Amazon could be first U.S. retailer shipping to Cuba

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 302 views 

Early indications from inside Cuba show Amazon could beat other retailers like Wal-Mart into this untapped market.

While there is plenty of speculation that Wal-Mart executives in Bentonville are angling for a Cuban retail connection, Reuters reports Amazon.com has laid the groundwork to ship packages there.

A "ship to Cuba" button was seen on Monday (March 2) on Amazon's website by Reuters correspondents in Havana. But the option does not appear to work and reporters got an error message when they tried to order an item and ship it to Cuba, Reuters reports.

"Due to export controls and economic sanctions laws and regulations, we are unable to process transactions from your current location," Amazon said in the message.

It’s been just three months since President Barrack Obama vowed to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba and officials from the countries have held two rounds of talks since that Dec. 17 announcement.

Amazon.com has not publicly acknowledged its plans to enter Cuba, but CEO Jeff Bezos does have family ties to Cuba as his adoptive father Miguel Bezos immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba at age 15 working his way through college to become an engineer for Exxon, according to Wikipedia.com.

While Cuba is enticing for retailers, experts said it won’t be an easy row to hoe.

“Cuba is a complicated and volatile market, yet (President) Obama’s recent decision to open diplomatic relations might pave the way for opportunity,” said Carol Spieckerman, CEO of newmarketbuilders in Bentonville.

She sees plenty of opportunity in Cuba for retailers given the native population and the one million plus Canadian tourists who visit there annually. But Spieckerman doesn’t think retailers will initially win Cuba with digital sales given that internet connectivity is spare and expensive.

“Cuba would not qualify as a market that Wal-Mart (and retailers) could effectively address digitally, at least for the short term, so (physical) stores would be the answer,” Spieckerman said.

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