Amazon brings cross-border ambitions to Alibaba’s backyard

The initiative is part of Amazon’s effort to evolve from an e-commerce provider into a global logistics operation, helping merchants on its platform connect directly with manufacturers in China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 3:20pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 3:20pm is bringing its competition with Alibaba Group Holding right to the Chinese e-commerce giant’s backyard.

In the coming weeks, Amazon will host an event in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou – Alibaba’s hometown – to connect online merchants with 400 Chinese manufacturers keen to sell electronics, car parts, home goods and more directly to American and European consumers.

Amazon experts will provide insights into buying trends so merchants can stock up for the 2018 holiday season, according to an invitation reviewed by Bloomberg. Sponsored by Amazon Global Selling, the event is called “Coming Together For U”.

The gathering is part of Amazon’s effort to evolve from an e-commerce platform into a global logistics operation. The idea is to help Amazon merchants connect directly with manufacturers in China, a country largely out of the company’s reach.

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Amazon would collect fees for helping merchants source goods directly from factories and ship them to other countries so they can be delivered quickly once orders roll in. Speedy delivery helped Amazon dominate e-commerce in the United States, and the company wants to do the same globally to fend off eBay, Japan’s Wish Corp and Alibaba, the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

Amazon declined to comment.

With 100 million Prime subscribers worldwide, Amazon has been putting in place the pieces to be the primary e-commerce platform connecting shoppers in one country with merchants in another.

The Seattle, Washington-based company is making a big push in India and South America, and last year launched operations in Australia. The purchase of Dubai’s gave Amazon a foothold in the Middle East.

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Whether they live in Paris, Beijing or Sydney, consumers seeking better prices and products they cannot find at home are increasingly willing to buy from merchants abroad.

Such cross-border transactions are growing faster than domestic e-commerce sales, and by 2020 are expected to reach US$900 billion, or 20 per cent of the global market, according to a 2016 report from DHL Worldwide Express.

Cross-border selling is a major focus of Amazon’s logistics aspirations. Last year, it hosted an event in New York to pitch 1,500 merchants on currency exchange services and language translation tools to help them sell to overseas customers. Amazon can use its size and reach to consolidate shipments with international freight companies to get volume discounts, using the savings to lure more merchants and goods to the platform.

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More than two million independent merchants hawk goods on Amazon, paying a commission on each sale. Competition among them helps keep prices low and inventory fresh, which has helped Amazon attract more than 300 million global customers. E-commerce remains a mostly domestic business for the US company.

As Amazon connects Chinese factories directly to end-consumers on its platform, these independent merchants will be forced to compete directly with their own suppliers
Ryan Petersen, chief executive at Flexport

But with shoppers increasingly willing to look abroad for goods, Amazon sees an opportunity to sell more services to online merchants. Revenue from such services surged 39 per cent in the first quarter this year to US$9.3 billion.

Still, Amazon’s effort could spell trouble for some of its merchant partners.

“As Amazon connects Chinese factories directly to end-consumers on its platform, these independent merchants will be forced to compete directly with their own suppliers,” said Ryan Petersen, the chief executive of Flexport, an international freight-forwarding company that helps Amazon merchants import products from overseas.

“This new competition will be tough for merchants that merely resell Chinese products, rather than creating original products.”