MEXICO CITY: Latin America's e-commerce industry is booming as millions of shoppers across the region venture online during the pandemic, many for the first time, forcing traditional businesses to adapt to survive.
The sector has been one of the big winners of the coronavirus outbreak as fears of infection and lockdown measures keep people at home.
"COVID-19 has been an accelerator of trends, and in electronic commerce it has been very powerful," said Oscar Silva, an expert in global strategies with the consultancy firm KPMG in Mexico.
"More than 10 million Latin Americans who had never bought online now do so regularly," he told AFP.
The dominant regional force is not Amazon or eBay but Mercado Libre, which has a similar business model and is present in 18 countries.
Despite the economic turmoil unleashed by the pandemic, the Argentinian company doubled its sales in the second quarter of this year thanks to a 45 per cent rise in the number of customers to 51.1 million.
Its market capitalization reached US$55 billion, challenging Brazilian mining giant Vale for the title of Latin America's most valuable company.
The tectonic shift in consumer habits is likely to endure, said Silva.
"People were afraid of fraud or that the product wouldn't be what they expected. It's very likely that a large percentage of these customers will stay after realizing how easy and efficient online commerce is," he said.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
David Geisen, head of Mercado Libre's Mexican arm, said that "loyal users now buy in 12 days what they bought before in 17, frequent users in 24 days what they bought in 79, and sporadic users in 29 days what they bought in almost a year".
At the start of the pandemic, top sellers included face masks, antibacterial gel, thermometers and oximeters, but demand gradually spread to other goods and services.
The boom even reached Cuba's tightly controlled economy, with sales soaring on the government's tuenvio.com platform, which struggled to meet the expectations of some customers.
"I've made around 40 purchases and I've had about 40 problems," Jorge Noris, a 34-year-old IT worker, told AFP in Havana.
There have also been hiccups in Mexico.
One man who tried to buy a cellphone online complained he received a soft drink instead, although the store – part of Mexican magnate Carlos Slim's empire – eventually sent him the right order.
Many businesses have gone bankrupt because they had a poor online offering or none at all, Silva said.
"The big platforms are the winners, but we also see neighborhood businesses that keep their customers or win new ones using something as simple as WhatsApp," he said.
BOOST TO JOBS
According to the firm AppsFlyer, downloads of e-commerce mobile applications grew 93 per cent in the second quarter of the year in Latin America, with Brazil and Mexico leading the way.
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Dozens killed in suspected jihadist attack in Niger
Dozens of people were killed in an attack in Niger on Saturday, in a suspected jihadist attack.
The attack took place around 12:00 CET in the Tchomo-Bangou village in Tillabéri, a western region bordering Mali.
“The assailants surrounded the village and killed up to 50 people,” a local radio journalist said anonymously. “The wounded have been evacuated to the hospital in Ouallam.”
It came on the day provisional results for the first round of the presidential election, held on December 27, were released.
Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate for the ruling Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) and a former interior minister, is in the lead with 39.3 per cent of the votes. Bazoum has vowed to strengthen the country’s fight against Islamist groups.
The second round of the election is to be held on February 21.
Niger has been a target for jihadist attacks for years, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the country.
On December 21, six days before the presidential poll, seven soldiers were killed in Tillabéri. In May 2020, twenty people, including children, were also killed in two of the region’s villages.
Niger votes in presidential and legislative elections
People in Niger began voting in the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Mohamed Bazoum, the right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou is the favourite to win.
The sixty-year-old former interior minister is aiming for outright victory in the first round — something that no candidate has done before.
He’s focussing on security and education.
Over 7 million people are eligible to vote. But some voters, like Gambina Moumouni, simply want a president they can trust.
“We pray to Allah to choose us the president who has the most mercy for the people, a president who will not betray the country and who will not betray the trust of the people, that is our wish. It is also our wish that Allah may help to make the poor, the peasants, the (cattle) breeders happy.
Thirty candidates are standing including two former presidents and two former prime ministers, but according to seasoned observers in the region, the poll is arousing little enthusiasm among the population.
Niger is the world’s poorest according to the UN’s Human Development Index and also one of those hardest hit by climate change.
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