Amazon currently operates two distribution centers in Mexico totaling more than 500,000-sq-ft.
Both are in Cuautitlan Izcalli in the state of Mexico, adjacent to the autonomous district of Mexico City, whose metro area is home to more than 20million people.
The new warehouse will be constructed about seven miles from the existing facilities. All are located along the so-called ‘NAFTA’ highway, an industrial belt that runs through Mexico’s factory regions to the U.S. border.
The new facility is being built by industrial developer Fibra Prologis, according to sources familiar with the plans.
The Mexico-based real estate investment trust owns 34.2million-sq-ft of manufacturing and logistics space across Mexico. Prologis declined interview requests.
At 1millionsq-ft, the new facility would be able to distribute bulky products such as furniture, as well as small items like books and microwaves, a set-up Amazon uses in other foreign countries, said Marc Wulfraat, president of the logistics consultancy firm MWPVL International.
If about 85 percent of the space is used for small products – typical of a U.S. warehouse set-up – Amazon would be able to store 15million products and make up to 1million deliveries a day nationwide.
It would likely employ 2,000 to 3,000 people to handle the shipments, Wulfraat said.
The location could also serve as a distribution point for products going north to the U.S., added Saunders from GlobalData.
‘Amazon is very fluid with its logistics,’ he said. ‘As long as that border is reasonably open, Amazon is very agnostic.’
MEXICAN RETICENCE ONLINE
Amazon’s global operations stretch across 14 countries including Latin America’s most populous nations, Brazil and Mexico.
That footprint fueled $11.5billion in net international sales in the second quarter, just over half the size of Amazon’s North American sales.
Amazon’s 2016 Mexico sales fell well behind the market leader, Argentina’s MercadoLibre Inc, with $435million in sales, according to Euromonitor.
Still Amazon edged out No. 4 Wal Mart and was neck-and-neck with third-place Linio, a division of Berlin-based Rocket Internet.
All are fighting for loyalty from consumers largely unaccustomed to clickable shopping and wary of credit card and mail fraud.
‘Much of the reticence of Mexican shoppers to make purchases online is uncertainty,’ said Carlos Hermosillo Bernal, an analyst at Actinver. ‘Will I get the product? Is it what was being offered? What guarantee do I have?’
That reluctance may fade as Mexico’s middle- and upper-class millennials gain purchasing power.
Mexico City-based college student Daniel Arturo Munoz Castro, 20, said he has purchased board games, smartphone accessories and t-shirts on Amazon’s app.
He appreciates the variety of products and ease of use, even though his father first thought it might be a scam.
‘It’s not like other web pages when you order things, and perhaps they don’t arrive. It’s very safe,’ he said.
Still, Mexico’s vast wealth disparity and cultural differences lead some analysts to doubt whether Amazon can replicate a U.S. shopping concept.
Amazon backed off from its investments in China, for example, after struggling to understand the local markets, said Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures.
‘If they largely failed in China, why try in Mexico, Brazil or India? The answer is they haven’t failed yet in those areas, and they may be able to right the ship,’ he said.
TWEAKING TRADE RULES
If the U.S., Mexico and Canada raise the value of online purchases that can be imported duty-free as part of a modernized North American Free Trade Agreement, Amazon may be poised to reap rewards in Mexico.
The proposal, which is backed by U.S. trade representatives, would push the duty-free limit on imports to about $800 from thresholds of $50 in Mexico and C$20 ($16.5) in Canada.
That would give consumers in those countries an incentive to buy big-ticket products online from the United States, an idea that President Donald Trump has championed in his ‘Buy American’ agenda.
Mexican negotiators, however, are treading cautiously amid push-back from Mexican industries such as textiles and footwear.
‘We have to find a middle point that does not damage our economies with extreme liberalization,’ Mexico Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said at the conclusion of NAFTA talks in Mexico City early this month.
The next round is scheduled for Ottawa in late September.
International trade analyst Claude Barfield of the American Enterprise Institute anticipates that even a compromise is unlikely to dash Amazon’s plans for Mexico.
‘I can’t imagine this would be a deal-breaker,’ he said. ($1 = C$1.2152)