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Set to be the fastest-growing market globally, e-commerce in Latin America is likely to get closer to $200 billion in volume

52 million people in Latin America will buy online for the first time during the pandemic, says EBANX's annual Beyond Borders study

While 2020 was a year marked by several economic setbacks brought by the pandemic, e-commerce in Latin America figures as one of the fastest growing markets in the world. This is supported by consultancy firms Americas Market Intelligence (AMI) and Euromonitor, that place the region as the second-fastest-growing market for e-commerce in the world, only behind South East Asia.

But as AMI pointed out in this year’s Beyond Borders research, the region is likely to reach the first position. “Latin America will experience an -8.5% decline in GDP growth in 2020, compared to -8% in Europe, -10% in South East Asia, and -3% in Africa. As a result, we expect Latin America to match SE Asia in e-commerce growth, whereas in the past it was trailing just behind,” says Lindsay Lehr, associate managing director at AMI.

Based on data from the main players in the sector in a partnership with AMI, the Brazilian fintech EBANX released this and other findings in its annual Beyond Borders study, that also counted on the fintech’s internal data, as well as on a survey with international e-commerce customers in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile.

Set to increase by 8.5% over 2019 according to data from AMI, the e-commerce in the region won’t experience double-digit growth in 2020 like it was used to in the past years: in 2019, the sector grew 20% over the previous year, reaching $177.56 billion in volume.

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The reason behind a surprisingly low growth in the Latin American e-commerce market comes from a particular industry that was hardly hit by the pandemic: travel, that pushed down e-commerce sales as a whole. But ad Beyond Borders study disclosed, Latin America is expected to gain a new pace in 2021 onwards.

Covid-19: E-commerce newcomers

52 million people in Latin America will buy online for the first time during the pandemic, increasing the number of online consumers by up to 30% in some countries – a jump that, under normal conditions, would only be achieved by 2022, shows the study.

READ ALSO: On Brazil’s Black Friday, e-commerce was the main battlefield, and Magazine Luiza the relative winner

Behind these numbers, a boost in the region’s financial inclusion process, led by emergency aids linked to the pandemic and a revolution in Latin America’s connectivity – which reached 4G predominance for the first time ever in 2020 – pave the way for a new and more digitally inclusive Latin America.

Delivery apps have gotten Latin American consumers used to a greater array of things online, becoming more comfortable with the online channel in general. This has lifted digital goods overall.

Lindsay Lehr, payments expert and associate managing director at AMI.

Along with the financial inclusion process and an improvement in the region’s connectivity, digital services has also been playing a central role to push e-commerce in Latin America forward.

While retail is growing at 21% this year according to AMI, and travel is expected to experience a 37% drop, digital goods and services, on the other hand, are poised to grow at as much as 45% in 2020. In previous years, this industry was growing at 20% to 30% year-over-year.

For Ricardo Sfeir, digital commerce expert at Euromonitor, the region held the second-highest growth in digital commerce in the last five years, from 2014 to 2019, and it is likely to be the one leading the sector’s growth in the coming years.

READ ALSO: 79.4% of Mexicans will shop both in online channels and in physical stores during Christmas

Brazil and Mexico: bigger market volume, smaller growth

61%

of Brazillian adults will be online consumers by the end of 2020, a 25% growth when compared to 2019.

Latin America’s first and biggest economy, Brazil remains the regional giant, with 58% of total e-commerce spend in 2019, according to AMI. “Brazilians tend to be first movers, fast technology adopters. [The country] is already a very vibrant ecosystem for digital goods and services. We see Brazil as a very fertile ground for digital goods; it is most likely the most competitive market,” stated Lehr.

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However, when it comes to growth, Colombia and Chile get ahead of Latam’s major economies, Brazil and Mexico.

Mexico, in its turn, has been showing a digital goods growth of 37% during 2020 and an e-commerce penetration that grows faster than in Brazil. But according to AMI, the country has been particularly laggard in the adoption of digital technologies.

“You have the upper-middle class who looks and feels like folks who live in first world countries, fast technology adopters very comfortable with e-commerce. Then you have a large segment of the population that still operates very much in cash, in the informal economy, and is much slower to adopt digital payments and digital goods,” Lehr points out.

63%

is the share that the retail segment will have of the total e-commerce market in Mexico by the end of 2020, a 16% growth over 2019.

For Euromonitor’s digital commerce expert, Mexico has two major traits that define its digital market: low internet penetration, but a massive economy. “This difference explains why the country is still far behind Brazil in the development of e-commerce, for example. However, any increase ends up causing a massive boost due to its economic size, which results in the country filling the second place in the ranking of digital market size,” says Sfeir.

Colombia: fastest growing market for digital goods

Increasing at a 63% rate in 2020, digital goods in Colombia has the fastest growing pace among all the other three countries. This Latin American market has in one particular local player – Rappi – one of the major drivers for its digitization. According to AMI, the popular Colombian super app has been boosting the digital category in the country, and beyond that: preparing Colombians to adopt digital goods and services, as well as e-commerce, in all areas of their daily lives.

Colombia is perhaps the most favorable market for digital goods adoption in 2020.

Lindsay Lehr, payments expert and associate managing director at AMI.

Chile: the most banked population, yet, lower levels of new technology

The smallest market in terms of population, Chile is also the most banked among all the other Latin American countries, as almost every Chilean has access to a debit card and a bank account, shows Beyond Borders study.

READ ALSO: The debit cards not so silent revolution in Brazil’s e-commerce

But even with more development in areas such as banking and connectivity – Chile leads the internet penetration rates in the region, with 86.1% of consumers online in 2019, according to Euromonitor – the country experiences lower levels of new technology moving into the country.

“On the e-commerce side, we have really sophisticated and advanced online retailers and players in the travel industry, but less movement in digital goods because of this less flexible payments infrastructure, that has held back the fintech revolution a little bit,” emphasized AMI’s expert.

26%

is the share that the digital goods segment will have of the total e-commerce market in Chile by the end of 2020, a 53% growth over the previous year.

Nevertheless, the country has experienced a surge in digital goods during the pandemic and is likely to see this segment reach a share of 26% of all e-commerce volume.