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Mexico’s E-commerce Sector to Rise Amidst Challenges

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E-commerce in Mexico is witnessing a steady growth and is slowly becoming one of the most dynamic sectors of the country’s economy. In the last five years, e-commerce market in Mexico has grown significantly, as retailers strengthened their digital strategies to grow sales. The online channel is becoming an indispensable part of retail and despite all operational challenges that exist in the market, opportunities are too attractive to be missed.


The article is part of series focusing on e-commerce in LATAM, which also includes a look into e-commerce market in Brazil


In recent years, Mexico has attracted interest from global brands to expand in the country, where online retailing is expected to grow substantially – revenue generated by e-commerce is expected to reach US$ 17.6 billion by 2020, growing at a rate of 16.6% annually. Mexico’s distinctive geographic and demographic characteristics make it one of the most promising e-commerce markets in Latin America, where global companies are looking to expand. Its proximity to the USA is advantageous, making it an attractive target for USA-based retailers looking to grow internationally (Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, among others). Additionally, the growing population of young, working-age, tech-savvy Mexicans with sufficient disposable income is the key target for global retail chains, particularly for companies eyeing growth through e-commerce channel.

Mexico’s distinctive geographic and demographic characteristics make it one of the most promising e-commerce markets in Latin America, where global companies are looking to expand.

Lack of consumer trust 

In the last five years, e-commerce has witnessed double-digit growth and the trend is likely to continue in the long term. However, the market faces few challenges, which are impeding growth. To begin with, low consumer confidence in online transactions is a major barrier. Mexican users are skeptical when it comes to internet-based transactions due to distrust in payment methods and fear that the banking information provided will be misused, amidst high level of banking-related frauds prevalent in the country. According to a study conducted by Aite Group1, in Q2 2016, 83% of the interviewed respondents witnessed identify theft, while 70% were victims to online banking frauds. Consumer willingness to make online purchases is further shattered by the unsatisfactory online shopping experience delivered by some retailers due their relatively poor website designs and product display. According to a joint study by The Cocktail.com and ISDI, Challenges of E-commerce Mexico in 2017, consumers typically lost confidence in the online purchase process when trying to look for information on the products sold, making payments, understanding shipment and delivery policies, and dealing with returns.

Dependence on cash

Mexico is a cash-based economy, with 90% Mexicans preferring to make payments in physical currency. High dependence on cash is largely caused by limited access to modern financial infrastructure – as of 2016, there were only 37.7 ATMs and 10.3 bank branches per 100,000 people. Moreover, large proportion of the population remains unbanked along with low credit card penetration in the country. The dominance of physical currency in Mexico limits e-commerce growth, which is dependent on online payments. To overcome this challenge, players are adapting to align with customer preferences, as the significance of cash is impossible to overlook in Mexico. E-commerce players are introducing hybrid payment systems. For example, Linio and MercadoLibre allow customers to pay in cash, through banks, pharmacies, and convenience stores (OXXO and 7-Eleven), for items bought online. Walmart has introduced more than 2,000 kiosks in its physical stores, where customers can pay in cash for products bought online.

EOS Perspective

Although several large players, such as Amazon, Walmart, and MercadoLibre operate in the market, e-commerce sector still faces several obstacles and has yet not developed to the levels of other e-commerce markets that exist globally. For the Mexican e-commerce market to grow, it is imperative for the retailers to boost consumer confidence by ensuring that the buyer is safe; one way to achieve that is to make sure that the purchase process does not end with payment confirmation. Instead, the complete purchase process should be made transparent by enabling consumers to track all orders, receive notifications on shipping process, as well as making the return policy/process agile and convenient for shoppers.

For the Mexican e-commerce market to grow, it is imperative for the retailers to boost consumer confidence by ensuring that
the buyer is safe.

In spite of all quirks and challenges of the market, undoubtedly, Mexico offers a promising future for e-commerce with its sizable upsides – high internet and mobile penetration, growing purchasing power among consumers, declining smartphone prices, presence of e-commerce giants, such as MercadoLibre and Amazon looking to expand operations, among others. According to the Mexican Association of Online Sales (AMVO), five years ago in Mexico, online sales of large retailers including Walmart, Sanborns, Sears, Liverpool, and Palacio de Hierro comprised merely 1% of their total sales. This share rose to nearly 20% by 2017.

The e-commerce market is developing, demonstrated through sustainable and constant improvements – for instance, the country is making efforts to steadily develop infrastructure, customers are offered wider payment options through offline channels, and Amazon’s entry in the market has acted as a catalyst to e-commerce development, boosting customers’ trust in online shopping websites. With the launch of Amazon Prime in 2017, Amazon reduced shipment time to 1-2 days and expanded free shipping option across Mexico – a significant step that would revolutionize online retailing with other players trying to follow Amazon’s lead.

Mexico is ripe for e-commerce to boom. Even though the market is at nascent stage of development and faces challenges, it is also laden with myriad of opportunities. Online shopping accounts for a small share of the total annual retail sales in Mexico – e-commerce comprised 1.6% of total retail sales in 2016 and is likely to grow to 2.6% by 2019 – which represents a huge opportunity for players, as Mexicans have just begun adopting shopping through e-commerce. Players operating in the market understand the tremendous future growth prospects that the market offers, hence, are focusing to expand operations. With the right growth strategy, understanding of the market, and knowledge of consumer buying behavior, it is possible to survive and grow in the market, even though it is packed with challenges.
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Notes:

  1. 2016 Global Consumer Card Fraud study conducted by Aite Group; n (number of respondents interviewed in Mexico) = 303
  2. American e-commerce companies: Amazon and Best Buy
  3. American retail companies: Walmart and Sears
  4. Latin America-based e-commerce companies: Linio and MercadoLibre
  5. Mexico-based department store chains: El Palacio de Hierro, Sanborns, and Liverpool
by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: Walmart Acquires Flipkart – The India Scenario

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Putting an end to all rumors and speculations making the rounds about the Walmart-Flipkart deal, Walmart, America’s largest retail chain, on 9th May, 2018, finally closed the deal at US$16 billion by acquiring Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce platform

What’s the deal?

The buyout, touted as one of the biggest e-commerce deals, has led Walmart to own 77% stake in Flipkart. The association of the two players comes at a time when the Indian e-commerce market is bourgeoning and is expected to reach US$200 billion by 2026 (up from US$15 billion in 2016), increasing at a CAGR of nearly 30%. For Walmart, this is a great opportunity at the right time to grow its foothold in the Indian market.

As part of the deal, US$2 billion was the definite amount invested in Flipkart, and remaining US$14 billion was used to buy out other stakeholders which sees Softbank’s (Flipkart’s largest shareholder prior to the deal) exit from Flipkart, among others. The remaining 23% of the company stakes will stay with Binny Bansal (co-founder of Flipkart), China’s Tencent Holdings, Tiger Global Management, and Microsoft.

Flipkart and Walmart offer each other a strategic and valuable partnership. By acquiring Flipkart, Walmart adds Jabong and Myntra (fashion retail players), PhonePe (payment platform), and Ekart (logistics and supply chain provider) to its portfolio. Walmart can use them to its leverage in understanding the Indian e-commerce ecosystem and gain insights into Indian consumers’ online shopping habits. In return, Walmart’s experience in logistics and supply chain will come in handy for Flipkart to strengthen its operations, even further, in India.

What does it mean for e-commerce landscape and players?

Walmart acquiring Flipkart may prove to be a turning point for e-commerce in India. Small and medium sized enterprises are expected to gain from the deal. As Walmart grows in India, the company plans to procure products directly from local businesses and offer them growth opportunity by exporting their products to other countries via e-commerce. Even grocery suppliers and ‘kirana’ stores owners could benefit in the long run as Walmart may merge its cash and carry business with Flipkart, which aligns with Flipkart’s move to invest and grow its online grocery business – it launched a pilot program to sell groceries on its platform in Bengaluru in July 2017.

However, the deal has not been welcomed by online sellers on Flipkart and they are concerned about the future of their businesses. There is a speculation that with Walmart entering India, it may bring with it the already existing line of labels via Flipkart to the Indian market. This may not only increase competition among sellers but may result in eliminating some of the smaller sellers already present on the Flipkart platform by offering products at much lower prices.

But the most difficult challenge brought by the acquisition will be faced by other players, such as Snapdeal or BigBasket, operating in the e-commerce space. As Walmart and Flipkart ally together, having a proficient knowledge related to retail, supply-chain management and logistics, and with its tiff with Amazon, already a front runner, it is most likely that the competition in the e-commerce sector is going to intensify and players, especially small ones, will have to offer top notch service in terms of quality, price, on-time delivery, and possibly vertical or niche specialization, to survive the heat of the competition.

What does it mean for consumers?

With fierce competition expected to rise between the many e-retailers, it only means good news for consumers. Consumers can now expect new brands, better variety, and more options to choose from. In order to stay ahead of its competitors, players will be likely to offer better discounts which the consumers want.

Apart from better promotional offers, consumers can also expect better customer service and quicker product deliveries. Also, as the e-commerce sector grows in coming years, it is most likely that large players such as Walmart and Amazon would broaden their reach in Tier II cities, Tier III cities, and even rural areas, as consumers in these parts of the country represent a huge untapped potential for online sales.

What can be expected in future?

In the current scenario, this move brings with it both good and bad news. From a consumer’s point of view, evolution in the e-commerce space is great as they will now have more options at better prices to choose from. However from a supplier’s perspective, the pressure to offer good quality products at low prices, while surviving competition, will be intense.

The deal is expected to revolutionize the dynamics of online and offline retail sector in India. The e-commerce boom is relatively new to India and a merger like this signifies the enormous potential of the sector by offering new opportunities to suppliers and delivering more value to customers.

The deal is expected to revolutionize the dynamics of online and offline retail sector in India.

With the deal being finalized, one thing that is bound to happen is a head on collision between Walmart and Amazon to emerge as the leader in the Indian e-commerce landscape. To outrun its competitor, each player will rigorously work on improving its supply chain infrastructure thus can be hoped to create a good number of jobs. As the consumer demand increases, farming (through new grocery stores that Flipkart plans to open) and infrastructure sectors are expected to benefit in the long run.

At this stage, only speculations can be made about how much benefit Walmart will have by acquiring Flipkart. However, this deal has definitely paved the way for the growth of the Indian e-commerce industry.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Dark Chocolate – India’s New Indulgence Is Here to Stay

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India’s indulgence in dark chocolate is gradually rising. While the Indian chocolate industry has grown manifold over the decade, especially in milk and white chocolate segments, it is the dark chocolate segment that has gained momentum in the recent years. The growth in demand for dark chocolate can be attributed to the growing health consciousness, increased per capita income of the urban population, and exposure to foreign flavors, especially amongst urban Indians. Most of the demand (and market) is currently limited to urban cities as dark chocolate is typically priced higher than other chocolate types. Nevertheless, though still getting accustomed to the bitter taste of dark chocolate, Indian market offers great growth prospects for players associated with this sector provided they plan efficiently and act keeping in mind the specifics of the Indian market scenario.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Social Media-fueled Restaurants: How Instagram Has Impacted the Restaurant Industry

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Instagram has infiltrated the restaurant business, pushing it to be more photogenic, colorful, and trendy. With several Instagrammers and restaurants posting pictures of beautifully crafted meals every day, food has become an integral part of social networking. Restaurants have picked up on this trend and are focusing on becoming more ‘Insta-friendly’ or ‘Instagrammable’ by modifying their décor, lighting, and food presentation. From rainbow colored unicorn food and drinks to galaxy donuts, all are crafted keeping Instagram in mind. Physical spaces are being designed to bait Instagrammers, with expectation to inspire them to take maximum photographs and share them on social media.

With social media playing a crucial role in decision-making for diners, whether it is choice of food or restaurant, Instagram has become an indispensable tool for digital marketing for restaurants helping them to drive business and increase awareness.

Social media restaurants

Social media restaurants


  • Location of restaurants (refer to the infographic):
    • Bellota – A Spanish cuisine bistro in San Francisco, USA
    • Media Noche – A casual dining restaurant in San Francisco, USA
    • Peal’s Finest Tea – A tea café in Los Angeles, USA
    • Seamore’s – A casual seafood restaurant chain across New York, USA
    • Comodo – A casual dining restaurant in New York, USA
    • Pez Playa – A beach-front bar and casual dining restaurant in Mallorca, Spain
    • Dirty Bones – A casual dining restaurant chain across London, UK
    • Sonic – A drive-in fast-food restaurant chain across the USA
    • Zizzi – Italian casual dining restaurant chain in the UK and Ireland
    • Chili’s – American casual dining international restaurant chain
    • Starbucks – American/international coffeehouse chain
by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Tailored Cosmetics – Customization Is a New Trend

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In the last five years, the beauty and cosmetics industry has witnessed a considerable demand for bespoke or tailored beauty products, which offer an alternative to “one-size-fits-all” cosmetics. The bespoke cosmetics companies allow customizing ingredients, colors, and fragrances, among others, to provide products tailored to an individual’s skincare routine or requirements. With consumers being increasingly selective, more engaged, and aware about ingredient and formula benefits, the appetite for customization to meet their distinct needs has grown.

Presently, the market for tailored beauty products is relatively small, dominated by small-sized players and start-ups, with a few established beauty brands such as Estée Lauder, Shiseido, Lancôme, among others, operating in the market. As demand grows, several other players are expected to venture into the market.

Despite challenges such as limited accessibility and high product prices, bespoke cosmetics market has tremendous growth potential and is certainly more than just a fad. The concept of customization catering to every individual’s requirements is increasingly luring more customers and could take bespoke cosmetics from being a novelty to mainstream sooner than later.

tailored cosmetics


Headquarter locations of tailored cosmetics manufacturers (refer to the infographic)

  • Function of Beauty and Kiehl’s – New York, USA
  • Ittsē and eSalon – California, USA
  • Cover Girl – Maryland, USA
  • Skin Inc. – Singapore
  • GeneU – London, UK
  • Ioma and Lancôme – Paris, France
by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Dual Quality of Food Products Questions EU’s Single Market Strategy

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Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) allege that some multinational brands and supermarkets’ private-label food products sold in Western Europe are of superior quality than those available under the same brand name and packaging in their home markets. Food producers contend that they often change composition or characteristics of food products in different countries to adapt to local taste preferences. However, this practice has led to resentment among the CEE consumers who feel that food producers deliberately offer inferior quality products in CEE to save on costs. Taking into consideration the results of comparative tests (conducted by few CEE member states) indicating dual quality of food products to be a fact, European Commission has come out in support of countries complaining about double standards of food products. As European Commission is working out an approach to tackle the issue of dual quality of food products, the packaged food industry must prepare for possible impact.

Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Slovenia, Estonia, and Romania are among the countries that have voiced their concerns over dual quality of food products. These countries claim that some of the packaged food products sold in their home markets differ in composition and ingredients when compared to same brands’ food products sold in western markets, for instance, some products contain lower quality of the primary ingredient (e.g. less fish in fish fingers) or contain ingredients considered as less healthy (e.g. sweeteners instead of sugar in beverages). Some countries also complain about the difference in sensory characteristics such as taste, texture, or color.

Investigations by national institutions of few CEE countries revealed that, despite being marketed under identical packaging, many packaged food products differ in composition and characteristics across European Union (EU) member states. In many cases, food products available in CEE markets were less healthy as compared to same brand products available in western markets such as Austria, France, or Germany. In 2015, the Prague University of Chemistry and Technology tested 23 products marketed under the same brand name in Czech Republic and Germany and uncovered differences in eight products. Slovak Agriculture Ministry and the State Veterinary and Food Administration (ŠVPS) conducted a similar study in 2016 and found discrepancies in nearly 50% of the products tested. In 2017, NEBIH, Hungary’s food safety authority, compared 96 products in Hungary, Austria, and Italy. The study included multinational brands, supermarkets brands, as well as some products with similar composition but not the same brand. While 25 of these products were found to be identical, 8 products were different in composition and 30 products exhibited difference in sensory characteristics, whereas 33 products indicated differences in both.

Multinational companies contend that this is a common business practice to change the composition of the branded products as per the local preferences and demand, difference in purchasing power, local sourcing requirements, variation in production lines, etc. EU legislation requires companies to properly label ingredients, but it does not mandate sale of the same recipe under the same brand name across the EU markets. However, it is difficult for consumers to identify the difference in quality of products based solely on information presented on the label. Consumers generally expect that products of the same brands with identical packaging and appearance are the same and thus the purchase decision is often based on brand image and reputation.

The frustration and dissatisfaction is building up among consumers in these markets as they feel as if they are being unfairly treated as second-class consumers. The dual food quality issue has now come under the political radar as the concerned countries have joined forces compelling the European Commission to take necessary actions to eliminate double standards in the quality of food products sold across EU.

EU-Dual Quality of Food Products

After years of perseverant diplomatic efforts, in 2017, European Commission finally acknowledged the issue of dual quality in food products and pledged necessary action against such practices as they may lead to single market fragmentation. In September 2017, the European Commission offered a grant of EUR 1 million (~US$1.2 million) to the Joint Research Centre (European Commission’s science and knowledge service) to develop a common methodology which can be used across the EU market for comparison of products. Additional EUR 1 million (~US$1.2 million) will be offered to member states for conducting further tests and to take actions to ensure compliance.

Alongside, European Commission also released guidelines highlighting application of the existing EU food and consumer protection legislation to determine whether a brand is acting in breach of these laws when selling products of dual quality in different countries. Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) prohibit “a misleading commercial practice if in any way it deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer, even if the information is factually correct, in relation to the main characteristics of the product”. National authorities are directed to determine on case-by-case basis whether consumers would still buy a product of a particular brand if they were aware that its main characteristics differ from those of the product sold under the same brand name and packaging in most EU member states – if they would not, then the company can be considered acting in violation of UCPD (though such a determination will undoubtedly be challenging with regards to maintaining objectivity and common fixed criteria). European Commission, along with the help of industry stakeholders, is also preparing a new code of conduct that will include standards to improve transparency and thereby avoiding the dual quality issue.

EOS Perspective

Dual quality of food products has been proven to be a fact and is perceived as an unfair distortion of EU single market. European Commission advocates to strengthen enforcement of existing consumer protection laws, however, some of the EU member states’ representatives are demanding legislative amendments as they believe that the current laws are inadequate to tackle the issue of dual food quality. CEE countries demand that the multinational brands must standardize their food products across the EU market to put an end to the discriminatory practice. However, this would require revision of EU food legislation, a proposal relished by neither the European Commission nor the industry.

In May 2017, Hungary submitted a draft legislation to European Commission to introduce a labelling obligation to include distinctive warning on dual quality food products. However, food law experts contest that such an obligation will restrict the food producers to distribute their products freely in Hungary, unless they bear an additional cost for labelling. This conflicts with article 34 of EU’s treaty that guarantees free circulation of goods within EU. However, if a similar proposal is considered for EU, it would force the food producers to include a warning on the labels, and this could be perceived as a mark of a potentially negative marketing.

It is about time that multinational brands offering dual quality products acknowledge the intensity of the allegations. Companies must prepare an acceptable justification for the difference in quality of their products, more specifically, if their products in certain markets are of inferior quality. Companies may consider reformulating their products in CEE markets to standardize their product offering across the EU bloc. For instance, in September 2017, HiPPs, a German baby food producer, announced that it would reformulate one of its Croatia-sold products to match with the German recipe.

Rebranding is another option that the companies could explore. Products with significant difference in composition could be launched under a new brand name exclusively for that local market. Companies for whom rebranding and reformulating is not deemed feasible, should consider relabeling and repackaging their products to clearly differentiate the products across markets. For instance, Tulip is considering changing the packaging of canned luncheon meat in the Czech Republic to differentiate it from the similar product available in Germany. An unquestionable fact here is that whichever approach companies take to address the dual quality issue, it will result in additional costs, which might affect the products’ prices and make them less accessible, especially for consumers from low-income sections of the CEE population.

For the multinational brands offering identical products across EU, the dual quality issue can be seen as an opportunity. Such companies could consider multilingual labelling informing consumers that same product is sold across markets, and this approach would also help standardize the packaging and labelling across the region. Further, these companies could also benefit from a positive PR and marketing campaigns to reinforce the fact that they consider all their customers equal across EU single market.

Packaged food producers who have presence only in Western Europe are presented with a unique opportunity to expand in CEE markets. As the general perception in CEE is that packaged food products made in western EU countries are often of superior quality, the western-recipe version of a given product may be well received by the CEE consumer.

Local e-tailers as well as retailers in border cities can also be at gain. For instance, Czech e-tailers such as Rohlik.cz and Košík.cz have added special sections on their websites offering German products; likewise, supermarkets in German towns such as Altenberg and Heidenau have put up sign in two languages, due to increasing footfall from Czech cities across the border.

As the debate on dual quality of food products is gaining heat, multinational brands such as HiPPs and Tulip are already considering changing product composition or packaging to reflect the differentiation of their products across member states. Though food producers are not required to offer standard products across the EU countries, they will need to justify the difference in their products, and failure to do so may lead to legal action. The recent guidelines announced by European Commission are more of a soft warning to food producers. If the issue remains unresolved, then European Commission may consider more extreme measures. European Commission warned that if the situation does not improve, it will make the name of brands that are involved in the practice of dual quality publicly available. This might severely impact the brand image of these multinational brands in consumer’s view. Revision of packaging and labelling law is also one of the recommended alternatives that might be explored as a last resort.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

China’s Cross-Border E-Commerce Sector Enjoying Government Support – But for How Long?

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It is a well-known fact that China, today, is the largest and fastest growing e-commerce market globally. Accounting for close to half of the global e-commerce sales, China’s e-commerce industry is witnessing a double-digit growth, rising by about 26% in 2016. Leading the growth in China’s e-commerce sector is cross-border e-commerce (CBEC), which is currently witnessing close to double the growth compared with the overall industry and is expected to continue to grow robustly over the next five years. The government has not only been charging favorable duty to promote CBEC, but has also created special customs-clearing zones in 13 cities to support cross-border trade. However, in 2016, the government came up with a new set of taxation and a list of items that were allowed to be only imported. Following a significant industry pressure, the government has pushed the implementation of these rules to the end of 2018, and it now remains to be seen whether the industry will continue to receive government support which is instrumental for it to flourish.

Cross-border e-commerce (CBEC) has been creating quite a buzz globally, and leading this global trend is China, one of fastest growing markets with respect to CBEC. A plethora of social factors such as improved standards of living, increased awareness about foreign products through greater international travel as well as access to information online, increased quality consciousness among consumers, limited options available locally (especially in product categories such as infant milk formula and health supplements) have resulted in escalated demand for international products in China. All these factors, along with the ease of buying through e-commerce and the growing tendency of Chinese people to use their mobile phones to shop, have resulted in exponential growth of the CBEC sector in the country.

China’s CBEC Industry – At a Glance

Retail Sales and Growth: The industry was estimated at US$85.8 billion in sales in 2016 and is expected to double up sales to about US$158 by 2020. The number of CBEC customers in China is estimated to rise from about 181 million in 2016 to close to 292 million in 2020.

Trade Partners and Goods: The UK, USA, Australia, France, and Italy are some of China’s largest trading partners with regards to CBEC. Cosmetics, food and healthcare products, mother and child solutions (including infant formula), clothing and footwear are the most shopped categories through CBEC.

Consumer Profile: About 65% of the customers are male and 75% are between the age of 24 and 40. Most of the customers are well-educated, with three-fourth of them having at least a graduate degree. The ticket size for about half of these purchases ranges between US$15 and US$75 (RMB100-500).

Leading Players: Most cross-border online sales are undertaken through third-party online marketplaces such as TMall Global (owned by Alibaba group) and JD Worldwide (owned by JD Group, China’s second largest e-commerce player). Global e-commerce leader, Amazon is also becoming increasingly active in China.

The government has also provided immense support to the CBEC sector, a fact that has been critical to the market growth. As an effort to weed out the illegal grey market imports and to promote e-commerce, China’s government relaxed cross-border e-commerce rules and the applicable custom rates (close to 15 to 60% depending on the item). Moreover, custom duty amounting to less than US$7.5 (RMB50) was exempted. The government also created 13 CBEC zones across the country in order to expedite custom clearing of foreign items ordered online. These zones house large warehouses where foreign brands and retailers stock items, which, upon being ordered, are put through custom clearance (under relaxed rules). This way the consumer receives foreign goods within few days of ordering it.

While this has been greatly benefiting the Chinese consumers who now have an access to a range of products that were once seemingly out of reach for the public at large, it is also revolutionizing how foreign players are operating in China. Traditionally, foreign companies (brands) required to have a legal entity in China (subsidiary, partner, or own manufacturer) to import goods through the general trade channels. These legal entities had the task to clear import customs and pay duties on goods imported into the country. However, under the CBEC channel, these foreign players are freed from the requirement of establishing a local entity before selling their goods in the Chinese market. This also relieves companies from several compliance procedures that they were required to follow in case they were entering the market through offline trade channels. Therefore, several players, who shied away from China in the past (owing to cumbersome product registration and approval process), are looking at this as their entry strategy in the market. Simpler compliance checks and reduced import taxes have also made it easy for companies to experiment and launch a host of products (on a hit and miss basis) in the Chinese market without much investment.

However, while CBEC has greatly supported the cause of promoting e-commerce and aiding international companies in accessing the Chinese markets, it has seriously hampered the business of several domestic players (especially in the cosmetics and health supplements industry) who have been protected from foreign competition in the past owing to strict import rules. Moreover, it has resulted in a major disadvantage for conventional retailers with a brick and mortar setup as goods sold through the CBEC route are levied with a lower number of taxes compared with similar goods sold through traditional trade channels in China.

Owing to these factors, in April 2016, the government revised the taxation rates for CBEC goods resulting in a marginal increase in taxes for few categories. Under the new rules, products would be temporarily levied with 0% import tariff but would be taxed at 70% of the applicable VAT and consumption tax rate, which changes based on the product category. For instance, cosmetics worth RMB500 (US$75) ordered through CBEC would be taxed 0% import tariff + VAT at 11.9% (i.e. 70% of applicable VAT rate for cosmetics – 17%) + consumption tax at 21% (i.e. 70% of applicable consumption tax for cosmetics – 30%), thereby, making the total amount equal to RMB664.5 (US$100). In addition to the changes in taxation, the government removed the waiver of custom duty of up to US$7.5 (RMB50) and set a limit of US$302 (RMB2,000) on a single transaction and of US$3,020 (RMB20,000) on purchase by a single person per year. It also released a list (termed as a ‘positive list’) of 1,293 products that were allowed to enter the Chinese market through CBEC. While the goods under the ‘positive list’ are exempted from submitting an import license to customs, few products from this list that come under China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), such as cosmetics, infant formula, medical devices, health supplements, etc., require registration before import. This entails the same tedious registration or filing requirements required for products imported through the traditional trade channels. This greatly limits the inherent benefits of the CBEC model for these products.

While the government had initially intended and aimed for immediate implementation of these new regulations, protests and pressure from Chinese e-commerce companies and the ultimate objective of promoting the country’s e-commerce sector resulted in the government agreeing to a one-year transitional phase for these rules (which was to end in 2017). However, in September 2017, the government decided to extend the transitional period until the end of 2018 and to set up new trade zones for CBEC, reinforcing its support for the cross-border e-commerce sector. While changes in the regulation do seem to be a certainty in the future, the timeline for their introduction remains ambiguous as several industry analysts anticipate that they may get pushed off again.

Cross Border e-com in China

EOS Perspective

The cross-border e-commerce sector in China has been witnessing exponential growth and despite the looming new regulations, is expected to continue to grow at least over the next five years. While leading e-commerce companies in China (such as Alibaba group and JD group) have acted swiftly to benefit from this growing space, the greatest benefit has been for the foreign players who now have an easy access to Chinese consumers without the need of setting up a shop in the country. However, these benefits may be short-lived considering the new set of regulations. Few product categories such as infant formula, cosmetics, and health supplements (which have in actuality been the most popular categories for CBEC) will be subject to registration and filing requirements, thereby their so-called ‘honeymoon phase’ in the country is likely to end. Although a lot of products do not have to comply with registration/filing requirements and are only subject to a marginal increase in taxes (as per the new rules), this does not guarantee that future regulations will not impact their presence and sales in China. Therefore, while CBEC may be the smartest way for companies to test their products with limited investment in China, they may need a back-up plan in case the government further regularizes the industry to create a level-playing field for the traditional retail.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Infographic: Wine Industry Expects Healthy Growth in the Midst of Intense Competition and Demand Shifting Eastward

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Winemakers across the globe are not having an easy year. Global wine production is expected to hit a six-decade low in 2017, caused mostly by unfavorable weather conditions (frost and droughts in key European wine producing countries – Italy, France, and Spain, as well as severe fires in California). Even without the weather throwing roadblocks under winemakers’ feet, their line of business is not an easy one, challenged by tough competition, high import tariffs, and shifts in consumer demand. Wine market dynamics are changing, with several emerging trends that affect the way winemakers operate and the focus markets they increasingly cater to.

Global Wine Market

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