Pandemic pushes millions of shoppers online in Latin America

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 percent rise in the number of customers to 51.1 million.

Its market capitalization reached $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. (Sofia Miselem with AFP bureaus in Latin America)

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