Why Amazon Australia is a dud
IT WAS meant to be the online store that saved Christmas.
Instead, Amazon Australia looks somewhat like the socks you unwrap on the big day: not quite what you were hoping to receive.
The retail giant snuck into Australia just after midnight this morning, surprising plenty of pundits and Christmas shoppers who had all but given up on the American firm arriving this year.
But when they did peek behind its doors, and sift through the "millions of new products" promised, many became crestfallen.
Bargain-hunting was replaced by tales of disappointment, of goods missing, slow shipping times, and prices higher than those already offered in Australian retail outlets.
In some cases, Amazon Australia prices were thousands of dollars higher than those offered in the likes of JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, and Ted's Cameras.
And despite the possibility Amazon would launch its Prime service in Australia, with all the quick shipping and early bargain access it brings, it failed to arrive.
Many items sold on Amazon Australia take weeks to ship to our major cities, despite promises to the contrary.
In short, Amazon Australia is a poor cousin to the real thing; an online portal that delivers too few products for too much money, too late for comfort. It's everything savvy Australian online shoppers hoped an international firm would fix in lazy retailers. It's not the messiah, just a very over-hyped store.
So where did it all go wrong? Here are three reasons we're disappointed in Amazon Australia so far.
1. The prices aren't that low
Want to buy a Samsung television? How about a top-of-the-line Nikon camera?
In both instances, you'll be paying more if you buy them from Amazon Australia.
Take the case of the 75-inch Samsung UHD television. It has a recommended retail price of $6499. So why on Earth would you pay $7499 for it on Amazon's website? It must be delivered by a team of former royal butlers in a gold-plated van.
What's more, you can already get that same television much cheaper in Australian retail outlets. Harvey Norman charges just $4995 for that model, and you can get it delivered (probably without the butlers) for the princely sum of $75.
In the case of the Nikon D5 camera, you can buy it for $7790, or go to the same Marketplace seller's store and buy it for $7720. While they might be building extra wiggle room into the price to accommodate Amazon listing fees and delivery costs, it doesn't deliver the best experience or a reason to buy from Amazon Australia.
It's worthwhile noting that when Aussie sellers listed goods with Amazon's local store, they did so blindly. There was little in the way of previews to check what their items would look like. They were able to tell whether they'd listed at the cheapest price, however. And, if you have listed your item the cheapest, why would you keep discounting?
2. There's not much for sale
As when Netflix rolled into town, Amazon Australia does not match the inventory of the original store. There are plenty of things missing from its virtual shelves.
If you had a specific item in mind, there's a good chance you've already been disappointed by Amazon Australia, or headed across the Pacific to shop directly from the mothership.
One Australian who used to work in the US told me she searched for five items she'd typically buy from Amazon and found none available.
And some in-demand Christmas items are simply not listed. There's a total of one Xbox One console available on Amazon Australia and it's no good if you don't want one painted like a Minecraft scene.
What about a Microsoft Surface computer instead? Sorry. There are none available.
Additionally, if you find what you're looking for, there probably aren't many chances to buy it. Most items are listed with a warning that there's only one or two "left in stock," indicating sellers might simply be testing the market before they commit stock to this shopping experiment.
3. Shipping times and prices are not as good as you think
Amazon did not launch its Prime subscription service in Australia, but it did promise what sounds like an attractive offer: free standard shipping on purchases over $49, $9.99 one-day shipping in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Canberra, and $11.99 two-day shipping in Perth and regional areas of Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales.
But there's a big caveat attached to these shipping prices and times. They only apply to products "sold and fulfilled by Amazon Australia".
Anything sold by an Aussie retailer through Amazon's Marketplace instead sets their own shipping prices with their own delivery times, and some are downright outrageous.
Purchase a 128GB SanDisk memory card for your camera, for example, and you won't be capturing Christmas photos with it. Standard shipping will only get the $400 item to you by December 30, in time for New Year's Eve if you're lucky.
When you combine these three problems - items unavailable or priced too high, delivered too slowly - it doesn't feel like the makings of a "retail revolution".
And it certainly doesn't feel like the kind of change that will put pressure on existing Australian stores to lift their game and lower their prices.
To be fair, it is Amazon Australia's first day. There is time to improve, and there's certainly opportunity to do so.
The company is believed to have purchased a new warehouse in Sydney that could help it offer faster shipping times on more products. There's a chance more Australian retailers will join now they see what the site looks like. And Amazon could offer Prime in Australia by next Christmas.
Amazon certainly won't be delivering Australian shoppers a gift these holidays, but maybe we can hope to unwrap a better experience next year.