Company / division: Prime
★ Amazon Reports Strong Growth, Much Smaller Margins in Q2 (Jul 27, 2017)
Amazon Uses Singapore as Beachhead for SE Asian Expansion (Jul 26, 2017)
TechCrunch reports that Amazon is launching in Singapore as the first step in an expansion into South East Asia, and other publications have reported that the Prime Now app is live in Singapore. Singapore is a great starting point for Amazon in the region, with high GDP per capita, a small and densely populated area, and proximity to other markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and so on. As such, a successful launch there could easily serve as a beachhead for expansion into the rest of the region. After a couple of years of higher profits, Amazon appears to be upping investment in growth again in recent quarters, and its international expansion has been a big part of that push, with an acquisition in the Middle East, early moves in Australia, and now this launch. The context for all this, though, is that Amazon is still active in only relatively few countries with its full set of offerings including Prime. Only thirteen countries were included on Amazon’s list of top selling items on its recent Prime Day, and 92% of its global revenues come from just four countries: the US, Germany, Japan, and the UK. That’s easy for those of us in the US to forget, but Amazon is still far from ubiquitous globally and major players dominate e-commerce in several important markets. In Singapore and the rest of SEA, Amazon faces some existing strong competitors backed by some of those larger players from Asia, including Alibaba, so it’s going to be far guaranteed that it enjoys US- or UK-level dominance. But brand awareness seems to be high in the region already and it has a decent shot at establishing a good business in Singapore and beyond.
New research Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) suggests that Amazon has 85 million Prime subscribers in the US, based on a recent survey. That number feels quite a bit too high to me – my analysis of Amazon’s year-end 2016 financials suggested a number closer to 70 million globally, which of course includes at least a few million subscribers in other countries. A survey I did a year ago suggested that a majority (over 60%) of households in the US didn’t have Prime, so it would be a massive turnaround in just a year for a similar percentage to have a Prime subscription. So I take the overall number with a pinch of salt while acknowledging that the directional stuff is correct. One interesting secondary data point is that 28% of Prime households are using the newer monthly subscription option rather than the annual option – that also feels a little high, but it’s indicative that people are drawn to the benefits of that option, including the smaller one-time outlay, the flexibility of a month-to-month subscription, and the familiarity of that model.
Amazon has begun offering a discounted monthly Prime subscription for low income households. Specifically, it will offer those who receive food stamps a $5.99 per month option, compared to the standard $10.99 per month or $99 per year options. In a survey I did just over a year ago, it was very clear that lower income households were far less able to benefit from the subscription explosion and services like Prime than their wealthier counterparts – the chart linked here gives the summary of penetration of Prime by income, and the article here explains the rest of the detail, though it’s behind the Techpinions paywall. The reality is that it’s tough for households with low or unpredictable incomes to commit to annual subscriptions and even monthly subscriptions, so lowering the cost of the monthly option will make it more palatable while giving customers the flexibility to start and stop their subscriptions on a monthly basis. The WSJ article here focuses on Walmart as the target here, and that’s obviously a reasonable angle given Walmart’s success with lower-income shoppers, but this is really about expanding the addressable market for Prime, regardless of who’s currently capturing those customers. The Prime “flywheel” continues to be Amazon’s strongest competitive weapon, and bringing more households and the people who live in them into the base of Prime subscribers will continue to benefit Amazon enormously.