As an e-commerce market, Latin America still presents challenges from poor roads, a lack of true national delivery systems and lots of taxes and other government red tape. But challenges aside, e-commerce in Latin America is also growing faster than any other global e-commerce market with the exception of China.
In 2014, Internet Retailer estimates that e-commerce in Latin America grew 22% to $26.00 billion from $21.31 billion in 2013. That estimate is derived from a variety of sources and data Internet Retailer compiled and analyzed for the 2015 edition of the Latin America 500, an annual ranking based on web sales of the biggest online retailers.
In comparison e-commerce in China last year grew 49.7% to $449.12 billion, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Looking at the world’s most developed economies, e-commerce in the U.S. grew 15.4% to $304.93 billion, says the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Ecommerce Europe estimates that European e-commerce increased 16% to $410.97 billion.
The Latin America 500grew in line with the rest of the market in Latin America. As a group, the Latin America 500 grew 22.1% to $21.32 billion in 2014 online retail sales from $17.46 billion in 2013.
Latin America, like Europe, is more of a series of single national e-commerce markets than a unified retailing market such as the U.S.
But two trends are clear: E-commerce growth is widespread throughout the region and there is room for growth for a wide range of Latin America 500 web merchants, ranging from Brazilian mass merchant B2W Digital, No. 1, to No. 500 Flowerz.com, a Brazilian online floral retailer.
Brazil remains the single biggest Latin America e-commerce market with web sales that increased 24.2% to $13.99 billion in 2014, says Brazilian e-commerce consulting and research firm eBit. Brazil also dominates the web sales—and number of retailers—ranked in the 2015 Latin America 500. The collective web sales of the 300 Brazilian e-retailers ranked in the Latin America 500 increased 24.0% to $13.82 billion last year and accounted for 98.8% of all Brazilian e-commerce sales and 64.8% of the sales of the Latin America 500.
Big web merchants dominate Brazil e-commerce. Today the 10 largest Brazilian web merchants—B2W Digital, Cnova and the remaining eight companies ranked in the 2015 Latin America 500—generated combined sales that grew year over year 23.8% to $9.83 billion and accounted for 71.1% of all Brazilian retailers listed in the rankings.
E-commerce in Brazil is now 20 years old, but the market is nowhere near full maturity, says Zia Daniell Wigder, vice president and research director at Forrester Research. “Brazil’s online retail market offers significant opportunities,” she says.
Both big and smaller Brazilian web merchants continue to invest in e-commerce growth opportunities—with plenty of room for experimentation and new business initiatives, she says. For example B2W, which grew web sales 31% in 2014, spent nearly $200 million to continue to build out its national fulfillment and delivery network in Brazil, a country notorious for its bad roads and lack of delivery companies that can provide the kind of nationwide package delivery that UPS and FedEx offer in the U.S.
In September B2W completed its acquisition of Direct, a Brazil logistics provider that specializes in deliveries of small items. The acquisition was part of the web-only retailer’s $188.17 million investment in logistics and technology in 2014 and the latest in a string of moves to improve fulfillment and logistics in Brazil, where e-commerce is hampered by poor roads and delivery infrastructure in many areas. B2W Digital also says it plans to open at least seven new distribution centers by December 2015 and bring its total number of hubs to nine. Between acquisitions and opening more of its own fulfillment space, B2W now claims to offer delivery options across all of Brazil, a significant milestone, the company says. “We want to get even closer to the customer’s home,” CEO Anna Christina Ramos Saicali wrote in a recent shareholder letter.
Other web merchants such as Wine.com.br, which grew web sales 48.7% in 2014 and is No. 40 in the Latin America 500 continue to build out their niche. In the case of Wine.com.br, the company has ambitious plans to become Brazil’s leading e-retailer of specialty wine, beer, coffee and other related beverages. In March, Wine.com.br spent an undisclosed sum to acquire Monodor Patents SA, a company specializing in patents, research and development of coffee-capsule systems, and Mocoffee, a global manufacturer of coffee-capsule products and coffee as well as other hot-beverage products for consumers and businesses.
Another area for expansion is specialty beers, and Wine.com.br is developing an e-commerce program for micro-brewed beers and branching into coffee, though those two areas represent only a small part of Wine.com.br’s e-commerce sales today. In October Wine.com.br launched WBeer.com.br, an e-commerce site featuring 300 specialty beers. As with its wine site, the beer site also offers single-product sales and a subscription-based beer club as well as deep content to educate specialty beer drinkers on the individual brews. The company’s distribution and fulfillment hub in Espírito Santo, a city in the southeastern part of Brazil, ships all orders for beer and wine.
Wine.com.br expects plenty of growth ahead for niche web retailers in Brazil, says chief marketing officer Ricardo Flores. But the company also needs to be quick to seize new market opportunities. “There are specialty beverage markets that are wide open,” he says.
There is ample opportunity for web merchants in other markets outside of Brazil, according to an analysis of data from the 2015 Latin America 500. In Mexico, where Forrester projects e-commerce grew 21.7% to an estimated $2.80 billion in 2014, big U.S. web merchants continue to expand their e-commerce base. In June Amazon.com, No. 6 in the Latin America 500 rankings, expanded Amazon.com.mx, the retailer’s Spanish-language site that launched in 2013 selling Kindle e-books. Today Amazon.com has upgraded its e-commerce site in Mexico to offer millions of other goods in about a dozen product categories including consumer electronics, video games, sports and outdoors, kitchen and home, tools and home improvement, health and personal care, baby products, music, movies and TV series, and books. Shoppers will receive free shipping on orders greater than MXN 599 ($38.18) that are fulfilled by Amazon and will be able to shop online and use the Amazon iTunes and Google Play app on mobile devices. “Amazon knows there is a large demand for a wide product selection, so they need a competitive offering out of the gate,” says Scot Wingo, executive chairman of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps retailers sell on web shopping portals like Amazon and eBay, and is an Amazon observer.
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