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Can Prime Day Help Amazon Finally Crack China?

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Amazon Prime Day 2017

Amazon once again declares it Christmas in July with the announcement of its third Prime Day blowout event.

Prime Day 2017 will be July 11, and—taking a page from department stores—July 10 will be a preview day, with the deals starting at 6:00 p.m. and running for 30 hours. For those looking to get an early start, the e-commerce juggernaut rolled out some promotions in its digital offerings for music, books and video along with last week’s announcement.

Though Amazon doesn’t release sales numbers for the event, the company did announce that the numbers grew by 60 percent worldwide and 50 percent in the United States in 2016.

But for all of the hype, the reality is that Prime Day, which began in 2015 as a celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary, illustrates how far Amazon is lagging behind its Chinese competitors.

Experts from Morningstar and FBIC pegged last year’s one-day door buster between $500 million and $600 million. Compare that to $17.4 billion for Alibaba’s Single’s Day performance in November and $17.6 billion for JD.com’s 18-day 618 festival last month.

Of course the staggering numbers for Amazon’s Chinese competitors are boosted by that country’s voracious appetite for online—specifically mobile—shopping. E-commerce sales there hit $895 billion in 2016, more than twice the amount of online sales in the U.S.

[Read more about the size of the e-commerce market in China: E-commerce is Big in China. Really Big.]

With potential like that, Amazon obviously wants in but it has struggled in the Chinese market. In 2015, it even resorted to opening a store in rival Tmall’s marketplace. In fact, statistics from iResearch show the e-tailer is rapidly losing ground there. The research firm estimates Amazon makes up less than 1 percent of the e-commerce market, down from 15.4% in 2008. This year, the company is no doubt hoping Prime Day helps it gain a foothold in China.

Prime Day 2017 will be the first time shoppers can take advantage of the deals on the company’s Chinese language site. It’s also the first since the retailer debuted Prime in China in October. Chinese consumers will enjoy extended shopping hours for the sale. And due to the time difference, Prime Day will run for 46 hours.

To entice shoppers further, Amazon is reportedly offering a free 30-day trial; deals on the annual membership, bringing it down from 388 yuan ($57) to 188 yuan ($28) for a limited time; and free shipping from anywhere. Anything, it seems, to get consumers hooked on the convenience of a Prime membership so they’ll use it as compulsively as U.S. shoppers and others around the world.

Amazon’s push into China comes just days after Alibaba’s founder and chairman Jack Ma visited Detroit to woo U.S. business to use his marketplaces to reach the country’s booming consumer market.

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