US e-commerce giant Amazon makes hiring push in Riyadh

Move signals Jeff Bezos's desire to expand in Saudi Arabia following a closely watched meeting with the crown prince
US e-commerce giant Amazon makes hiring push in Riyadh
By Bloomberg
Fri 06 Apr 2018 10:16 AM

Amazon.com is adding several jobs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, signaling Jeff Bezos’s desire to expand in the country following a closely watched meeting with the crown prince.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman met with Amazon’s chief executive officer in Seattle last week. The 32-year-old heir apparent to the throne had planned to discuss a potential project with the Ministry of Energy for Amazon to build a data center in the country, which would be the first in the Middle East for the world’s largest cloud provider, Bloomberg reported last week.

While the status of the data center proposal is unclear, Amazon began advertising at least five new full-time positions for e-commerce and grocery operations in Riyadh this week.

Amazon-owned Souq.com also added three others in Dubai since Tuesday. Raf Fatani, Amazon’s head of Middle East and Africa, promoted the jobs on his Twitter account on Wednesday, which includes a key role for a government relations representative. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

After ceding China to Alibaba Group Holding, Amazon is looking for a win in the Middle East. It’s locked in expensive competition with homegrown online shopping sites in India, Brazil and elsewhere. Global expansion has been costly, with international operations losing $3 billion last year.

Amazon purchased Dubai-based retailer Souq.com last year to take out a main rival in the region. The Middle East has lagged behind the rest of the world in e-commerce, but mobile and online shopping is picking up in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other more developed countries, where smartphone penetration is higher.

Online sales in the Middle East and Africa are expected to reach $49 billion by 2021, up from $29 billion this year, according to research firm EMarketer.

The US is the largest investor in Saudia Arabia, and Prince Mohammed’s three-week tour is designed to cultivate more deals, said Sam Blatteis, the former head of government relations for Gulf countries at Google who’s now CEO of the MENA Catalysts, a consulting firm for tech companies expanding to the Middle East.

The prince’s visit has been mostly free of controversy, despite international criticism that has surrounded the government’s recent moves, including a Saudi-led bombing in Yemen and the temporary jailing of top businessmen at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.

“The kingdom needs to increase foreign investment to help finance its ambitious reform and development agenda,” Blatteis said. “This heightening American technology interest in Saudi Arabia really matters.”

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