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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Brazil – Lucrative but Challenging E-commerce Industry

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Brazil is likely to account for approximately half of US$64.4 billion retail e-commerce sales across Latin America in 2019. Being the region’s largest country with a whopping 200 million population, a tech-savvy and consumption-driven middle class, and one of the largest internet-connected populations of the world, Brazil is one of the most preferred Latin American countries where international retailers are looking to expand. However, e-commerce success in Brazil also comes with numerous challenges. Overcoming those challenges still remains a quagmire for e-commerce merchants.


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


The good and the difficult

Despite the economic slowdown and political turbulence in the country, retail e-commerce market has continued to grow, recording 10% y-o-y growth in 2018. Brazilians are connected now more than ever, access to the internet and technologies is becoming affordable by the day, while consumers are particularly enthusiastic to purchase international products using online shopping websites, all of which is making Brazil Latin America’s e-commerce powerhouse. Another key reason for online retail growth is the fact that consumers have become cash-strapped amidst frail economic conditions, which has squeezed money out of the market, bringing a prominent change in buying behavior, where consumers are more price conscious and driven by promotions. In such a scenario, e-commerce has emerged as a clear winner by offering lower prices and good deals, as compared with offline channels.

Operating an e-commerce business in Brazil is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the 140 million internet users represent an enormous e-commerce opportunity, while on the other hand, Brazil is plagued with operational challenges and struggles.

However, operating an e-commerce business in Brazil is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the 140 million internet users represent an enormous e-commerce opportunity, while on the other hand, Brazil is plagued with operational challenges and struggles with complex logistics, high tax rates, and payment issues, among others.

An array of challenges

One of the key challenges for any international retailer operating in Brazil is the high tax rate of 6.4% applicable on all international payments, which is enough to disincentivize shoppers to make purchases from international retailers such as Amazon or Alibaba. Further, customers are required to pay 60% flat tax on all imported product purchases valued between US$50-500 (the range may vary across different states). The taxes almost double the price of products, which could deter digital sales. In addition to the taxes, Brazil’s customs procedures are slow and complex, and shipments take a long time to arrive, making the online shopping experience arduous for customers.

For international retailers to operate in Brazil, it is crucial that they familiarize themselves with various local payment methods such as Boleto Bancário (bank slips), payment options offered by regional players (MercadoLivre offers MercadoPago, which is equivalent to PayPal), among others. This is because only 20% of Brazilians have access to international credit cards and instead prefer paying through local payment channels. This could be an obstacle for e-commerce players, as most transactions on shopping websites rely on online card payments. Furthermore, credit cards provided by domestic banks can only issue payments that are made in Brazilian Real, hence, international retailers need to find a way to convert currency if they want to operate in Brazil.

Brazil – Lucrative but Challenging E-commerce Industry

There are also several operational, logistics, and infrastructural challenges that are impairing e-commerce growth in the country. Strikes in Brazil are very common and happen quite often, consequently halting operations of federal customs or postal services. It usually takes some time to resume operations after the strike and the packages/deliveries could take even longer to reach the final destination. The recent truckers strike in spring of 2018 caused more than 3 million online deliveries to arrive with significant delays.

The country also lacks proper infrastructure to support e-commerce business – the distribution centers rarely function 24-hours a day due to security concerns and costly overtimes, which prevents shippers from collecting packages at night when the traffic is lower. Further, traffic situation in major Brazilian cities such Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo is so overwhelming that same day or next day shipping requirements are very difficult to fulfill. In addition, rampant cargo robberies are further disrupting e-commerce business in Brazil and are an acute problem in Rio. All major e-commerce players and logistics companies are investing heavily to protect goods, which increases security costs and is subsequently squeezing profit margins. Sao Paulo’s cargo transportation and logistics companies spend about 10-14% of revenue on ensuring cargo safety, while in Rio this ratio lies between 15% and 20% of revenue.

Sao Paulo’s cargo transportation and logistics companies spend about 10-14% of revenue on ensuring cargo safety, while in Rio this ratio lies between 15% and 20% of revenue.

Strong fundamentals promise opportunities

Nonetheless, challenges have not yet dissuaded customers from shopping online or prevented international and local players to expand operations in Brazil. Players are continuously making efforts to improve services to lure customers. One of the key trends that are reshaping customer support services is the increasing focus to provide chatbots on e-commerce websites for 24-hour shopping assistance. Brazilian e-commerce players are betting on chatbots to improve customer engagement and management, and to generate brand awareness.

With rising number of smartphone users in Brazil, mobile commerce is also growing and players are increasingly focusing on tapping this opportunity. In 2017, m-commerce users grew 42% y-o-y and mobile devices contributed to 31% of e-commerce sales in H1 2017. Furthermore, Brazil is a country with highly active social media users, a fact which serves as a key platform to expand business – as of March 2016, 60% of e-commerce sites used social media for sales and marketing. Numerous Brazilian companies use social media for marketing and it has become an integral part of e-commerce business, where social media is used as a tool for promotion and to reach out to customers.

EOS Perspective

While Brazil’s e-commerce market could be a cash cow for retailers, it also comes with various quirks and challenges. Localizing business in Brazil requires enormous amount of planning, calculation, and understanding the market before entering it. The high cost of doing business could be intimidating for several players along with online payment challenges, hefty taxes, and inferior infrastructure. However, forging local partnerships could solve some of the issues. For instance, cross-border e-commerce merchants could partner with Brazilian payment processing companies and invest in developing local payment methods to overcome the online payment challenge.

Alternative delivery channels are becoming popular, and these could help solve the logistics and shipping issues to a certain extent. InPost, a Polish company that operates a network of parcel lockers, introduced click and collect services in Brazil, which allows customers to place an order online and collect package from InPost’s lockers that are situated at most frequently visited places such as gas stations. Customers receive a QR code by email, which is used to operate the lockers. The lockers offer convenience for customers and reduce wait times, and greatly reduce logistics cost for retailers. While this is only one of potential novelties that could ease logistics problems, the arrival of established international retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba might be expected to bring in other innovations to reduce delivery, infrastructure, and payment barriers.

Despite the existing macro-economic and operational challenges, the country’s potential as a digital commerce market will continue to attract investments and is expected to keep growing.

Despite the existing macro-economic and operational challenges, the country’s potential as a digital commerce market will continue to attract investments and is expected to keep growing. With a large internet savvy consumer market eager to purchase international products and with westernization deeply influencing the young population, Brazil will continue to draw the attention of international retailers across the world. Amidst the country’s turbulent politics and economy, purchasing power grew 3% y-o-y in 2017, making Brazil even more attractive for online retailers. With new trends reshaping the industry and players forging ways to improve operations, the country is expected to remain the largest e-commerce market of Latin America ahead of Mexico and Argentina in the foreseeable future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

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

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

Thailand: Endeavoring to Become Asia’s Next Luxury Shopping Stop

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As purchasing power growth is slowing down in mature markets such as the USA and Europe, international brands and luxury retailers are seeking expansion opportunities in dynamic and rapidly developing Asian countries. Thailand is fast becoming a destination of choice for several luxury brands owing to robust demand, developed urban infrastructure, and low cost of establishing a business. Increasing number of tourists indulging in massive luxury spending as well as mushrooming high-end shopping centers are slowly coalescing to establish Thailand as a premier luxury shopping hub in South East Asia.

Luxury goods sales in Thailand are likely to reach US$ 2.2 billion by 2019 owing to improved economic conditions, retail expansion, and plethora of international brands entering the country. This growth has also spurred as Thailand offers several other benefits to luxury brands and retailers such as low rent and investment cost, and strong government support. Retail infrastructure is also witnessing a rapid growth, with expansion of several shopping malls and outlets.

Thailand - Asia’s Next Luxury Shopping Stop-1

Despite the bright growth prospects and encouraging retail development, there are several factors that are inhibiting this growth. For instance, the high luxury goods tax is a major hindrance to retail sales. Other factors such as counterfeit products, fragmented market, and political instability in the country are also adversely affecting sales.

Thailand - Asia’s Next Luxury Shopping Stop-2

EOS Perspective

Thailand faces a strong competition from other commercial centers such as Hong Kong, China, and Singapore, yet it is slowly emerging as a premier market for luxury products due to its unique ability to offer goods at more competitive prices owing to relatively lower overheads. Additionally, China and Hong Kong are the two most penetrated markets by high street brands in Asia, and are approaching saturation. Several luxury brands are halting further expansion in the two countries amid sluggish sales. Consequently, this has opened doors for Thailand which is slowly becoming a target market for retailers to expand operations.

Nevertheless, luxury retailers in Thailand face a major setback due to the 30% luxury goods tax, which discourages even affluent shoppers. Limited domestic purchasing capabilities further hinder sales, however relatively low housing costs leave a considerable disposable income in hand, which marginally helps to spur luxury spending.

Based on our analysis, certain strategies can be adopted to succeed in the Thai market – widening distribution channel by opting for online retailing, choosing the right target audience, designing an effective marketing strategy, and tapping the M-commerce boom in Thailand.

 

Thailand - Asia’s Next Luxury Shopping Stop-3

 

While Thailand still remains behind many of its peer countries in terms of luxury retail development, it is likely to become one of the leading Asian markets in medium to long term, increasingly hosting several prominent international luxury brands and registering tremendous retail sales growth.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Online Grocery Retailing In India: Will Clicks Replace Bricks?

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India is the sixth largest grocery market worldwide buzzing with plethora of opportunities for the development of online grocery retailing. Gone are the days when Indian consumers were reluctant to shop online – studies have revealed that Indian consumers are overcoming biases against purchasing products without the touch and feel factor and are widely accepting online shopping. However, shopping for grocery online is at a very nascent stage and is still overcoming operational and economical hurdles. Over the years, multiple online grocery sites have shutdown, though there are a few survivors and presently the market is bustling with new entrants including e-commerce giants such as Amazon, Snapdeal, Flipkart, etc. Players are constantly implementing innovative marketing strategies, expanding operations, and experimenting with business models to find the best fit for e-grocery market.

Online grocery retailing is a tough segment to crack largely due to the perishable nature of products it offers, coupled with several operational impediments such as logistics, supply chain management, and low margins. Also, players face major challenges in training and retaining employees as well as attracting investment to grow operations.

1-Challenges

Despite the challenges, online grocery retail is witnessing rapid growth driven by increasing internet connectivity, use of smartphones, and changing lifestyles with increasing number of working women demanding convenience. Consumers pressed for time are continuously looking for less cumbersome options in their fast-paced lives and online grocery shopping is increasingly the best solution for them.

Out of the 40 online sites that initially ventured into the grocery retailing market, only a few have survived and BigBasket has emerged as the most successful e-retailer. Other survivors include ZopNow and Localbanya, while there are several new entrants such as Grofers, Jugnoo, etc. Traditional brick and mortar retailers have also realized potential of the market and have slowly started selling groceries digitally – for example, Reliance launched ‘fresh direct’ while Tata sells through ‘My247market’.

2-BigBasket

Successful e-grocers such as BigBasket, ZopNow, Nature’s Basket, and Reliance Fresh Direct, among others started formulating strategies to succeed in the e-grocery market. For instance, BigBasket started selling private label brands to improve margins while ZopNow offers cashbacks, discount coupons, and grocery deals to attract customers. Other strategies include implementing quality assurance programs and offering niche products, among others.

3-Success4-Success

EOS Perspective

E-grocers face various obstacles, hence a robust strategy is the need of the hour to survive and succeed in the market. It is imperative for any player to first understand the local nuances of the market – this includes establishing local relationships, developing local logistics, and building business according to unique scenarios in different cities. India is an extremely diverse country and a complex market to survive, hence effectiveness and efficiency of players to adapt to the market defines how any company will succeed in the industry. Factors such as target segment, operating costs, competitive landscape, and consumer preferences vary greatly across India, therefore, aligning business with domestic market and following ‘localization’ of operations is the key to success.

For long-term sustainability in the market, it is essential for players to differentiate through innovation and to improve business scalability. Innovation can be achieved in the form of targeting specific customer segment, selling niche products, or offering tailored services. Attracting investment can help players to expand and scale up their businesses.

Further, it is crucial for e-retailers to prioritize customer experience — across technology, delivery, and service platforms — as convenience is the primary factor that influences people to buy digitally.

Nevertheless, the question still remains if clicks can replace bricks. Online grocery market has potential and is expected to grow but it is unlikely that it will dominate or replace the brick and mortar stores in the near future. Online retailing definitely have the potential to grab a substantial portion of grocery sales in a long-term horizon, however, physical stores will long continue to have an edge, particularly in case of FMCG goods.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Brazil’s Personal Care and Cosmetics Market: Transitioning from Physical to Digital?

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Brazil’s personal care and cosmetics market is skyrocketing with growing sales driven by a fashion-conscious and beauty-obsessed population. Brazil, the cosmetics industry veteran, is the third largest consumer of beauty products worldwide and relies heavily on traditional channels for distribution. Online retailing has made inroads into the personal care market in Brazil and is on a slow but steady growth trajectory with immense potential in the future.

Brazilian consumers have long exhibited strong interest in personal care and beauty products, mostly purchased through traditional distribution channels. Over the past couple of years, these consumers have gradually also begun shopping for beauty products online, however, they are still skeptical about payment security as well as delayed delivery and quality of products.

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Despite the obstacles, some online retailers — such as Natura, Men’s Market, and BelezaNaWeb — have stepped up to overcome hurdles and develop robust strategies to initiate online purchase of personal care products. After realizing potential of online retailing in the personal care and cosmetics segment, investors have started pouring in money in e-commerce websites to reap benefits.

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Personal care segment can benefit from numerous growth opportunities in the e-commerce market with consumers’ rising inclination towards special offers attracting them to shop online, beauty product segment’s growing share in the emerging online shopping market, m-commerce boosting online sales, etc. E-retailers should exploit these opportunities to penetrate the market and improve sales.

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EOS Perspective

While the e-commerce industry faces various obstacles, a robust online strategy along with a balanced eco-system — comprising fraud protection arrangement, better payment mechanism, developed infrastructure, as well as clear understanding of consumer behavior — is likely to improve e-commerce adoption and increase sales.

The market is slowly overcoming some of the hurdles — to combat logistics issue, government has started investing in air and shipping ports to facilitate parcel deliveries through these modes. This is likely to improve shipment timelines and consumers, as desired, can avail quick delivery of personal care products. Further, online retailers have started assessing consumer behavior and responded by improving shopping experience by re-designing websites, launching m-commerce applications for convenient mobile browsing, and implementing loyalty programs. The Brazilian government is working towards implementing stringent regulations to protect consumers against online frauds and formulating robust e-commerce policies.

Paving way into the Brazilian e-commerce market to sell personal care products has been challenging, however, with improvement initiatives slowly gaining momentum, the market is on an upswing to witness a stellar growth.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence 1 Comment

E-commerce in China – Intensive Competition In Spite of Low Penetration

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In the concluding article of our E-commerce Challenges in the BRIC series, we highlight the challenges faced by online retail companies in China. While China is one of the rapidly growing online retail markets, we discuss how aspects such as growing local competition, infrastructure deficiencies, issues with online security for buyers, and heavy dominance of price-based competition hinder the expansion of e-commerce in the country.

Given the Chinese economic growth story, good performance of its e-commerce market comes as no surprise. Exploding middle and upper class, rapidly growing disposable incomes, rising internet penetration, fascination with foreign brands and mobile solutions, all add up to a perfect scenario for online retail to flourish.

According to McKinsey & Company, China’s online retail market, estimated at US$210 billion in 2012, is the world’s second largest market after USA. It is expected that by 2015, it will reach US$305 billion and surpass the US market, having grown at a CAGR of around 34% during the 2010-2015 period. With the size of even up to US$650 billion by 2020, the momentum is expected to continue, especially that industry analysts emphasize that in China’s case, e-commerce has strong effect of generating additional consumption, and not only drives change of sales channels from the otherwise existent off-line sales.

Thanks to the favorable dynamics, Chinese e-commerce has been named the most promising destination for online retailers, which found reflection in China’s first position in AT Kearney’s 2012 E-commerce Index. Unlike in other markets, Chinese e-commerce space is dominated by virtual market places, where a plethora of merchants sell their products, without the need to invest in opening and managing own online stores. However, aspects such as these, along with other specific characteristics of the market, make doing e-commerce business in China a challenge.

China e-commerce

The Challenges

  • Strong and consolidating position of local players – the Chinese e-commerce market is dominated by Alibaba’s consumer-serving arms: consumer-to-consumer e-commerce platform, Taobao, and business-to-consumer marketplace, Tmall, which together account for close to 90% market share. Several local and foreign merchants, such as Microsoft, are increasingly joining Tmall and other e-marketplaces (as opposed to opening own online stores) to sell their products online to Chinese consumers, which leads to further consolidation of Alibaba’s position in the market. While the market is growing and space is expanding to absorb new entries, such strong and established local players are a significant challenge for newcomers, as well as existing online retailers.

  • Dominance of price-based competition – despite strong local players both in the field of direct online retailing as well as e-marketplaces, majority of them do not offer any particular differentiating factor or unique proposition. However, what makes competing with them particularly difficult is their ability to slack the prices and enter into price competition. With price being the key platform of competing, achieving profitability is very difficult, or even impossible, for instance, for retailers who sell imported products subject to high import duties.

  • Considerable infrastructure deficiencies – Infrastructure woes are a common challenge affecting e-commerce markets developing across all BRIC markets, including China. Only metropolitan areas have sufficient infrastructure to ensure that product delivery can reach in time (and reach at all). In rural areas and locations far from main hubs, there is no guarantee the orders will reach the customer, as the road infrastructure and delivery services tend to be non-existent or fragmented. The infrastructure issues are often indicated as the biggest challenge that hinders realization of the country’s full e-commerce potential, as online retailers are not able to control and improve the entire supply chain. This challenge is particularly difficult, given the already high expectations of Chinese online consumers, who not only expect wide selection and attractive prices, but also excellent and fast services, including short delivery times.

  • Insufficient security solutions for consumers to shop online – despite numerous industry analysts agreeing that the market will continue to grow with large numbers of consumers joining the online shopping crowd, there is a common consensus that security-related risks in China are still significant. This includes issues such as product quality, payment security, information security, consumer rights protection, illegal transactions, etc. All of these aspects still significantly impact consumer trust, deterring many of them from shopping online. Also, e-commerce providers have little control over these risk factors, as the security of online payment is handled by a third party. Cash-on-delivery method is not very popular due to other risks (robbery, fraud, etc.), which drives some e-commerce companies to partner with security services providers or to double the number of own couriers sent to deliver the order and collect the payments, to eliminate fraudulent activities (which generates considerable costs).

  • Low internet penetration in rural areas of the country – while the overall internet penetration is increasing, majority of this growth occurs in urban and metropolitan areas. Currently, it is estimated that not more than 35% of Chinese population uses internet, a ratio below levels in many developing countries. As large proportion of Chinese consumers is still located in the countryside, the internet usage growth confined to the cities limits the internet user base growth for the time being. Moreover, rural-based consumers are not very likely to start using the internet and build an interest in online shopping very soon. Therefore, e-commerce players are challenged with having their customer base currently limited mostly to tier 1 to tier 3 cities.


E-commerce in China is booming, in spite of several teething problems around infrastructure, online and offline security, and low internet penetration. The bigger challenges, however, impact new entrants, which are faced by a highly intensive competitive environment and a market driven purely by price competition. E-commerce will continue to grow in China; there is no question about it. The pace of growth will depend on how the market environment changes to mitigate the risks emanating from the current set of challenges.

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