CORONAVIRUS

Amazon Spain: ‘We’ve blocked around 6,000 sellers due to unjustified price hikes’

EL PAÍS spoke to country manager Mariangela Marseglia about the “enormous” increase in demand due to the coronavirus crisis, and what it is doing to protect workers

Mariangela Marseglia, country manager for Italy and Spain at Amazon, in a photo provided by the company.
Mariangela Marseglia, country manager for Italy and Spain at Amazon, in a photo provided by the company.

Mariangela Marseglia sums up the current situation at Amazon in three words: “Crisis as usual.” Born in Ostuni, Italy, in 1974, Marseglia is the vice president and country manager of the online conglomerate for Italy and Spain, the European countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. She is referring to the fact that the US multinational has been forced to make a significant number of operational changes in response to the crisis. But many other companies would like to be in Amazon’s position. In a video link with EL PAÍS, Marseglia admits there has been “an enormous increase in demand” due to the fact actual stores have been shut under the coronavirus lockdown, making Amazon one of the few winners of the health crisis.

Amazon and online commerce are a lifeline for many consumers in confinement
Mariangela Marseglia, country manager for Italy and Spain at Amazon

Since the state of alarm was declared in Spain in mid-March, Amazon.es has hired 1,500 extra staff, mainly for their warehouses. The company has had to substitute a “few” staff members, who either tested positive for Covid-19 or needed to be placed in quarantine. All those on sick leave have been paid 100% of their salary, insists Marseglia, while those working between mid-March to the end of April have been paid an extra €2 an hour.

Regarding the controversy over price hikes for various health products, such as masks or gloves, Marseglia says that they are doing “everything possible” to detect and remove vendors on Amazon who are taking advantage of the situation.

“We have zero tolerance for these practices, especially with goods like masks or things that people need to keep healthy,” she says, adding that around 6,000 sellers have been blocked along with half a million products, which the company’s algorithms have flagged up for unjustified price hikes.

Marseglia rejects demands by the Spanish Confederation of Commerce (CEC) – the umbrella association for small businesses – that Amazon and others like it be banned from selling non-essential products, as is the case in France, where the company’s activities have been curtailed. “Amazon and online commerce are a lifeline for many consumers in confinement,” she says, explaining that she believes it legitimate to address their needs as long as the safety of the staff is guaranteed. “Isn’t it essential for a mother who cannot leave the house to get a toy for her child?” she asks.

A roaring trade

The increase in Amazon’s business, which Spain’s labor union CCOO puts at 30%, is not without its critics. In the last week of March, after three complaints from the CCOO, the Work Inspectorate visited Amazon’s macro-warehouse in San Fernando de Henares, in the Madrid region, and gave the company three days to introduce better health and safety measures, such as improving disinfecting practices and changing the manner in which work was being carried out. Since then, activity at all the company’s logistic centers has continued uninterrupted.

“We have changed 150 procedures in our warehouses to ensure safety,” says Marseglia, citing examples such as increasing space to two meters between work stations, taking workers’ temperature, recommending and supplying masks and other means of protection, getting rid of the daily meeting before shifts, and increasing disinfecting cycles.

According to Marseglia, these measures have slightly dampened the potential growth in Spain, though she prefers not to go into detail. “We have had to go slower than we normally would,” she says. “If we had not taken all of these measures, we could have met a greater increase in demand.”

The increase has been particularly noticeable in basic commodities, such as packaged food and detergents. Many people have tended to shop online for food during the lockdown but Marseglia is not considering increasing this line of Amazon Spain’s business, which is small in comparison with other product categories. “We don’t see the crisis that way,” she says. “We’re not thinking about riding the crest of the wave.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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