Amazon Blocks its US Website to Australia and What it Means

Late last week Amazon Dot Com announced it would block its US website to Australia beginning July 1.

The pretence given was the introduction of an Australian Goods and Services Tax (GST) on “low value” items of $1000 AUD or less collectable at the point of sale. Hitherto, only goods worth over $1000 AUD were taxed and Customs levied the charge at the Australian border.

Knowing that its lobbying efforts had failed nearly a year ago, Amazon held on to its decision, a spokesperson apologising “for the inconvenience”.

So let’s explore what this inconvenience means for Australian consumers focusing on the retail book trade where the Amazon phenomenon all began.

  • Amazon Australia

Come July 1, “Amazon Dot Com” will redirect Australian IP addresses to “Amazon Dot Com Dot AU”. This Australian-own Amazon website opened barely a year ago and it’s a sad shell of its parent. A Boston, Massachusetts, wall calendar I like that would normally cost $15 via the US store, lists in Australia (via somewhere else overseas) for $114. It’s lunacy and an insulting shopping experience.

In terms of recently published mainstream books, however, there should be little impact on Australian consumers. Amazon AU lists most stocked in its new warehouse for delivery next day. The problem though, is sourcing books published prior to late 2017 or those of the more esoteric nature that scholars and armchair pundits love.

These are easily accessed through the Amazon US distribution centre network. Currently, via that medium they’re deliverable to Australia in just days. On Amazon AU, if these books appear in a search at all, consumers are shunted to 3rd party retailers where delivery can approach 30-plus days. This totally flies in the face of an era when online entrepreneurs, like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, dream of space travel and of drones dropping pizzas within minutes of a hunger pain.

But there are alternatives:

  • Book Depository

Book Depository Dot Com (an Amazon Company) has confirmed with me that come July 1, it will be business as usual for Australia. Simply visit as you’re doing now. They’ll happily process the new GST.

  • AbeBooks

AbeBooks Dot Com (another Amazon Company), is the place you go to for out of print books. They’ve confirmed with me too, that come July 1 it will be business as usual, the new GST not being a problem.

  • Barnes and Noble

Good ol’ Barnes & Noble told me they will gladly sell to Australia online, new GST included. Rumours persist about B&N’s viability but this chain remains my brick and mortar go to when I’m in the States. And online they’ve a pretty nifty turnaround.

  • Local Brick and Mortar Bookstores

Independent book stores and the Dymocks chain have bucked the Amazon trend in Australia. New releases, however, are mainly sourced from British publishing houses meaning consumers still look at prices double those found in America. But some good loyalty programs and the ability to order on demand could obviate Amazon’s pull out altogether. Truly social business after all, is face-to-face.

*****

I’ve by no means tried to analyse Amazon’s decision here. I will say that its choice to close its US online store to Australia is distasteful not merely due to the years of loyalty I’ve given it but in terms of what globalised business should be.

Yet, Australians do have some quality shopping options.

The question, is whether this move by Amazon—a first directed at an English-speaking, First World, Capitalist democracy—will begin to render it irrelevant as a global commercial force? It’s the type of behaviour you’d expect to see from a paranoid Developing World dictatorship.

Indeed, consumers have now been invited to ask:

Can we live without Amazon?

It could just give brick and mortar retail the revival that’s always been nagging in the shadows. And Australia has always had a tendency to shake the world from time to time in the most surprising manner.

© 2018 Adam Parker.