Singapore customers underwhelmed after initial buzz of Amazon Prime’s launch
Anger over Amazon’s decision to end free shipping on goods above US$125 to Singapore under the Free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping option
By Cynthia Choo
Consumers excited about e-commerce giant Amazon’s launch of its membership service – Amazon Prime – in Singapore on Wednesday were let down by limited offerings and compatibility issues between its app and desktop versions.
For one, some customers who signed up for Amazon Prime discovered they had to make orders through the Prime Now app, instead of carting the items directly off Amazon’s website.
On the app, users have to toggle between the “Singapore” and “International” tabs to access products from the United States.
Amazon also ended free shipping on goods above US$125 (S$168) to Singapore under the Free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping option, making free global shipping exclusive to Prime members.
The move let down some consumers such as regular Amazon shopper Cheok Kong Ming, 34, who had been accumulating purchases to meet the minimum spend for free shipping.
Mr Cheok, an executive in the logistics industry, had planned to buy Christmas presents from Amazon.
On Wednesday, he found himself not only unable to enjoy free shipping, but unable to find several items such as blu-ray discs on the app.
“I tried searching for titles from the Spiderman series, but couldn’t find it. If we customers cannot find the items on the app, the shipping cost would (then) kill us,” said Mr Cheok, who estimates that he would have to pay about US$30 in additional in fees if he goes ahead with the purchase.
Other items not available on the app - but can be found on the US website - include gaming playsets like the Nintendo 3DS XL and Nintendo Switch.
“We now have to use the app to enjoy free shipping, but the selection on it is so limited,” he said. “Amazon should have integrated both the app and desktop, to make it a seamless user experience for shoppers.”
Netizens left disparaging remarks on the Amazon.sg Facebook page, saying the changes may put them off buying from Amazon altogether.
The company declined to comment on whether it had plans to create a website for Singapore customers, merely saying: “We have offered this shopping experience exclusively on the Prime Now mobile app because we know that Singaporeans are very mobile savvy.”
Retail expert Dr Seshan Ramaswami from the Singapore Management University said Amazon should not have discontinued free international delivery for non-members until it was “sure that the local assortment, in the non-grocery areas, matched the selection of the international service”.
Lacklustre video content
Customers were also dissatisfied by the lack of content on Prime Video — widely touted as an alternative to Netflix.
Videographer Justinian Liew, who signed up for the free trial on Wednesday morning, said Prime Video’s original content features about 18 titles. In comparison, Netflix had pushed out at least 30 original series in November.
Other video streaming services seemed to be more “localised” in their offerings, added Mr Liew, 27.
“Netflix has more much more diverse offerings, (you can see) its content is strategically marketed to Singaporean audiences, because there are K-drama options...series with Asian actors. But from what I see scrolling through Prime Video, their content is pretty much US-centric, and that doesn’t appeal to me,” he said.
However, experts say it may be too early to rule out Amazon out of the game.
For one, the company got the timing of Prime’s launch right. “The timing (of the launch), right between Black Friday and Christmas, and three months before Chinese New Year is about as good as it could be. Chinese New Year is also a significant period for grocery purchases,” said Prof Ramaswami.
The latest changes could be Amazon’s effort to streamline business strategies to reach online shoppers, said Mr Samuel Tan, a retail expert at Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Business.
“Customers (can) do more than just local grocery shopping with the Prime Now App. It’s now more worthwhile for them to sign up for the membership as they are given access to (a) wider selection of goods, including international items,” he said.
The success of Amazon will ultimately hinge on pricing, product range and customer service, said the experts.
Senior business-to-consumer analyst Xiaofeng Wang from research firm Forrester suggested the company could beef up its digital content offerings through Kindle and e-books, which are lacking in the Singapore Prime membership.
“Consumers in Singapore expect Amazon’s own products like Echo, Kindle (and) digital books to be made available to them,” said Ms Wang.
It will also have to get its pricing right, said Prof Ramaswami. “Can Amazon match Taobao and the various other local e-tailers, like Zalora, Lazada, Qoo10, Redmart?”