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Amazon eyes bigger pie of China market with recruitment drive

Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City, January 29, 2016. Photo: Reuters 

US online retail giant Amazon is posting hundreds of China-based positions on its career site and LinkedIn, a move widely seen as a renewed effort to increase its share of the world's largest e-commerce market.

The positions, mostly based in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, range from network software engineers and Alexa designers to supply chain managers and worldwide procurement managers, indicating that Amazon is eyeing China's booming cross-border e-commerce segment, as it trails behind domestic competitors in the country's online shopping market.

A recent market analysis report published by the China E-Commerce Research Center showed that Alibaba's Tmall, jd.com and vip.com occupied a combined 85 percent of China's online Business to Consumer (B2C) trading in the second quarter of 2017, compared with Amazon's scant 0.9 percent.

Lu Zhenwang, an e-commerce expert and chief executive officer of Shanghai-based Wanqing Consultancy, attributed the failure of Amazon in catching up with its Chinese rivals to the price wars, citing that the local online retail platforms know more about localization than the American player. Lu emphasized that only when Amazon learns to make good use of its global resources to boost innovation in the Chinese market can it provide products and services appealing to the Chinese taste.

The year 2014 marks a turnaround for Amazon in China, when it started the trial operation of its cross-border online shopping program called the Amazon Global Store by virtue of its rich global resources, and later in 2015, it launched the Chinese website for the Amazon Global Selling, a platform aimed at helping merchants from different countries sell products globally.

Zhao Zhenying, a researcher at the National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies, said that the profitable e-commerce companies normally stay focused on managing the sellers running stores on their online shopping platforms, instead of products themselves, attributing Alibaba's success to its management of online sellers. The development level of China's e-commerce market is much higher than America, which is a major reason behind Amazon's lackluster performance in China, Zhao noted.

Focus on cross-border e-commerce

At its Innovation Day event last month, Amazon China charted the blueprint for its future roadmap in the Chinese market, which will be pillared by the cross-border online shopping business and the Amazon Global Selling. The Seattle, Washington-based company vowed to make full use of its global resources to boost innovation in the Chinese market and to continuously offer products and services to meet the demand of the Chinese consumers.

Over the past two years, Amazon has launched a series of innovative services to fuel its cross-border online shopping business in China. Last year, it introduced a version of its Prime membership program to China as a pilot project, which includes free, cross-border shipping for the Amazon Global Store as well as free shipping on domestic orders with no minimum purchase, amid the Chinese consumers' growing demand for Western-made products. The Amazon Global Store offers more than 16 million products from America, Britain and Japan, which are classified into 30 categories including apparel, shoes, baby and beauty products.

According to statistics from the China E-Commerce Research Center, as of June 2017, the number of Prime members in China has grown eight-fold since its debut last year, and they are spread across some 400 cities.

Following AI trend

The recruitment of designers for Alexa, an intelligent voice assistant capable of providing skills that enable customers to interact with devices in a more intuitive way using voice, shows Amazon's ambition in artificial intelligence (AI).

"Globally, Amazon has made remarkable moves in smart hardware, cloud computing and artificial intelligence," said Men Changhui, a senior analyst at Beijing-based Internet technology firm InnoTREE. "In China, the move (of hiring Alexa designers) shows that Amazon is seeking opportunities from the artificial intelligence-based industry chain."

The Alexa platform has now passed 15,000 skills available on devices like the Amazon Echo, a hands-free speaker that users control with their voice. In January, Amazon added a voice-ordering feature to Alexa, allowing Prime members to order food from restaurants simply by uttering a few words.

In addition, Amazon is also running job advertisements for experts for the Amazon Web Service, a platform offering reliable cloud computing services.

Amazon has the need to ramp up efforts in cloud computing in a bid to realize a strategic transition, said Zhao from the National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies, as its competition with Alibaba and jd.com has expanded to the technological layer.

Since entering China in 2016, the Amazon Web Service has provided services to customers in the industries of information technology, finance and gaming.
 


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