Can free Amazon shipping to Israel...

... lead to inner peace?

A WORKER packs completed orders at an Amazon fulfilment center. These simple brown boxes have ignited a mini frenzy here in the Holy Land. (Phil Noble/Reuters) (photo credit: REUTERS)
A WORKER packs completed orders at an Amazon fulfilment center. These simple brown boxes have ignited a mini frenzy here in the Holy Land. (Phil Noble/Reuters)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Life is good... So much joy... I have never been so happy... I’m so happy I could cry!” These glowing comments were not spoken by new parents expressing delight in their newborn child, nor uttered by newly minted college graduates who were just hired for their first job. Rather, they were said by Israelis reveling in the joy of having placed orders with Amazon in the United States and receiving them in Israel without being charged for shipping.
In mid-November, Amazon initiated a promotion offering free international shipping to Israel on qualifying orders of $49, with no VAT assessed if the order does not exceed $75, in accordance with Israel Tax Authority rules.
As Amazon began ramping up its special holiday deals featuring sale offers for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and as Hanukkah approaches, expatriate Americans – especially recent arrivals who have fond recollections of ordering a wide variety of goods from Amazon, ranging from laptops to toilet paper, during their pre-aliyah lives – have responded enthusiastically to the promotion with a flood of orders that shippers are having difficulty filling.
According to multiple sources, the Israel Postal Company has been inundated by thousands of brown cardboard boxes displaying the famous Amazon logo and the curved arrow underneath, which begins at the “A” of Amazon and ends at the letter “Z,” indicating that the multinational company truly sells everything from “A to Z.”
The reaction to the free shipping promotion among former Amazon shoppers living in Israel has been so strong that a number of Facebook groups have sprung up, where members have shared reports of special savings and their experiences in receiving their orders. Israel “Izzy” Rouimi, formerly of Montreal, who has been living in Israel for 11 years, decided to form a Facebook group soon after the promotion was announced.
“When Amazon announced they were going to start shipping to Israel, I thought a whole bunch of people would want to take advantage of this, and I decided to make the group to help others share their ideas and what they found on Amazon,” says Rouimi, a Modi’in resident.
By morning, Rouimi says, there were numerous requests to join the “Amazon Israel-Best Deals” group. Membership in the group has swelled to 4,000, and it is filled with lively reports and questions daily.
A quick glance at reports of orders from the Amazon Israel group illustrates the wide variety of products that Israelis have ordered. While many have been for toys, clothing and books, some have ordered smaller, less expensive items such as Ziploc storage bags, Scotch Brite scrubbing sponges, windshield wiper blades, dog waste bags, baking soda, Vaseline, screwdriver bits and hand cream. Rouimi says that he purchased toys and board games for his children because of the substantial discounts Amazon was offering.
“People are buying a lot of crazy things,” he admits. “Odd things that no one might order.” Is it because these items are substantially cheaper, or because they just want to be able to buy it from Amazon? Rouimi says that it could be a little of both.
“Someone ordered toilet paper, which is really funny. But, if it is the same price, and you’re getting the quality that you know of, and the comfort, why not?” He adds that sometimes, people will go to extreme lengths to reach the magical $49 shipping number.
“People say, ‘I’ll buy paper towels from Amazon because it is the same price as in America. Now I need to add to an order to reach $49 to get free shipping.’ Then you are getting to a point where you are just adding things.”
Rouimi says that for the most part, Israelis are ordering from Amazon because of the vast differences in price, especially when free shipping is considered. “People are talking about aluminum foil, and bedsheets and pillows – literally anything you can buy – and the reason is because you can generally assume that for brand names that you’re getting in America, you’re getting far better quality there than you’re getting here.” One woman on the Facebook group wrote that every three months she orders soap, cleaning materials, shampoos and deodorants from SuperSol. After comparing the prices for the same items on Amazon, she was shocked to find that Amazon’s prices were 63% less than what she is paying for the same items in Israel. Rouimi says that toys in particular are less expensive.
“The holidays are coming, which is great for Hanukkah. Jenga stackable wooden blocks are $6.50 on Amazon, and NIS 100 in Israel. That’s insane,” Rouimi said.
Shifra Friedman, a Beit Shemesh resident, is planning on utilizing the free shipping offer to get products that are hard to get in Israel, or too expensive. “I don’t know how long the free promotion will last, but I am going to try to take advantage of it as much as possible to get the products that we like but are too heavy to bring in a suitcase, like Dial Liquid Anti-Bacterial soap, or board games like ‘Ticket to Ride’ that cost twice as much money here.”
Rouimi says that the flood of Amazon shipments has overwhelmed the post office. “I’ve been hearing from people who work for the Israel Post that they’ve never seen this many packages before in their lives. And they don’t know what to do.”
Amazon is using a number of different delivery companies, including the Israel Post Company, DHL, Aramex and others. Some customers have reported that packages have been delivered ahead of schedule; others say that their orders took a week to arrive in Israel, and actually took a longer period of time to arrive to their home. “I ordered on Thursday and it was in Israel on Sunday,” reports Rouimi. “The problem is that once the package arrived in Israel, it was bouncing around for about two weeks. It still arrived well before the expected arrival date.”
In some cases, shippers have been sending Amazon packages to local stores, where orders can be picked up by recipients. Some customers report receiving their orders in separate shipments, and not always in chronological order of when the shipment was placed.
WHILE AMAZON shoppers in Israel are enjoying the promotion, there are those who are worried that the free shipping offer will suddenly end. One member of the Facebook group wrote, “Does anybody else find themselves buying in bulk quantities fearing that this party can end any day?” Rouimi speculates that the offer will not be permanent and thinks that Amazon is using the free shipping promotion to gauge the size of the local market before setting up shop permanently in Israel.
Rouimi hopes that Amazon’s competitive prices, coupled with its free shipping offer, will ultimately bring down prices on imported goods from the US and other places that are sold in Israel. “More important to me is the price gouging that is happening, where you have stores saying, ‘We import American products and no one else does, so we will charge whatever we want.’” He adds that if local importers would lower their prices, customers would return, because ultimately people prefer to buy locally if the prices are comparable.
Does online Amazon ordering with free international shipping solely serve the economic requirements of expatriate North Americans, or does it also provide a psychological boost by reaffirming their association with their previous lives? While the ‘virtual’ world that exists in Israel today of smartphones, streaming media and fast Internet has equaled, and in some ways eclipsed the North American equivalent, Amazon, with its ability to deliver physical goods of almost all types at affordable prices, has no Israeli counterpart.
As one member of Rouimi’s Facebook group wrote, “Does anyone else get emotional when they see items on Amazon that qualify for the shipping to Israel? Like, you can finally have something to remind you of your former home with you here in Israel?”
Or, as another customer wrote, “Is it terribly sad that I cannot bear to throw the Amazon box away?”