Amazon Australia goes live in time to ruin rivals' Christmas

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc's Australian arm said it would start taking orders on Tuesday, ending speculation about the timing of its launch in the world's No. 12 economy and likely dashing hopes of a holiday boost for struggling brick-and-mortar rivals.

The global retailer said it would offer free shipping nationwide for purchases over A$49 ($37.26), with millions of products available from clothes to sporting goods to consumer electronics.

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The move establishes the $550 million behemoth as an aggressive presence in the sluggish Australian retail sector, just as shopkeepers were hoping for a rush of sales over the important Christmas holiday season.

Amazon's Australia country manager, Rocco Braeuniger, said in a statement the U.S. company would "earn the trust" of Australian shoppers and, over time, create "thousands of new jobs".

Australia has long been home to Amazon-registered sellers, but until Tuesday they were limited to sending goods offshore because the Seattle conglomerate did not have a warehouse in the country of 24 million people. This also meant Australians had to wait longer times, and pay higher fees, for shipping.

7 shock-worthy facts about Amazon:

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7.5 percent of Seattle's working-age population are Amazon employees

Amazon has more than 300,000 employees worldwide, and 40,000 in Seattle alone.

As a portion of the city's working-age population — roughly 528,000 — that comes out to 7.5% of the city working at Amazon.

For perspective, if the same portion of New York City's adults worked for one company, that company would have about 488,000 locals on staff.

Amazon accounts for 43% of all online sales

Amazon used to be a way to buy books online; today, it's the default buying site for just about everything, especially for people who have Amazon Prime.

An analysis by Slice Intelligence released in February found that 43% of all US online retail sales were done through Amazon in 2016.

That's up from 33% in 2015 and 25% in 2012.

1 out of every 4 US adults has Amazon Prime.

Speaking of Amazon Prime, the company now counts approximately 63 million people among its subscriber base, or about 25% of the total US adult population.

That number may underestimate the true coverage, however, since it doesn't account for multiple adults in one household all sharing the same Prime account.

Amazon ships 1.6 million packages a day

Amazon fulfillment is a beast of its own.

A report from 2013 (the latest year for which data are available) found Amazon shipped 608 million packages that year, or 1.6 million packages a day.

As of 2015, Amazon estimated its fulfillment centers were within 20 miles of 31% of the US population, and within 20 miles of 50-65% of its core, same-day-accessible market.

That's enough cardboard to span all of West Virginia

A back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals all those packages (not including padded envelopes) yield roughly 26,400 square miles of cardboard.

The total land area of West Virginia, meanwhile, is just north of 24,000 square miles.

Given the speed of Amazon's shipments, the company could blanket the whole US in cardboard in about five months.

45,000 robots roam the floors of Amazon's warehouses

To help those shipments leave the warehouses on time, Amazon relies on a growing fleet of autonomous robots that fetch packages from their shelves and bring them to human employees.

The 45,000 robots live across 20 fulfillment centers in the US. In 2016, the company increased the fleet 50% from its prior head count of 30,000.

Amazon is more valuable than all major brick-and-mortar retailers combined

The sum total of those investments in infrastructure and supply chain management have made Amazon by far the most valuable retailer in the United States.

Amazon's $356 billion valuation is so big, it's larger than Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Macy's, Kohl's, JCPenney, and Sears combined.

With the recent acquisition of Whole Foods, there are no signs the retailer has any plans of slowing down.

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The company has now set up a massive distribution warehouse on the outskirts of Melbourne city, on the country's east coast where four-fifths of the population live, and the company hopes to cut delivery time to as little as a day.

Under the free delivery offer, Amazon said it estimated delivery times as short as three business days in the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra - home to half the country's population - while shipping to remote areas could take 10 days.

Shoppers could pay a fee for faster shipping times.

Amazon did not say what time of day it would begin taking orders from its Australian warehouse, except to say it would be on Dec. 5.

It also did not comment on any last-minute problems from an order-taking trial which began on Nov. 23.

Amazon said it planned to offer its rapid-shipping subscription service, Prime, in mid-2018, in a sign it is unperturbed by the geographic challenge posed by one of the world's most sparsely populated countries. Australia is the size of the mainland United States, with one-thirteenth its population.

Australian retail shares have fallen sharply since Amazon confirmed plans for the country in April. Shares of top department store operator Myer Holdings Ltd are down 30 percent since that time.

Myer has been shutting stores and ramping up online sales, and last month it halved its three-year target for growth in sales per square meter. Its online sales leapt 68 percent in the 13 weeks to Oct. 28, but remained only a tiny fraction of its total revenue.

Shares of No. 1 electronics retailer Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd are down 7 percent since April, while smaller JB HiFi are off by 6 percent amid fears of competition from Amazon.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates)

 

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