Can Amazon deliver on shipping-time promises Down Under?
When Kiri Pomery ordered a red Santa Claus hat from Amazon's new Australian operation, the estimated delivery time to her address in outback Western Australia seemed too good to be true. It was.
Several weeks after the end of Amazon's January 10 delivery window, the manager of the Ora Banda Historical Inn had still had not received her package.
"Generally, it is pretty reliable," said Pomery, referring to the nearest post office, a 45-minute drive away. "I think we have had one thing in the last four years that we have had to go looking for."
On the other side of the country, at a pub she manages with her husband, in Queensland state, Valerie Cain got her Santa hat in time to wrap it as a Christmas gift for her six-month-old grandson Oscar. The hat arrived just two days into Amazon's 20-day estimated delivery window.
A third parcel bound for the tiny township of Yuendumu, in Central Australia's Western Desert, arrived nine days after Amazon's delivery window.
Reuters ordered the hats in December to check Amazon Australia's shipping estimates. And the experiences of three of the company's first customers reflect what analysts see as the main challenge to capitalising on a lack of serious online competition and winning over the world's 12th-largest economy: its geography.
Australia has the developed world's most spread-out population, with 24 million people on an island roughly the size of the mainland US. Yet there is little inland transport infrastructure, making it hard for Amazon to live up to its promise of reliable shipping times.
Amazon can generally reach customers in far-flung parts of North America and Asia quickly by using income from its subscription service, Prime, to bankroll its own delivery vehicles.
The company has said it plans to offer Prime in Australia sometime in 2018.
"Retailers that have been here and have had an online offer for the last 10 years are all struggling," said Shanaka Jayasinghe, a manager at logistics consultant GRA Supply Chain. If a company is trying to ship to all of Australia, "offering same day or next day, it's a challenge in our market", Jayasinghe added, referring to shipping times.
Kogan.com, a local e-tailer which has styled itself after Amazon, says it delivers nationwide in 14 days or less. Amazon Australia's longest estimated shipping time is 10 days. Both offer disclaimers that delivery may take longer in remote areas. Third-party vendors sell about 90pc of the goods advertised on Amazon's Australian website while Amazon itself sells the rest, said Daniel Mueller, an analyst at Vertium Asset Management, which holds Australian retail shares.
That ratio is reversed in Amazon's other markets, Mueller added, providing speedier service.
Amazon's biggest challenges in Asia so far have involved competition from entrenched local players such as China's Alibaba, Singapore's Carousell and India's Flipkart Online Services. By contrast, Australia has low online shopping penetration and lack of well-resourced rivals.
Analysts estimate Australian online shopping is worth about 10pc of its A$300bn (€191bn) brick-and-mortar retail sector, compared with China, where a quarter of sales are projected to be online by 2020. But it's too early to tell how much of a disrupting force Amazon will be Down Under. (Reuters)