Amazon’s Australian launch was ‘weirdly underwhelming’

Is Amazon always best on price?

James Hall was perched at his “home theatre personal computer” two Thursdays ago, repeatedly hitting the refresh button on Amazon’s Australian site in anticipation of its “soft” launch.

As a frequent customer of Amazon’s US site and self-described techie, he was disappointed to find he wasn’t one of the “small number of customers” chosen to participate in Amazon’s “internal testing phase” starting at 2pm that day.

He woke early the next day to check if the tech giant’s Australian offshoot had become available to the public overnight.

Alas for Mr Hall, the site didn’t officially go live until Tuesday morning.

All in all, he was “weirdly underwhelmed” with the eventual launch, saying it was a “missed opportunity” for the massive online seller.

Mr Hall was hoping to buy a computer mouse, a protein shaker, a portable battery for his phone and a Christmas gift for his mum, but the prices didn’t “tickle [his] fancy” so he is going to shop around.

“Just skimming through the site, I can’t see any prices that impress me. I could find cheaper items on other sites – maybe even for half the price,” he said.

He had previously used the American Amazon site to buy various products including gear for his “sous-vide” water cooking device and was “delighted” with how quickly his orders arrived at his Sydney address from the US. Even taking shipping fees into account, the device and attachments were half the price being asked in Australia.

But only some listings on the US Amazon site have Australian delivery options, hence his excitement about the local site launch.

“You could usually find an item much cheaper on the US store but it being available for direct shipping [to Australia] was luck of the draw,” he said.

“Some items are available for instant shipping and you can expect to receive them in the same week. Other items take a month or so but they’ll be upfront and tell you.”

He is expecting Amazon Australia’s shipping times to be on par with the US store – next-day delivery is offered to most capital cities for $9.99.

The only categories that strikes me as being better than other big Australian retailers are video games and cooking appliances.

James Hall

The site kicked off with 23 categories, which is broader than its launches in Canada and the United Kingdom. But it was not yet the “one-stop shop it has been marketed as”, Mr Hall said.

“The American Amazon site has a Christmas theme with hot Christmas deals, whereas the Australian site just has a toothless child smiling back at you,” he said.

“The only categories that strikes me as being better than other big Australian retailers are video games and cooking appliances.”

The new FIFA playstation 4 game, for example, is $39 compared with $59 on JB Hi-Fi while the Philips Airfryer TurboStar is about $60 cheaper than competitors. But “computer parts look like they are around $200 more on Amazon.”

“You’re better off going to eBay for a cheap Asian import for things like cables and mobile phone accessories.”

Mr Hall is looking forward to the full release of the Australian version of Amazon Prime – a subscription service due out in the middle of next year.

The service is available in other countries where Amazon operates, offering its members a suite of benefits including a two-hour delivery service called Prime Now. But customers will have to wait some time after the Australian launch of Amazon Prime for this benefit.

However, Amazon Prime Video, a streaming service, is available in Australia now as a standalone package. It’s listed on the Australian site as $US2.99 a month for the first six months with a seven-day free trial. After that, membership renews at $US5.99 a month.

Mr Hall thinks the launch was “rushed” as Australian Amazon Prime Video customers “will be charged in US dollars – an odd and disappointing choice for the Australian online branch opening.”

Amazon had been tipped to begin selling in Australia two weeks ago on “Black Friday”, which marks the start of the Christmas shopping season in the US, after it emailed third-party retailers telling them to prepare to take orders from a limited number of consumers as part of its “soft” launch.

In anticipation of the US juggernaut’s arrival in Australia, JB Hi-Fi unveiled new delivery options, including same day and “three-hour rush” deliveries. And at the Woolworths annual general meeting two weeks ago, chairman Gordon Cairns announced four new “dark stores”, which will be closed to the public and serve as bases to pack and ship online orders.

A recent UBS survey of more than 1000 Australian consumers found that 42 per cent expected to shop online more after Amazon’s launch, while 56 per cent would probably visit Amazon’s Australian website and 51 per cent said there was a strong likelihood they would buy on the platform.

According to a survey by market research firm Nielsen, Amazon US was the second most popular website last month behind Woolworths for Australian online shoppers.