Amazon expands global reach with Souq.com buy

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The Amazon logo on a podium during a press conference in New York.

DUBAI - Tech giant Amazon expanded its global reach Tuesday with the announcement of a deal to buy Souq.com, the Middle East's largest online retailer.

The agreement, the financial details of which were not disclosed, brings Amazon into a fast-growing market as it continues to invest in its core retail network despite expanding into a wide range of services.

It appears competition was fierce to acquire Souq.com, with the Amazon deal announced just a day after Dubai-based Emaar Malls confirmed offering $800 million (R10.2 billion) to acquire the site.

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Amazon had walked away from talks with Souq.com earlier this year, but it reportedly came back with an offer of $650 million.

Founded in 2005 as an auction site, Souq.com has evolved into a retailer and a marketplace for third-party sellers. The company says it attracts more than 24 million unique visits per month.

In a joint statement announcing the agreement, the two companies said the deal would be finalised this year "subject to closing conditions".

Souq.com chief executive officer and co-founder Ronaldo Mouchawar called the agreement "a critical next step in growing our e-commerce presence on behalf of customers across the region."

"By becoming part of the Amazon family, we'll be able to vastly expand our delivery capabilities and customer selection much faster, as well as continue Amazon's great track record of empowering sellers," he said in the statement.

Amazon senior vice president Russ Grandinetti said the deal made sense as both companies "share the same DNA".

"We're both driven by customers, invention and long-term thinking," he said.

"We're looking forward to both learning from and supporting them with Amazon technology and global resources."

Souq.com won a major vote of confidence last year and emerged as the highest-valued internet company in the region when it secured $275 million in funding from international investors to support its growth.

At the time, Mouchawar said the e-commerce market in the Middle East was "growing very fast" and expected to reach $20 billion in 2016.

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Souq.com attracts over 45 million visits per month.

Known for its huge online retail operations, Amazon has been expanding into areas including cloud computing and streaming video where it is trying to rival Netflix.

But retail remains at its core, with its retail operations taking in $26 billion in North America and $14 billion in the rest of the world in the last quarter of 2016.