Down a side alley sits a warehouse that serves as one of the 4,000 motorbike delivery centers in the country—the first such service in Amazon’s 20-year history. There was a frenzy of action inside as each bike rider filled a large black backpack with packages, grabbed a list of addresses, and raced out the door. Straddling on the back of one of the bikes, I clung to the sides as we weaved through rush-hour traffic, dodging cars and rickshaws, women in saris, and the occasional cow. Experts in their districts, the riders are essential to Amazon’s ability to make speedy deliveries, since the country has an arcane address system, patched together haphazardly over the decades, with many addresses containing descriptions reading something like “behind the mosque, across from the stadium.”
Amazon faces a far bigger logistical hurdle than addresses, however: getting paid. Barely 60% of Indians have bank accounts, and only a fraction of those have credit cards. So Amazon’s payment systems in India are drastically different from any the company has attempted before and involve the kind of hand-holding that would be unimaginable to U.S. customers. About half the customers pay cash only when their purchases are delivered. Amazon has partnered with thousands of small shop owners across the country to act as pickup points in exchange for receiving a small commission per package.