Spanish E-commerce in Latin America
The Digital Birth of a New Marketplace
2013 saw Walmart led the e-commerce charge into Spanish-language online shopping by rolling out a Spanish version of its website. A few months later, Home Depot and Lowes followed suit.
That same year, Spanish-speakers using Ebay and Paypal comprised over 2 million users, in spite of the fact that both sites were in English and used American currency. 2 million was a large user base, but nothing compared to the (then) total Latin American population of nearly 600,000,000. Ebay’s 2014 move to translate their website to Spanish was smart, and arguably overdue, considering the rapidly growing market of Spanish-speaking e-shoppers and uptick in Latin American internet use.
Much of that Internet use is app- and content-driven, via mobile phones. American visitors to Nicaragua might be surprised to see a clean, flashy-looking RadioShack sharing a cobblestone street with the local mercado. They may notice large red road signs on which the company name “CLARO” boasts a larger font than the city name and kilometers printed below. Telecom-sponsored road signs, billed as infrastructure improvements, frequently serve as advertising for the rapidly growing mobile companies. And across Latin America, it’s working –through aggressive sales promotions and widespread governmental deregulation of cell phone tower construction, América Móvil, Claro, Movistar, and Tigo have brought the region out of the mobile dark ages in a very short period of time.
Over half of Latin American residents currently have access to the internet, and that number continues to grow. An even higher percentage of the population currently uses mobile phones. According to eMarketer’s data, smartphone usage accounts for about a third of that total. This means that while the percentage of people using mobile phones is nearing “peak penetration,” smartphone sales are still expected to increase. Growing mobile internet access means increased access to online stores, and e-commerce translated and optimized for Spanish-speakers will be poised to capture this new market.
By 2019, the number of online shoppers across the Latin American region is expected to double 2013 numbers. Business for top e-retailers in Latin America is growing faster than for their US counterparts. Amazon’s Latin American sales increased 142% in 2013 alone – faster than Europe, North America, and even China.
e-Commerce Growth Despite Challenges
The current challenges for e-commerce include a lack of shipping infrastructure, limited population access to credit and debit cards, and slow 3g service not yet capable of optimizing the mobile shopping experience. Additionally, many websites do not feature Spanish-language localization, preventing them from competing with the more widely recognized online presence of established brick-and-mortar stores.
Regional governments, such as Nicaragua and Honduras, are creating legal abetments aimed at making it easier for their citizens to benefit from the increased interest in internet purchases. Eager to assist the boom in e-commerce, the Honduran Congress recently passed a 28-article draft of their “Electronic Commerce Act,” which aims to grease the wheels for online merchants and augment micro-entrepreneurship. Businesses across the region are hopeful that government moves like these will help pave the road for online progress. If better infrastructure and easier online banking are made available, it will benefit local B2B and B2C markets, as well as US companies looking to translate their websites, localize their online experiences, and expand south.
International Opportunities for e-Commerce Expansion
American merchants are quickly discovering this growing market and its attractive draw of a booming user base – the rapidly expanding middle class with emergent access to the internet and the online shopping it allows. Spanish website translation is a major foot in the door for US companies, and using creative partnerships to bridge that last mile to e-commerce success. Some are circumventing roadblocks associated with Latin American shipping by teaming up with a middle-man to navigate and manage regional distribution. One such company, Traetelo, offers a solution to the issues with shipping, customs, and payment frequently experienced by US merchants looking to sell to Latin American consumers. Estafa is another player, posing answers for warehousing and logistics.
It’s clear that this nontraditional market is fresh ground with uncharted territory. For businesses looking to succeed in Latin American e-commerce, the ability to creatively adapt to such a unique environment as it continues to morph and expand can mean tapping into a truly matchless opportunity. Whether businesses are seeking boots on the grounds in a regional distribution partner, choosing to tap into a larger online marketplace like Amazon, or developing their own flavor of digital entrepreneurship, Latin America might provide an off-the-beaten-path means to company growth.