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The Importance of Languages

Philippe Hemard
Former VP, Amazon Logistics Europe

Learning outcomes

  • How optimized languages in each European country provides Amazon with an advantage

Executive Bio

Philippe Hemard

Former VP, Amazon Logistics Europe

Philippe has spent over 25 years developing end-to-end logistics systems from vendors to customers, including 18 years at He joined Amazon in France in 2000 as Distribution Centre General Manager, moving to (Scotland) in 2004, to support business growth within the UK. Philippe then took up several senior leadership positions in European Operations at Amazon EU Headquarters in Luxembourg, culminating in the role of VP Amazon Logistics Europe from 2015-18. Before joining Amazon, Philippe worked for Danzas (now DHL) in France. Throughout his career he has worked on network modelling, procurement and buying processes, inventory management, fulfillment management, and transportation network management. Since March 2018 Philippe has run his own consultancy business, holds several board positions and teaches Supply Chain Management and Global Logistics Strategy at university. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Is it very important to have a .nl website or a specific country website, in Europe, to give Amazon an advantage?

The only advantage is the language. That’s one of the big differences. If you want to compare the US and Europe, although Amazon talk about the US and Europe as regions, for Amazon, Europe is still an aggregation of countries. One of the big differentiators, is the language. We cannot have one website for all and it’s the reason we have those different websites. Where the Netherlands has been a very big customer, particularly from and some of the, as well, because there are both some English and some German speakers in the Netherlands, for a long time, we didn’t think it was necessary for them to have their own website.

But when you get to this last thing of having the website in your own language, that helps a lot and greatly improves the conversion and it’s opened to more people in the country. That’s the only reason. It’s the reason why Italy and Spain have their site and Amazon is working, more and more, to open other websites. The key element is the language.

Because of that language advantage on the website, for Amazon, do you think they have a much larger competitive advantage in Europe, as opposed to the US, due to the network? How do you compare Amazon’s potential lead, versus competitors in Europe and the US?

The US is still ahead of Europe, in terms of competitive advantage. In the US, Amazon is very well-advanced, in several aspects. Firstly, it started earlier; it started about three to five years earlier and even earlier compared to Italy and Spain. The language is becoming an issue, however, because it’s not possible for it to be all over Europe, instantaneously. Within the US, by default, you can sell it anywhere in the US as they speak English. You can also get the website in Spanish, for the Spanish-speaking population in the US, which is pretty large, particularly in the south. But in Europe, you have to open those sites country by country. Of course, as long as people speak English, you can go on every website, because on most of the website, there is the option to translate into English. But if you want it in your native language Amazon, unfortunately, has to open one, which they have done and they continue to do. It’s the reason that Amazon is quite well-penetrated into every European country, but still, I believe the fact that they lack some of the languages, they are missing opportunities. The opportunity will be even bigger when they start to get every website in the proper language.

There is, I think, still a lag of penetration, all over, if you take the entire population of Europe and the penetration of Amazon into households; I would say it’s behind. There are some countries, in the east, particularly, which are not yet covered. Today, Amazon covers, pretty much, most of the countries in the west. The Nordics are not covered the same way, but 70% of the Nordics speak English and there is good penetration there. I’m sure that they will have more languages. There is currently no Portuguese or Greek. Therefore, those will be pretty large populations, good markets to expand into. They are in Turkey now, however, so they have done that for the 80 million Turkish.

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