Economy

Car Shopping On Amazon? Still A Long Road Ahead

Showroom floor
Showroom floor
Christ Bryant and Andrea Felsted

You don't need a brain like Jeff Bezos to figure out why he began selling books online and not cars.

Books are a cheap and easily-shipped commodity product. By contrast, people rarely buy a car without driving it first, while vehicles are bulky and customization options abound. There's more: new cars are typically bought on credit. Manufacturers and dealers tend to have tight-knit relationships, and in the U.S. there are pesky laws protecting dealers (as Tesla has discovered).

U.K. CAR MARKET

90 billion pounds

Still, besides a few exceptions -- bullets and cigarettes -- Amazon.com Inc is getting closer to the Bezos dream of being an "everything store".

So after reports that Amazon is considering a move into prescription drugs,we shouldn't be surprised that it's started recruiting auto experts to help it sell cars in the U.K., according to trade magazine Automobilwoche. Details are sketchy, but the article was enough to sink the shares of Auto Trader Group Plc, a British digital automotive marketplace, by about 4 percent.

That might be an overreaction. While Amazon enjoys huge sales of books, entertainment products and consumer electronics, its march on other areas such as food and fashion has been slower. Like cars, those businesses have specific demands. To sell fresh food you need temperature-controlled infrastructure, while clothing returns involve tricky logistics.

Amazon's car ambitions are evolving slowly too. Last year, it set up a car research tool for its users and said it would offer a small number of vehicles on its Italian site from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. While Amazon helped create a transparent marketplace for most online goods, its reticence in autos has let a crowded field of rival sites flourish, offering classified ads, aggregating price data and brokering sales leads for dealerships.

The timing also seems odd. Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Uber Technologies Inc. are trying to make car ownership unnecessary in an age of ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles. Meanwhile, after a six-year credit-fueled boom, car sales have probably peaked in the U.S. and U.K.

Yet a company that wants mastery over our consumption habits will find it hard to ignore such a huge market. In Britain alone, new and used car sales are a 90 billion pound business. It is most people's second-biggest purchase and we spend hours researching it online. While it's doubtful most folk will want to purchase a car with one click and have it shipped same-day, Amazon could potentially ease the buying process and claim a slice of those revenues.

Embedding itself in the car-purchase chain would teach it more about customer habits as it builds a base in the lucrative auto parts market. Amazon already has a feature called Garage for customers to tell it what car they own.

True, bricks and mortar dealerships don't make much money. In the U.S., 2 percent pretax margins are common, although Amazon is pretty relaxed about profit as we know. Anyway, digital marketplaces do better. Auto Trader had a 65 percent operating margin in its last fiscal year, while Scout24, a real estate and auto listings site achieved 32 percent, according to Bloomberg data.

But carmakers are investing heavily in e-commerce too. BMW AG and Peugeot SA, for example, already let customers configure cars online and choose financing. Customers surveyed by Cap Gemini Consulting were more likely to buy a car from a carmaker online than from a third-party web retailer or tech company.

When you're handing over a five-figure sum to buy a car, brand loyalty and person-to-person contact helps. While the car industry faces several existential threats, Amazon isn't yet one of them.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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