On June 5, 2013, Amazon officially entered the Indian market with its launch of Amazon.in. Although the Indian government had liberalized its strict foreign direct investment laws in September 2012, the resulting regulations still forbid foreign multi-brand retailers from having over 51% ownership.1 As a result, Amazon could not replicate its U.S. business of selling its own products in addition to serving as a selling platform for third-party vendors. In India, Amazon would only be able to function as a pure marketplace that would connect domestic sellers to buyers in the market. For Amazon, these FDI considerations would be only the first hurdle encountered in the nascent but fast-growing Indian e-commerce market.
According to World Bank data, as of 2013 India had approximately 189.1 million Internet users (15.1% of the 1.25 billion population) compared with only 60.7 million (5% of the population) just four years earlier (see Appendix E for a list of Internet users per 100 population for select countries; see Appendix F for mobile cellular subscriptions). The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India estimated the Indian e-commerce industry at $16 billion in 2013, a large increase from estimates of $8.5 billion in 2012 and $2.5 billion in 2009.2 On the other hand, Forrester Research reported that Indian e-commerce was worth only $1.6 billion in 2012 after online travel sales were factored out of the estimates.3 Fast growth was less debated; analysts from the Indian retail consultancy Technopak believed that the country’s e-commerce industry could grow 61 times over the next decade.4
Overall, mom-and-pop stores dominated India’s half-trillion-dollar retail market. According to Deloitte’s India group, organized retail in India comprised only 17% of the market versus over 85% of the market in the U.S.5 Moreover, in addition to stringent laws on FDI, India still had considerable import duties on certain foreign products. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, India ranked 64th out of 75 countries for overall trade and FDI openness in 2013.6
In terms of transportation infrastructure, many of India’s roads were in poor condition and overly congested. Even on the better roads, such as between New Delhi in the north and Mumbai on the western coast, driving took almost twice the amount of time it took to drive the same distance in the U.S., according to Google Maps. In addition, nearly 70% of India’s population lived in remote rural areas, which in some cases had limited access to major highways. Thirty-three percent of villages in India, primarily in the northern states, lacked all-weather roads, making them almost inaccessible during the monsoon season.7 Furthermore, addresses in India were notoriously difficult to find due to non-sequential numberings, lack of street signs, and narrow, winding streets. It was instead commonplace in India to describe locations with directions via landmarks.8 Retailers had tended to prefer commercial airfreight for delivery, but this option had led to increased delivery costs and a high risk of merchandise being offloaded to accommodate passengers.9
Over the past few years, India had experienced a series of major power failures allegedly due to a shoddily constructed electricity infrastructure. For example, in soaring temperatures on June 10, 2014, in New Delhi 16 million people were subject to power blackouts due to unmanageable demand.10 This power
For the exclusive use of M. Tripathy, 2018. W94C01 Amazon in Emerging Markets
failure came only two years after a record-breaking electricity crisis in 2012 in which 600 million people were left without power for two days.11
India also still had a highly impoverished population. In 2013, OECD researchers estimated that 42% of India’s 1.24 billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day, reflective of its $4,000 GDP per capita.12,13 Much of India’s growth in computing and consumer spending, however, came from a growing middle class of over 160 million people.14 The Brookings Institution predicted that India’s middle class consumption would surpass that of the U.S. by the year 2030.15 However, despite a growing population heavily involved in spending, cash payments remained dominant over credit or debit card payments in day-to-day commerce in India. Business Today cited that people in India averaged only six non-cash payments each year. As a result, a “cash on delivery” system had become widely accepted in the e-tailing space and accounted for roughly 50% to 80% of all e-commerce payments.16