the expense of those of small traders, and their deep discounting practices are hurting their business.
Go back JEFF BEZOS. All companies break our Indian rules please follow all India's rule and break Indian markets pic.twitter.com/xgpIeTVGgV
— Manohar Singh (@rockmanu95) January 15, 2020
Meanwhile, it’s not just small traders that have their guns trained on Amazon. The Competition Commission of India, which tracks anti-competitive practices in India, had ordered an antitrust probe into alleged violations of competition laws by Amazon and Flipkart. The deep discounts that are provided by both these companies had come under the scanner, as well as the practice of having exclusive agreements with brands, such as with phone manufacturers, which launch their phones only on one platform. Anti-competitive activists believe that these practices help behemoths like Amazon and Flipkart obtain an unfair advantage over their smaller competitors.
It’s unclear how the CCI’s probe will pan out, but Bezo’s visit comes at a time when Amazon is facing challenges from multiple quarters. After entering India in 2013, Amazon has successfully vanquished its competitors — companies like Snapdeal are now a shell of their former selves, and Flipkart was forced to to sell out to Walmart to be able to remain competitive. But Amazon might have done a little too well — now it must answer questions around being too powerful, and taking away the business of small homegrown sellers. During his visit, Jeff Bezos will not only have to strategize around how he deals with a Walmart-owned Flipkart, but also focus on how to mollify India’s irate trade bodies, and try to not run afoul of India’s anti-competitive laws.