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Amazon has arrived in South Africa… but is it really Amazon?

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Amazon has arrived in South Africa… but is it really Amazon?

The Amazon South Africa domain is up and running, but it does not really feel like the Amazon shopping experience that we imagined.

They say that variety is the spice of life. But when it comes to the South African e-commerce market –  consumers are seemingly in for a rather bland meal.

When the news first broke that the international online retail giant, Amazon, would be entering the South African retail space, the biggest concern on everyone’s mind was whether this would kill the local e-commerce market.

However, now that the local Amazon domain is up and running – we would argue that the bigger issue at hand is the lack of real competition in the South African online retail space.

Amazon South Africa (sort of)

South Africa’s own Amazon domain (Amazon.co.za) officially went live – albeit through an under-the-radar soft-launch – on 7 May 2024.

Regardless of your opinion on whether Amazon should have been permitted to enter the country’s e-commerce market or not –conjuring visions of what Amazon.co.za would look like before its launch likely included seemingly endless scrolling (and shopping) possibilities, a few international brands, new local stores, and generally, just a vast array of products at your fingertips.

The reality, however, is a rather lackluster offering that boasts the look and feel of the Amazon.com website that we have all admired from afar for so long, with none of the bells and whistles that we expected to accompany it.

The Amazon.co.za offering

In case you have not yet inspected it for yourself, the Amazon South Africa website can generally be summarized as follows:

Category Description
Product categories
  • Arts, Crafts Sewing
  • Baby
  • Beauty
  • Books
  • Electronics & photo
  • Health & personal care
  • Home & kitchen
  • Home improvement
  • Office products
  • Pet supplies
  • Sports & outdoors
  • Toys & games
  • Video games
Guarantees and special offers 24/7 customer support, easy returns, A-Z guarantee, order tracking, free delivery on the first order, pick-up option, daily deals

The problem with Amazon.co.za

The very little information that was released about the Amazon.co.za domain before its launch set off alarm bells that it would be starting out small, with mostly South Africa-based sellers.

But this warning did little to curb the absolute disappointment of finding out that the “international brands” offered are limited to, as Amazon’s official statement put it: “Apple, Sony, HP, LEGO, Chicco, Maybelline, Pampers, Neutrogena, and Johnson’s”.

Newsflash – these are all brands that we already have available elsewhere in South Africa. Amazon has not even included some of its own Amazon Basics products in the mix.

In the end, we are sad to report that the best review we can give Amazon.co.za would be something along the lines of “nothing new”, or the widely joked-about “Takealot 2.0”.

Why do international brands think this is okay?

If you, like thousands of South Africans, get butterflies in your stomach every time that you hear of another brand bridging the international waters to enter our retail space – you will know that Amazon is not the first big brand to under-deliver in the “international”-aspect of things.

After Walmart Inc. bought the majority stake in Massmart in 2011 – all the shoppers on the ground got was a few regular e-commerce ventures, a failed fresh foods campaign, increasing debts across Massmart and plans to divest from the Game chain.

And Starbucks’ entry into the country was through a complicated licensing agreement with Taste Holdings.

This deal essentially gave this JSE-listed company the license to operate as Starbucks in South Africa – a license which the company decided to sell just four years into the 25-year deal.

And while there is certainly something to be said about how high the barrier to entry into the country for international brands is – parading as an international brand (while only offering the same products and services that we have always had locally) does very little to promote actual, healthy competition in the market. In actuality, this facade offers consumers no variety in terms of quality, price or value of products.

Is it better to just stick to Amazon.com?

If you are only interested in shopping for products that are already widely available in South Africa – adding Amazon.co.za to your price-comparison list is not a bad idea.

In fact, depending on the product that you want – we have found that Amazon.co.za is sometimes much cheaper than the other big South African e-commerce platforms (likely as a way to earn a little goodwill after the launch).

But, if you want to order something from an international brand that is not yet widely available in the country – stick to Amazon.com.

If you want to order any viral product that you have seen on TikTok (or any other social media platform) – stick to Amazon.com.

If you want to order anything like clothing, furniture, or any of the other categories not listed on the local Amazon store – stick to Amazon.com.

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