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Amazon is the opposite of our romantic idea of Italian villages with bakeries and old cobbler shops. But the pandemic convinced Italians to overcome their reluctance to shop online – and at Amazon.
Adam Satariano, who writes about European technology for the New York Times, spoke to me about his article on why Amazon's playbook works in Italy and whether the country is a template for other parts of the world where Amazon hasn't caught.
In Adam's article there are fundamental questions: Will Amazon become something the world doesn't really have: a dominant, globally popular business? And what can we gain and lose from it?
Shira: Why wasn't Amazon so popular in Italy before?
Adam: Online shopping has never been more widespread there than in the USA or anywhere else in Europe. Italy has the oldest population in Europe and people prefer to shop in stores and pay with cash. The roads in many parts of the country, especially the less affluent south, are pretty bad.
The pandemic changed habits. A survey found that two million Italians tried e-commerce for the first time between January and May. Amazon was ready for that moment. So does Esselunga, an Italian food company that has done well with the delivery of groceries.
How did Amazon get ready?
The company was patient. Since its launch in Italy in 2010, warehouses and a distribution network have slowly been built and dealerships have been convinced to sell their products online. For local appeal, Amazon sponsors events like a Christmas party in remote villages to show the company can go anywhere. Amazon also let Italians dedicate a percentage of their purchases to local schools.
How do Italians feel about Amazon?
There is a tension between tradition and change. There is concern about what a move to online shopping will mean for business and culture in a country where small and medium-sized businesses make up a large part of the economy. In Italy, as elsewhere in Europe, there are strikes and organized efforts to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.
But even before the pandemic, people are looking forward to job opportunities in a country with a sluggish economy. Our colleague Emma Bubola spoke to a mother and daughter who showered them with questions about Amazon's attitude in the region. The 23-year-old daughter had been looking for a full-time job for years.
The vast majority of Amazon's sales come from four countries: the US, Germany, UK, and Japan. Is Amazon becoming a real global business?
Perhaps. India was a mixed bag for Amazon. Brazil has been challenging, even though it appears the pandemic has boosted sales there. Amazon is aiming for strong growth in Europe. There are two ways to look at it. Either Amazon has a lot of room to grow globally or it will be difficult to make it in many parts of the world.
How have your family's shopping habits in the UK changed during the pandemic? Will new habits remain?
I am definitely shopping more online. We've been buying most of our groceries online for a long time, but at least we made a little comeback to the store before the recent surge in coronavirus infections in the UK. Both of my sons need new shoes that we will likely buy online. Like everyone, I like the convenience. I'm also nervous about what this means for our communities.
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Tip of the week
The best ways to save on Amazon
If, like these Italians, you're buying more from Amazon these days, Brian X. Chen, the Times personal tech writer, has tips to help you become a more savvy shopper:
On Amazon, the easiest place to find discounted goods is in the Today's Deals section, which lists products that will be on sale for a limited time. But in my experience, the vast majority of the articles in this section are junk. Rarely do you actually see a quality product that you actually want.
There are better ways to get deals on good stuff:
If you want something that is out of your budget, you can set a price tracker. The Camel Camel Camel web tool allows you to view the price history of a product listed on Amazon and sign up to receive email notifications when the price drops.
You can read the offers section for Wirecutter, our sister publication that tests products. The site staff regularly scour deals on products, many of which are listed on Amazon, to highlight the best bargains. (When Wirecutter readers purchase products based on independent reviews and recommendations from authors, the site often receives commissions from the retailer who sells that product.)
You might also consider buying used. Often times, an Amazon listing shows an option to purchase the product being used. Items marked "Like New" are usually in pristine condition with packaging that has been opened and returned by customers. Buying used can save you money and it will get more from the energy, materials, and human labor that went into making this product.
Before we go …
Uber has good news: A judge restored Uber's transport license in London, where the company's status was in the air, because regulators said unauthorized drivers had made many trips. London is one of Uber's key markets, Adam Satariano writes, but the company still faces legal and other business challenges – particularly in California.
A unified front against voting misinformation: The Times editors urged social media companies to create a clear, public, and consistent set of rules against disinformation or misinformation that could come from powerful people if the U.S. presidential election results take days or more to clear them up . Internet companies have added fact-checking notes to misleading contributions from President Trump and other influential people, but the editorial said it didn't go far enough.
You won't read a wilder crime story (and this one is true): My colleague David Streitfeld has the full story of former eBay security officers – two of whom told staff to call them mom and dad – bothering, an anonymous business critic on Twitter, and a suburban couple who run an e-commerce -Blog operation, follow up. I want someone to explain to me why the chief executive officer and other executives of a huge corporation were so paranoid about weirdly obscure people.
Have you ever seen a turtle eat a fish ice cream on a stick? (This YouTube channel of a man who feeds fish and turtles was recommended in The Times & # 39; s At Home newsletter.)
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If you do not have this newsletter in your inbox yet, please register here. Watch out for Shira's long piece