There was a time when Amazon.com was a punchline. An ONLINE place to buy books? Seriously? There are libraries and bookstores all over the place. Why would ANYONE want to start an online bookstore? That was the conventional wisdom. Which, of course, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos laughed off on his way to rewriting history and forever changing the way people across the world buy things.
In the process, Bezos created tech that other people borrowed, and now the world shops online. Malls are closing, and big box stores are frantically increasing their online footprint desperately trying to keep up with Amazon’s incredible variety of goods for sale. Bezos became incredibly wealthy building Amazon as a tight-budgeted business that lived and died on big volume and trend-setting customer service – hello same day delivery!
But, maybe, just this once, Amazon has met its match in India. One of the world’s two biggest developing economies, India is the crown jewel of anyone who wants to mass produce and sell just about anything. Huge numbers of people, incredibly quickly growing income levels … and, for Amazon, a ‘net connected and somewhat spread out consumer base.
Amazon seemed like an ideal fit for the country. Until Amazon repeatedly shot itself in the foot. The company invested billions to break into India over the past several years, but the products they want to sell have some Indian people fuming.
First, there was the floor mat bearing the Indian flag, then the flip-flops with the visage of Mahatma Gandhi. These may have gone unnoticed by the bulk of the Indian people, but both products were pointed out by high-level Indian government officials, who made it very clear they were none too pleased with the products.
This tweet from Shaktikanta Das, India’s Secretary of Financial Affairs, was particularly poignant: “Amazon, better behave. Desist from being flippant about Indian symbols & icons. Indifference will be at your own peril…”
Not exactly subtle. And considering the source, a blow to Amazon’s ambitions in the entire country. The company is already coming in as an American face going up against Indian competitors. It won’t win any friends by insulting – however unintentionally – its hosts.
Add to this a recent wave of patriotism and nationalism that is sweeping through the country. Indians are beginning to be loud and proud about being Indian, not just culturally, but economically as well. They are beginning to understand their strength, and they won’t tolerate disrespect. That’s the message from Das, and one Amazon would be smart to consider.