NAPLES, Italy — Ludovica Tomaciello had by no means shopped on Amazon earlier than being trapped at her dad and mom’ home in March throughout Italy’s coronavirus lockdown. Bored one afternoon scrolling TikTok, she noticed hair scrunchies that she then tracked down and ordered on Amazon.
When the bundle arrived, she was hooked. She quickly signed up for Amazon Prime and turned to the positioning to purchase a tapestry and neon lights to brighten her bed room; halter tops, denims and magenta Air Jordan sneakers; and a distant to wirelessly take selfies for Instagram.
“My mother was like, ‘Are you able to cease this?’” Ms. Tomaciello, 19, who’s pursuing a language diploma, stated whereas at a restaurant close to her house in Avellino, about 20 miles east of Naples. When shops reopened in Could, Amazon remained her most well-liked solution to store due to the comfort, choice and costs, she stated. One good friend even requested her to make use of it to discreetly order a being pregnant take a look at.
Amazon has been one of many biggest winners in the pandemic as people in its most established markets — the United States, Germany and Britain — have flocked to it to buy everything from toilet paper to board games. What has been less noticed is that people in countries that had traditionally resisted the e-commerce giant are now also falling into its grasp after retail stores shut down for months because of the coronavirus.
The shift has been particularly pronounced in Italy, which was one of the first countries hard hit by the virus. Italians have traditionally preferred to shop in stores and pay cash. But after the government imposed Europe’s first nationwide virus lockdown, Italians began buying items online in record numbers.
Even now, as Italy has done better than most places to turn the tide on the virus and people return to stores, the behavioral shift toward e-commerce has not halted. People are using Amazon to buy staples like wine and ham, as well as web cameras, printer cartridges and fitness bands. At one point, orders of inflatable swimming pools through the site were so backlogged that some customers complained.
“The change is real, the change is deep, and the change is here to stay,” said David Parma, who has conducted surveys about shifting consumer behavior in Italy for Ipsos in Milan. “Amazon is the most important winner.”
North America is Amazon’s largest market, accounting for about two-thirds of its $245.5 billion world shopper enterprise. However the Seattle-based firm has been targeting Europe and different new markets to develop.
Amazon entered Italy in 2010; its first sale within the nation was a kids’s e-book. However the firm had solely muted success over the following decade. Fewer than 40 % of Italians shopped on-line final 12 months, in contrast with 87 % in Britain and 79 % in Germany, in accordance with Eurostat, a European Union authorities statistics group.
Amazon was hampered in Italy by an absence of widespread broadband and poor roads for delivering packages, particularly within the south. Italy has the oldest population in Europe, and many individuals are additionally cautious of offering their monetary particulars on-line. E-commerce accounts for under eight % of retail spending within the nation.
“There have been some structural points that we needed to face,” stated Mariangela Marseglia, Amazon’s nation supervisor for Italy. “Sadly, our nation was and nonetheless is a kind of the place technological understanding and tech tradition is low.”
The turning level was the pandemic. Mr. Parma stated 75 % of Italians shopped on-line through the lockdown. Complete on-line gross sales are estimated to develop 26 % to a document 22.7 billion euros this 12 months, in accordance with researchers from Polytechnic College of Milan. Netcomm, an Italian retail consortium, referred to as it a “10-year evolutionary leap,” with greater than two million Italians making an attempt e-commerce for the primary time between January and Could.
Hurdles stay for Amazon. Small and midsize companies are an integral a part of Italian society. They make up roughly 67 % of the economic system, excluding finance, and about 78 % of employment, that are larger than E.U. averages, in accordance with E.U. statistics.
In Gragnano, a hilltop city close to the Amalfi Coast with a 500-year historical past of pasta manufacturing, Ciro Moccia, the proprietor of La Fabbrica della Pasta, stated Amazon was a “harmful” monopoly that would destroy companies like his that depend on conveying the standard of a product.
However through the lockdown, his firm had no selection however to promote on Amazon after many shops shut. Standing above the household’s manufacturing facility just lately, the place semolina flour was blended with spring water and pressed into 140 completely different pasta shapes, Mr. Moccia stated, “I’m very frightened.”
His son, Mario, 24, who tried for years to get his father to promote extra on-line, stated he noticed it as a possibility.
“In case you are not on Amazon, you don’t have the identical visibility,” he stated.
Amazon’s success has drawn scrutiny. Unions have additionally criticized Amazon’s labor practices, together with staging a multiday strike in March over virus-related security insurance policies. Italian regulators are investigating it for price gouging during the pandemic. In 2017, Amazon agreed to pay €100 million, or roughly $118 million, to settle a authorities tax dispute.
Ms. Marseglia stated Amazon was “a lifeline for purchasers” within the pandemic and supplied a brand new approach for companies to succeed in folks on-line.
Amazon has rushed to maintain up with demand. It plans to open two new success facilities and 7 supply stations in Italy. It is also aiming to rent roughly 1,600 extra folks by the top of the 12 months, pushing its full-time work drive to eight,500 from fewer than 200 in 2011.
“We’re accelerating the rhythm with which we make investments and rent new folks,” stated Ms. Marseglia, who’s initially from Puglia in southern Italy.
With unemployment about 9 % nationwide — and nearer to 20 % in areas of southern Italy — many are longing for Amazon to increase.
When Francesca Gemma graduated from school in 2016, Amazon was the one firm hiring in her space. She now works at an Amazon success middle selecting a whole lot of merchandise from the cabinets each hour so the products may be shipped to prospects.
“On the primary day, the muscle tissue of my legs felt like I had finished a marathon — I couldn’t climb up the steps,” she stated. “It’s not for everybody, nevertheless it’s a job.”
Ms. Gemma, who can also be a consultant for Cgil, a nationwide labor union, inside the middle, stated orders had skyrocketed through the lockdown and remained excessive. However she stated that moreover some bonuses she acquired on the peak of the emergency, Amazon didn’t present warehouse workers a lot else to share in its success.
“Nothing remained for employees,” Ms. Gemma stated, including that her work has turn into extra monotonous due to the enforcement of the sanitary protocols.
Amazon stated it paid higher-than-average wages for warehouse work.
Amazon has made an effort to win over Italians. Mother and father are inspired to buy on its web site by way of a program that may steer a share of their purchases to their kids’s college.
In Calitri, a village of 4,000 folks in southern Italy, Amazon sponsored a Christmas pageant final 12 months as a part of a advertising marketing campaign to indicate it might attain even probably the most remoted areas. It paid for a Christmas tree within the city sq. and supplied items to kids. The mayor hoped it might lead extra artisans and farmers to promote by way of the positioning.
However Luciano Capossela, a jeweler in Calitri, helped set up a protest of the Christmas pageant with different store homeowners, who closed their shops for the night time and blacked out their home windows.
He has watched because the neighborhood has embraced Amazon. One buyer just lately texted him a screenshot of a wristwatch on the market on Amazon, asking if Mr. Capossela might match the worth. When he stated the Amazon worth was decrease than what he might get from a distributor, the client by no means replied.
“If we preserve going this manner in 10 to 15 years, we are going to solely have Amazon and every little thing else will not exist,” Mr. Capossela stated. In an space the place depopulation is so unhealthy that some property is on the market for simply 1 euro, he stated final 12 months’s protest was meant as a warning: “A village with couriers and with out outlets.”
He pulled up an image on his telephone taken the morning after the Amazon pageant. It confirmed that the Christmas tree had blown over in a storm.
“It was God’s will,” he stated.