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E-commerce giant Amazon appears to be “testing the waters” in South Africa

Customers in Africa’s largest economy can now enjoy new online shopping experiences as Amazon launches online retail operations in South Africa – a first in sub-Saharan Africa.

Amazon has announced the launch of Amazon.co.za, offering customers in South Africa a selection of local and international brands across 20 different product categories, positively impacting the e-commerce landscape. However, the splash was smaller than expected.

While South Africans expected the typical Amazon fanfare of its own-brand offers and products, the launch was subdued and lacked the familiar Amazon bells and whistles.

Consumers were offered incentives such as competitive pricing, free delivery vouchers, access to 3,000 pickup locations and daily deals, but there were no deals on core Amazon products including Kindle e-readers, Fire TVs, Ring doorbells or Alexa smart speakers.

Disappointingly, none of Amazon’s digital services such as Amazon Music or the long-awaited Prime subscription (combining e-commerce and digital services) were also available. The only exception was Amazon Prime Video, which launched in South Africa many years ago.

The reports noted that while Amazon’s South African offering appeared to mirror South Africa’s largest e-commerce platform Takealot, with a similar layout and features, Amazon appeared to lag behind in product availability, including Amazon’s own products, which were readily available on a competitor’s website Takealot. Many offers, including popular smartphones, have been marked as unavailable.

The only advantage Amazon offered was free shipping on your first order, followed by free shipping on subsequent orders over R500 (about $27). Although free shipping only applies to standard delivery and products shipped directly by Amazon, not third-party sellers.

This muted entry raises intriguing questions about Amazon’s strategy in the local market. The move suggests a measured approach by Amazon, likely gauging market reaction before committing fully. This may indicate a long-term play and the introduction of Prime will be a strategic move for later, so this may not be the case Take a lot time before the start of the competition.

But despite this muted entry, it delays an immediate price war with existing e-commerce platforms like Takealot, Bob Shop, Makro, Bidorbuy and Zando, Amazon’s competitive prices and free shipping coupons may be enough to challenge the established players.

Ultimately, the biggest winner would be the South African consumer. Consumers can expect a wider selection of products and aggressive discounts as both giants fight for market share.