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Filling in Cambodia’s e-commerce gap

Amazon’s Prime Now service is proving a big hit in Singapore
Amazon’s Prime Now service is proving a big hit in Singapore. While most of Amazon’s goods aren’t shipped to Cambodia, local freight forwarding companies are helping to meet consumer demand for Amazon stock. Photo supplied

Filling in Cambodia’s e-commerce gap

Amazon.com has finally arrived in Southeast Asia but the majority of the e-commerce giant’s myriad suppliers still do not deliver to Cambodia. However, two local services are filling the gap, allowing people living in the Kingdom to order from Amazon’s vast catalogue of products and having the items delivered to their address in Cambodia.

When e-commerce titan Amazon launched its Prime Now service in Singapore last month the response was overwhelming. Within hours of its roll-out the deluge of orders had crippled the platform’s delivery service, rendering it unusable. To cope with the demand, Amazon ended up booking taxis and Uber drivers to make its deliveries.

Singapore is Amazon’s first toehold in Southeast Asia and its dedicated Prime Now mobile app is giving shoppers in the city state access to tens of thousands of products, from groceries to clothing and home electronics – and a promise to deliver the goods from its local warehouse in under two hours. While Prime Now’s catalogue is still limited compared to the 400 million products offered on Amazon’s US platform by the company and its marketplace sellers, it is expected to grow exponentially as the service irons out its kinks.

That may be great news if you live in Singapore, but for the people living in Cambodia, the vast majority of goods listed on Amazon’s website remain out of reach. Attempts to order from the Amazon site result in the disappointing message “We’re sorry. This item can’t be shipped to your selected destination.”

Fortunately – for those desperate to get their hands on an inflatable sumo suit or a two-way squirrel baffle – there is a work-around. Since May 2014, Cambo Quick has been processing orders from Cambodia for items on Amazon’s site, handling the logistics and any applicable duties as it delivers the goods to local buyers.

Cambo Quick’s founder, who goes by the name Michael, said his delivery service began with him looking for a way to receive his own personal orders from the Amazon website.

“I did it for myself,” he said. “Then I thought other people would need it too, so I founded Cambo Quick.”

Similar to a freight forwarding service, Cambo Quick orders the goods to a US address then consolidates the shipment and forwards it to a Vietnam address once a week. The goods are then brought across the border by bus to Cambodia, with orders of $25 or more delivered free in Phnom Penh.

Rates are standard: Amazon’s invoiced cost on delivery to the US address, with Cambo Quick charging $6 per pound (about $13 per kilo) on international shipping by air as well as a 5 percent handling fee to cover customs clearance, management and insurance, as well as any “lubrication costs” required to reduce the customs duties.

Michael and his two staff handle any applicable duties on the shipments at the Cambodian border, though most goods under $200 in value can enter the country duty-free under the exemption for personal items.

“I’m representing customers to do clearance on their personal shipments,” he explains. “These are not [items] for resale, so the duty is less. Customs is also easy on Amazon packages.”

Cambo Quick handles about 300 orders a month, with demand spiking ahead of the holiday season. Michael says he can bring in anything, but you might not want to order a French-door refrigerator or dining room table set. He recommends sticking to “high value but light items,” noting that items over 200 kilos would be cheaper to ship by sea freight.

There is, of course, another alternative. Fado168, which operates a web portal and Facebook page, can arrange local delivery for products ordered from Amazon’s full catalogue. Customers choose items from the Fado168 website, or copy and paste a product’s link from Amazon, to receive a quote on delivery to an address in Cambodia. The goods arrive about 10 to 20 business days later.

“Send us your product link, Fado168 will give you the quotation and bring [the goods] from America to reach your hand in Cambodia,” says the company website.

Fado168 boasts more than 200,000 successful transactions to date, and accepts payments by Wing, credit card, bank transfer or at its office in Phnom Penh.

Amazon is facing stiff competition in Southeast Asia from Chinese rival Alibaba, which entered the region last year when it purhcased a majority stake in Southeast Asia’s biggest e-commerce platform, Lazada. As the two giants scale up operations in the region, and local platforms expand their merchandise lists, the delivery services that have filled the void will face an inevitable retirement.

When Amazon offers full delivery to Cambodia, “that will be the end of Cambo Quick service,” said Michael.

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