The question Dispatches get most often from expats isn’t about visas or international schools or even about careers. It’s about Amazon.
To some extent, Amazon is a hot topic because expats are the neediest demographic on earth, often arriving in new cities with nothing other than a suitcase. And let’s face it … the Seattle-based behemoth is reshaping global business like no company in history.
Mostly, our readers are puzzled about, well, everything – from how the mega-digital player operates in Europe (Can I use my Amazon Prime U.K. membership if I live in Spain?) to why expats in the Netherlands can only buy books on Amazon.nl.
We crowd-sourced some of these questions via our expat network and drew on our personal experience. But only Amazon knows how its systems work (or don’t) and they ain’t talkin’. We pinged their media affairs people in Europe to ask for a Europe overview, but only got silence. To be fair, they have customer service representatives at the ready to answer consumer questions, and their online FAQs are pretty complete.
But we’d still like to have asked Amazon media people what Amazon actually is: Is it an online broker? Is it a fulfillment company? If so, where does all the stuff we buy actually come from? Is Amazon a media-and-entertainment conglomerate? Is it a digital payment business?
The answers appear to be – yes, yes, all over the place, yes and yes. Talk about horizontal industry disruption! Amazon makes Apple look like amateur hour, disrupting e-commerce, e-readers, web services and cloud storage, tech and fintech – and now advertising – all while rolling out new TV series such as “The Man in the High Castle” and “Transparent.”
Also, you have to keep in mind there’s a supply side and a demand side when you’re talking about Amazon.
On the demand side, Amazon has giant warehouse/fulfillment centers from which they can sell you an amazing variety of stuff. Even that inventory has its physical limits, so a lot of stuff comes from third parties.
On the supply side, Amazon Marketplace is an e-commerce platform where anyone can sell almost anything from virtual stores anywhere in the world. Amazon ships products internationally with AmazonGlobal., and of course availability – as well as shipping rates and fees – depends on the delivery address for your order.
Delivery seems to be the only weakness in Europe, where Zalando – based in Berlin – has a slight advantage. And by the way, Amazon’s European HQ is Luxembourg City, but the heart of its mainland Europe operation is Germany, where Amazon has 10 fulfillment/warehouse operations. (Amazon has at least 20 operations in the UK from Scotland to Tilbury outside London.)
If you read Jeff Bezo’s notes to investors (and who doesn’t?), you realize he envisions the consumer at the center of the Amazon structure, with multiple options as to how to offer that consumer what they want at a lower cost than competitors. For example, a Germany-based customer can purchase an Italian seller’s offer listed on Amazon.de once the seller has registered its FBA Italian-based products on the German marketplace.
So, let’s go to our Amazon questions:
This is from Dr. D. Fielden in Spain
I have a house in Spain (but I am an Amazon customer at my UK address). I wish to join Amazon Spain and order from Amazon in Spain and deliver to my Spanish address.
Can you advise me what I should do? My Spanish is not that good; can you advise how I should proceed to take advantage of Amazon Spain (Spanish PRIME) ETC.
Any advice much appreciated.
Dear Dr. Fielden:
Per our experience on the Amazon.se website, Google Translate magically turns almost all the text from Spanish to English, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Obviously, if you want to use Amazon Prime to access movies, you’re going to mostly get fed Spanish titles through their geo-location algorithm because Amazon thinks you’re Spanish. NOW, if you want to watch original Amazon content, you can do it pretty much anywhere through the Watch While Abroad function for Prime members. BUT, if you want to watch a movie for which there are no copyright agreements in your country, or for which Amazon doesn’t have distribution rights, there’s always NetFlix. (Though there you’re also limited in offerings in each country unless you have a VPN, but that’s another story for another time.)
On the shipping side, Amazon considers five countries – France, Spain, the UK, Germany and Italy – as its European Marketplaces, one big market serviced by the Fulfillment by Amazon network. In Spain, Amazon has five fulfillment center/warehouses. So, joining Amazon Prime in Spain ordering items shouldn’t be hugely different depending on the product because of the Amazon Global Store and Amazon EU Sarl, part of the Amazon.com group. That said, if you want something that’s only available in the UK, then you’re going to have pay additional shipping.
To keep it simple, Amazon has fulfillment for third-party sellers who can supply goods Amazon doesn’t offer.
If Dr. Fielden is shopping Amazon Marketplace, many of the sellers are in China. Otherwise, items coming directly from manufacturers such as computers and electronic games… that depends on Amazon’s agreements.
This is from Kevin Stanley in Prague:
Hi, I recently came across your article re buying from Amazon‘s national sites across Europe. I am an ex-pat living in the Czech Republic. I frequently buy items from the Amazon UK site usually without any problems. I’ve noticed recently that more and more items aren’t available for delivery to CZ outside of the standard list. Things like CD’s, photographic equipment, power tools etc. These are items I have previously bought from Amazon without any delivery restrictions in the past.
Are you aware of any reasons why this should be happening?
Regards, Kevin Stanley
This is a tough one. Part of it could be the fact that Amazon has not-infrequent tiffs with suppliers. For example, Nintendo recently stopped supplying its Switch game console directly to Amazon after Amazon used it as a loss leader, selling it for 30 euros per unit less than competitors. Neither party would comment, but gaming website Nintendo Life speculates that “Nintendo wishes to avoid one retailer securing domination over the sales of the system.” Good luck with that.
Kevin followed up with more research and figured out the issues with purchasing CD’s and DVD’s are real:
I was looking at some of my former purchases, which were sent to me in the Czech Republic. The majority of them would not be sent now, but some would. Go figure! I also looked at a future purchase, such as Paddington 2, and this cannot be delivered to CZ. My query over power tools seems to have changed recently. Looking for tools made by Bosch or DeWalt I am certain that delivery availability to the CZ was curtailed in the recent past. Looking today, some are unavailable but others are.\
To add confusion, availability changes within a fraction of a second (please see document attached which contains two screen grabs taken soon after each other). First, the tool wasn’t available for delivery and then it was to CZ.
I’ve probably muddied the waters but my purchasing of products from Amazon, with dispatch to the Czech Republic, has become more problematic over recent years and I cannot find a reasonable explanation to it.
From Anthony Rushton:
Hi Terry, I have a question about your recent international shipping article regarding Amazon. If I am in Italy and I use my UK log in to buy items on the Italian Amazon, are the items sold to me from Italy and shipped to me from Italy or are they shipped to me from the UK account? Your article referred to Germany, for clarity are those items shipped from Germany under Prime conditions or are they shipped to me, in Germany, using AmazonGlobal?
I find it very confusing. Thanks in advance
It depends. Any time you buy anything on Amazon, it could be coming from anywhere in Europe and the world. Increasingly, it’s more likely the items you want can be shipped to you from Italy no matter which accounts you use … and theoretically with free shipping. The Italian market seems to be an Amazon priority these days. Stuff like the new Razer phones are showing up first in Europe on Amazon.it. Also, Echo and Alexa have learned Italian and are now available. There are at least seven fulfillment centers in Italy.
Again, it really depends on each item. And remember, as we stated above, Amazon treats France, Spain, the UK, Germany and Italy as one big market, with sellers serviced by the Fulfillment by Amazon network. But if a supplier is based in one FBA market and wants to sell in others, they have to register in each. If the company or seller that has the product you want hasn’t, then again, you’re out of luck no matter if you’re paying for Prime or you’re ordering through Amazon International.
Amazon rolled out Amazon Prime One in Italy in 2015, but only in Milan. Amazon Prime members could schedule a same-day delivery for free and have goods delivered within the hour for 6.90 euros. Italy was the second European country to offer this after the UK.
Is Prime always worth it?
The irony is that while we try to help others figure out Amazon, we’re sort of left out in the Netherlands, though Amazon states it can ship us 1 million items within one day … probably from Germany. So we asked our own in-house Amazon expert, Dispatches co-founder Cheryl Boyd, for her insights as to whether Amazon Prime is worth it in the Netherlands.
I bought an Amazon.de Prime membership, but it’s not a good value for me because I can’t get enough Prime items shipped to us in the Netherlands. I have to pay an extra shipping fee, or Amazon simply won’t ship the item to us in the Netherlands. As for the Amazon.nl, it only offers books.
Amazon advertises free one-day shipping to the Netherland from Amazon.de. Except you don’t know if an item will be shipped to you until you put it in your shopping cart. And most stuff they won’t. There’s no notation on items that states, “This item is only available in Germany.”
I would have to order at least once per month to get the benefit of free shipping, and I don’t. We also don’t really watch the Amazon.de content and I’m not buying it for the gaming or photo storage (we use Dropbox). So I’ll probably get rid of the monthly Prime membership fee of 4 euros per month and just pay the shipping fees. Because by my calculations, if I just paid for shipping on the items I order, it would be a wash.
By the way, we think we have an answer to why you can only get books from Amazon.nl. The strength of Bol.Com and Coolblue – both Dutch e-commerce companies – seems to have led Amazon to focus on easier markets.
Everything else you need to know about how Amazon works
• What we’ve found is many people, including some of our personal friends, think Amazon Prime membership is good everywhere on the planet. For example, our friends’ daughter was in a study abroad program in the UK. He was furious his Amazon Prime membership didn’t include shipping in the UK. He was angry because when they went to the UK Amazon site, it showed they were logged in but when they tried to order, they realized they could not order and ship using their US Amazon Prime membership. Realistically, no company can do that because of the increase in shipping costs.
That said, BorderLinks claims you can buy stuff on Amazon in the U.S., then ship it to UK using volumetric shipping by consolidating parcels and ship them all at once. “This way, you only pay once the first 0.5 kg, which is the most expensive tranch in any shipping rate,” according to the BorderLinks website. BorderLinks also can store orders at the U.S. warehouse for free during 30 days to maximize order consolidation advantage.
• Dispatches’ Digital Nomad Beth Hoke has a heads-up for expats in Germany. She ordered a pair of headphones when she was house sitting in Munich and the delivery service didn’t want to give her the package because Beth wasn’t listed as a resident at that address.
“I’m not sure what the rule is, but they really didn’t want to give me the package,” she wrote. “I explained that I was house sitting and that mollified the delivery person, but she wasn’t happy about it.”
Her solution: She has packages sent to Germany via her daughter’s military mail address and just picks them up there.
• TransferWise, the London-based money transfer company, has a very detailed post about buying from Amazon in different countries.
• Amazon just launched a “try before you buy” apparel service in the U.K. Amazon Prime Wardrobe delivers three to eight items of clothing with no upfront charge, according to The Guardian. The more you keep, the bigger the discount and you can send everything back for free within seven days.
There are currently a total of 14 Amazon sites.
- United Kingdom
- United States
Not all the national sites provide the full range of Amazon products. American, British, German, Spanish, French, and Italian sites have an impressive range of products. However, the Dutch Amazon.nl site provides mostly Kindle content in the local language.
Dutch shoppers get their full range from the German site, which has an English option.
Not all products will be eligible for delivery if ordering from one country to another, but you will be notified about this on the product page if you have entered your preferred shipping address in your Amazon account.
Here are the best posts we’ve read lately about Amazon:
The Amazon Selling Machine – The Atlantic
Forbes magazine even has a feature each Sunday, What Amazon Did This Week, totally dedicated to the global disrupter.