Despite its domination of the domestic e-commerce market, Amazon AMZN is a relatively small fish in China. Indeed, the country of nearly 1.4 billion people has its own favorites, including JD.com JD and Alibaba BABA.
However, if Amazon's current job postings are any indication, the company's presence in China could be on the verge of changing. According to a recent Bloomberg report, Amazon currently lists 400 China-based positions on its careers website and more than 900 on LinkedIn—a signal that the e-commerce king could be looking to expand its territory.
A closer look at these listings reveals an even more interesting picture. For example, Amazon is hiring senior content executives, as well as leaders for its Amazon Lending program and its storefront on Alibaba's Tmall.
Perhaps more importantly, Amazon is looking to bring on a hardware engineer whose responsibilities would include expanding Alexa, the company's in-house digital assistant. Of course, Alexa is known for powering the Echo speaker, which is not currently available in China.
Interestingly, Amazon's hiring spree in China comes at a low point for the company's market share in the Asian country. In 2015, Amazon sales represented 1.1% of Chinese online GMV, and in 2016, that figure slipped to just 0.8%.
But the Steve Bezos-led online marketplace is hardly one to give up, and the latest move into China would be another element of what is becoming a significant transitional period for the brand. Amazon recently cemented its brick-and-mortar portfolio with its acquisition of Whole Foods (WFM), and even more recently, we learned that the company is looking to open a second major corporate office in North America (also read: Amazon Plans Second Headquarter, Seeks Proposals).
Besides the aforementioned job postings, we also know that Amazon has been encouraging its merchants to ramp up international sales. Amazon has more than 2 million partnered merchants, but many of those only sell products in the U.S., so the company has expanded its translation, currency conversion, a tariffs services to help promote cross-border selling.
Amazon also has some Chinese cloud computing partners, and the company currently controls about 7% of the country's international commerce. But now, with these new initiatives, as well as the launch of Prime in China last year, it appears that the the Seattle-based company wants to target one of Asia's fast-growing middle classes.
“In this past two years, Amazon’s recognized the trend of rising Chinese consumption and persisted in developing its cross-border business,” Analysys researcher Chen Tao told Bloomberg. “The addition of the Prime program propelled that and it’s had fair success with the business.”
Nevertheless, Amazon is facing an up-hill battle. Companies like JD.com and Alibaba don't just have a massive head-start—they're also playing with a noticeable home-court advantage. Chinese regulators don't typically welcome foreign companies that could threaten domestic competitors, and Amazon should not expect that trend to change.
And Amazon's race for a foothold in China might already be years behind a more familiar rival: Walmart WMT. In a brilliant move to parlay its existing real estate in China, Walmart recently partnered with JD to provide same-day delivery services in major metropolitan areas. Just like here in the U.S., Walmart's advantage over Amazon in China is its brick-and-mortar presence.
Still, Amazon won't go down without a fight. One thing to note is that plenty of its current China-based based job listings are centered around digital content, so it's possible that the company is eyeing a move into the country's digital streaming market. This is also a crowded business environment, but it could be a move that legitimizes Amazon's media division on an international level.
For now, Amazon shares are still attempting to recover from a massive post-earnings sell-off. After a shocking profits miss, investors have been questioning Amazon's short-term financial position, but the stock did move about 1.75% higher on Wednesday.
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