After 5 years, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' India visit on a different track

Topics Amazon | Jeff Bezos

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is yet to confirm the meeting between Modi and Bezos.
Jeff Bezos, counted among the richest in the world, had made news in September 2014 when, dressed in an Indian attire, he had flashed a magnified $2-billion cheque on top of a truck in Bengaluru, the headquarters of Amazon India. This was during his last visit to the country when he announced a $2-billion investment for the market, soon after rival Flipkart had said it was going for a $1-billion fund-raising. 

Those were early days (having launched the Indian marketplace in 2013) for the Seattle-based internet major and Bezos had come down to thank the team after what he called a good start. Although Amazon wants to believe it’s always ‘like day one’, five years later things have changed significantly as Bezos visits India again. 

Unlike in 2014, the Amazon founder and CEO seems to be skipping Bengaluru in his second visit post India launch, according to people in the know. The highpoint of Bezos’ three-day visit, till January 17, will be an event to celebrate small and medium enterprises — potential business partners of Amazon. Even as his itinerary has been kept secret and his name out of the invites and publicity material for the business summit ‘Smbhav’, the two-day event in the capital has been oversold. Bezos has possibly been an unspoken attraction, according to a participant.

Besides Delhi, where he has sought meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and some key ministers, the Amazon founder, who’s recently drawn flak for not contributing enough for the Australian wildfire after he pledged to donate about $690,000, will travel to Mumbai. The Mumbai leg of his visit is expected to focus on the video business of Amazon Prime. Video streaming of movies and TV shows, as part of Amazon Prime, is  among the businesses that the American major is keen to take to the next level, an executive said without wanting to be named. Plus, there will be a Bollywood angle to Bezos, with Shah Rukh Khan and some other stars scheduled to meet him. 

Jeff Bezos pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat on Tuesday. Photo: twitter

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is yet to confirm the meeting between Modi and Bezos, but the two have met earlier both in India and the US. It’s likely that an interaction will happen this time as well. The backdrop of the meeting will be different though, as a person tracking the developments pointed out. The growing resistance towards foreign-owned e-commerce players could be a central theme of discussion, he said. For Bezos, who’s no stranger to controversy, it’s not just rival Flipkart, now owned Walmart, that he has to keep in mind during this visit. Dominant foreign presence in e-commerce and the capacity to offer deep discounts have made small traders anti-Amazon and anti-Flipkart all the way. Domestic traders, who were till fighting foreign investment in multi-brand retail, are planning to protest against Amazon in 300 cities while Bezos is in the country. They have even given a call to Kishore Biyani and Narayana Murthy, scheduled to speak at the Smbhav summit, to stay away. The probe ordered by the Competition Commission of India based on complaints regarding deep discounting, too, may keep Bezos low key. 

Amazon has in the past made ambitious investments adding up to more than $5 billion, but its losses are at a high too. It registered cumulative losses of over Rs 7,000 crore across various units in 2018-19. If not deep discounts, policy flip flops and the growing unrest against e-commerce majors are threatening to slow down investments, one of the sources quoted above said. 

On top of that, Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries is getting ready to unleash the Jio moment in e-commerce. 

Bezos may get a sense of where his India business is headed during the visit.         

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