July 14, 2014

Amazon sticks tongue out at French government, will charge one cent for shipping


I'm not saying he looks like a Bond villain, but, I'm not not saying it, either. via Wikimedia.

I’m not saying he looks like a Bond villain, but I’m not not saying it, either. via Wikimedia.

Just a couple weeks ago, the French Parliament passed a law making the combination of a 5% discount and free shipping illegal. The legislation was an attempt to stifle Amazon’s ability to gain a larger market share. It was a valiant effort. The government showed a commitment to protecting the viability of independent bookshops in France, as well as all brick and mortar stores in general.

All-in-all, the French government seemed very mature about the whole thing. They saw what they believed to be the most beneficial course of action for them, and they took it. But Amazon, those wiley bastards, are approaching the ruling a bit differently.
In a move that further positions them as the annoying little kid who holds their finger right next to your face while repeating “I’m not touching you!,” Amazon has announced via their French website that they will be charging 0.01 Euro for shipping on orders containing books that are shipped from them.

It would have been a little ignorant and a little silly to think that Jeff Bezos and his band of heavy discounters would have let something as pithy and meaningless as the laws of a country stop them from doing whatever they want. Still, looking them in the eye and giving them the finger is an interesting strategy.

According to France24, France has 3,5000 traditional bookstores—the highest number in the world—and 800 of those are independent shops. Overall book sales took a 4.5 percent hit in 2002, while the percentage of books bought online is steadily moving in the opposite direction. In 2003, 3.2 percent of all book sales were online. Last year, that number was 17 percent. For those keeping score at home, that number is still paltry compared to America, where, in 2012, 43.8 percent of book purchases were made through an online retailer.

This law, regardless of effectiveness, is unlikely to be the last time France’s government takes a swing at Amazon. The Seattle corporation bases their European unit in Luxembourg, which allows them to circumvent the tax laws of the countries where they’re actually sending products. Surprisingly, governments don’t tend to like it when business don’t pay their taxes. Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti has said the government is trying to find a way to effectively tax online companies.

Amazon has made ‘technically’ following the law a bit of a sport for themselves, but France appears keen to play along. Their first blow didn’t seem to land—a penny is pretty much worthless, as any take-a-penny-leave-a-penny receptacle will testify. But they seem determined to punish Amazon—we’ll see what they do next.