ACROSS THE SEA

Amazon.com is seeing a surge in buyers from China

Obsession
China's Transition
Obsession
China's Transition

Amazon has a new rush of customers coming from an unexpected place—China.

Amazon China, the domestic subsidiary of the US-based e-commerce giant, has released a lengthy report (link in Chinese) on its progress in the Middle Kingdom this year. In it, the company claims that sales from Chinese consumers buying on the global Amazon.com site are on track to increase six-fold in 2015, compared with the year prior.

Amazon also released numbers regarding a program that lets Chinese vendors sell products online to Amazon customers around the world, regardless of where thy live. According to the company, total sales from Chinese vendors to overseas Amazon customers has increased 13-fold since 2012, while Chinese vendor sales to the US on Amazon.com and Japan on Amazon.jp have collectively more than doubled since 2014.

Amazon has had an active presence in China for over 10 years in the form of Amazon.cn, a website that primarily offers foreign-branded goods. The report released no data on that site’s progress, perhaps indicating only sluggish improvement.

That would come as no surprise. In terms of domestic sales, Amazon.cn still pales in comparison to Alibaba and JD.com, China’s two e-commerce leaders. Both are actively courting foreign brands. (Tmall, at the top of the chart below, is a Chinese-language Alibaba site for businesses selling direct to Chinese consumers).

Amazon has recently has begun marketing itself more aggressively in China. This past year it opened a store on Tmall—counterintuitive as it may seem—and also announced it would begin selling more foreign electronics.

But where Amazon China sees perhaps the biggest chance to become a dominant player is in cross-border e-commerce.

It’s still a relatively new category, expected to grow 23% in 2016, according to research firm iResearch.

“Amazon might become the No. 1 player for cross border e-commerce in China,” Amazon China president Douglas Gurr told Chinese business magazine Caixin in November. “But it might end up in third or fourth place [in domestic e-commerce].”

Both forecasts are optimistic, given the scale of the competition. But Amazon has never shied away from unusual bets before.

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