Amazon hates Belgium. Or at least that is the conclusion I’m inclined draw after having been an Amazon customer for quite a few years now. On several occasions I’ve come across services Amazon is offering that sound really great to me, only to find out – a numbers of steps into the signing up process – that the service is not available in Belgium, the country I spend most of my time in.
Now, I do understand that Belgium will never be the top priority on any multinational’s global development strategy, as market size is typically a decisive factor in that context. I’ve been living in Belgium for almost half a century and so I’m used to the fact that it is usually referred to as a small country. Some local politicians insist on the use of term medium-sized rather than small, based on the fact that Belgium’s position in the World Bank’s ranking of countries by GDP is 24 (out of 192 countries listed), but that might be due more to the strategic communication plan in their hunt for yet another top job for a Belgian politician in some or other European organization. Let me give you some examples.
A couple of years ago I was thrilled to discover a new feature called AutoRip on the Amazon UK website. This great feature allows the Amazon customers that are buying music CDs – as I have done numerous times (there’s your answer to the question “who the hell is still buying music on CDs?”) – to download a free digital version of the music they purchase. Which would save me the trouble of ripping the CDs upon arrival to add the songs to my iTunes collection. But when trying to use the feature, all I got was an error message: not available for me, as I was not a UK resident. In the terms and conditions of AutoRip, this fact is even the very first point mentioned (perhaps top of the list as it is the complaint mostly heard about it?):
- AutoRip is available only to customers with billing addresses in the United Kingdom who have a United Kingdom bank-issued credit card associated with their Amazon.co.uk account.
So you still occasionally find me ripping CDs (although I’m in the process of kicking off from the CD addiction and am now more and more simply buying downloads).
The very fact that I am a regular shopper at Amazon’s UK website leads me to another telling indication of the way Belgium is treated by Amazon: there is simply no Amazon Belgium. Until last year there was even no Amazon shop at all in Dutch, my mothertongue. And the Amazon Netherlands shop that was opened last year, can best be described as an extremely light version: only e-books can be purchased in it, no music – not even as downloads – and no physical products. The latter, I presume, is due to the costs associated with setting up logistics, although that should not really be an issue if you consider that both the German and French Amazon shops provide free shipping to Belgium. And until very recently they were only offering e-books in Dutch in that Amazon.nl shop (this was in fact another feature I was planning to rant about, but they changed it).
So far I’ve only been talking about Amazon and about my specific Belgian perspective, but also with other dominant companies in today’s digital age, such as Apple and Google, I have experienced features that illustrate a new tendency. They are putting up a new type of borders between countries: digital borders or e-borders. The internet has caused the world to become a village? Nope. Unless you would consider it to be normal for, say, all villagers living east of the town square not to be allowed to buy bread (with their saliva production at full speed because of the smell carried to their tormented nostrils by the wind from the opposite side of the square).
Once again, some specific examples: Apple did not allow me to purchase an Elvis Costello song that was not available in the Belgian iTunes store, but was availabe in their US store. Several attempts only lead to the same result: my money was not good enough for them. In the end I had to resort to asking a US-based colleague [thanks again, Ed] to purchase the song and then mail me the MP3. And Google (the owner of YouTube) is driving me crazy with the fact that some music videos cannot be viewed in some countries (as I have found out the hard way by checking the ‘Song of the Day’ posts on my blog when I was in Germany). So, it looks like the concept of separate countries, each with their own set of rules and regulations is still going to be around for a while. And although the physical borders are less and less visible, the digital ones are still on the rise. Not my idea of progess.
An afterthought (or two, really)
If only to avoid having to create an entire series of Amazon-ranting blog entries (I still like shopping there and very likely will keep doing so), here are 2 more things about Amazon that I don’t like – sometimes to an extent that they are really working on my nerves. The first one is their way of using retargeting (if you are wondering what that is, check out this post). After having visited an Amazon shop without having actually purchased the book or CD I was looking at, online ads for this book in that specific Amazon shop keep popping up very intrusively in almost all the website I visit, even weeks after the fact. Even if I have already purchased the book! Even if I have purchased it in another Amazon webshop!!! I can understand that Amazon has no access to sales data from other webshops (I bet they would like to have them, though), but it looks like they have some pretty solid internal e-borders that cause Amazon UK to have no clue what Amazon France has sold. What I would really like to have is an ‘I have purchased this elsewhere‘-button on those retargeting ads. If you ask me, the info gathered that way would be quite interesting for the Amazon marketing boys & girls.
The final topic I want to address are the Recommendations / Related to Items You’ve Viewed / Get Yourself a Little Something or whatever description they will come up with next. I often hear a lot of praise for this feature, but frankly: to me it is usually quite disappointing. It can hardly be descirbed as spectacular to come up with other CDs by artists whose music I have just bought. Especially if 50% or more of what they show are items I already own (admittedly most of it stuff bought elsewhere). But even if items are shown from other artists or writers, I still very much dislike the underlying idea that I always want to read the same kind of things or want to listen to the same genre of music all the time. I can’t recall a single time when the these sections have led me to my next purchase. But then again… probably I am the exception to rule. I’m used to that by now.