Sunday, June 13

Pasta, Wine and Inflatable Pools: How Amazon Conquered Italy in the Pandemic


NAPLES, Italy — Ludovica Tomaciello had never shopped on Amazon before being trapped at her parents’ house in March during Italy’s coronavirus lockdown. Bored one afternoon scrolling TikTok, she spotted hair scrunchies that she then tracked down and ordered on Amazon.

When the package arrived, she was hooked. She soon signed up for Amazon Prime and turned to the site to buy a tapestry and neon lights to decorate her bedroom; halter tops, jeans and magenta Air Jordan sneakers; and a remote to wirelessly take selfies for Instagram.

“My mom was like, ‘Can you stop this?’” Ms. Tomaciello, 19, who is pursuing a language degree, said while at a cafe near her home in Avellino, about 20 miles east of Naples. When stores reopened in May, Amazon remained her preferred way to shop because of the convenience, selection and prices, she said. One friend even asked her to use it to discreetly order a pregnancy test.

In Gragnano, a hilltop town near the Amalfi Coast with a 500-year history of pasta manufacturing, Ciro Moccia, the owner of La Fabbrica della Pasta, said Amazon was a “dangerous” monopoly that could destroy businesses like his that rely on conveying the quality of a product.

Amazon has rushed to keep up with demand. It plans to open two new fulfillment centers and seven delivery stations in Italy. It also is aiming to hire roughly 1,600 more people by the end of the year, pushing its full-time work force to 8,500 from fewer than 200 in 2011.

“We are accelerating the rhythm with which we make investments and hire new people,” said Ms. Marseglia, who is originally from Puglia in southern Italy.

With unemployment about 9 percent nationwide — and closer to 20 percent in areas of southern Italy — many are eager for Amazon to expand.

When Francesca Gemma graduated from college in 2016, Amazon was the only company hiring in her area. She now works at an Amazon fulfillment center picking hundreds of products from the shelves every hour so the goods can be shipped to customers.

“On the first day, the muscles of my legs felt like I had done a marathon — I couldn’t climb up the stairs,” she said. “It’s not for everyone, but it’s a job.”

Ms. Gemma, who is also a representative for Cgil, a national labor union, inside the center, said orders had skyrocketed during the lockdown and remained high. But she said that besides some bonuses she received at the peak of the emergency, Amazon did not provide warehouse staff much else to share in its success.

“Nothing remained for workers,” Ms. Gemma said, adding that her work has become more monotonous because of the enforcement of the sanitary protocols.

Amazon said it paid higher-than-average wages for warehouse work.

Amazon has made an effort to win over Italians. Parents are encouraged to shop on its website through a program that can steer a percentage of their purchases to their children’s school.

In Calitri, a village of 4,000 people in southern Italy, Amazon sponsored a Christmas festival last year as part of a marketing campaign to show it could reach even the most isolated areas. It paid for a Christmas tree in the town square and provided gifts to children. The mayor hoped it would lead more artisans and farmers to sell through the site.

But Luciano Capossela, a jeweler in Calitri, helped organize a protest of the Christmas festival with other shop owners, who closed their stores for the night and blacked out their windows.

He has watched as the community has embraced Amazon. One customer recently texted him a screenshot of a wristwatch for sale on Amazon, asking if Mr. Capossela could match the price. When he said the Amazon price was lower than what he could get from a distributor, the customer never replied.



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