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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Argentina’s E-commerce Growing at an Explosive Rate, but Not without Challenges

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Argentina is the fastest growing e-commerce market in Latin America with a booming m-commerce segment. Blessed with high internet smartphone penetration rates, the country sets stage for plentiful e-commerce opportunities. However, Argentina is still battling high inflation and low economic growth rates, a fact that bleaks growth prospects of e-commerce market. Much like its regional neighbors, Argentina is also plagued with logistics and payment issues, and resolving these challenges is the need of the hour.


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


What is pushing the meteoric growth?

Home to MercadoLibre (Latin America’s most popular e-commerce site), Argentina, is one of the most prominent e-commerce markets in Latin America, known for its outstanding growth rate – between 2018 and 2022, e-commerce market is expected to increase by 83% to reach US$ 19 billion.

Strong connectivity is one of the key supporting factors powering the e-commerce market. Argentina benefits from incredibly high internet penetration rate of more than 80% and one of highest numbers of mobile Internet users in Latin America. Further, the country’s growing young, Internet-savvy consumer base, with sufficient disposable income, is also driving e-commerce sales.

What is holding back Argentina’s e-commerce market?

Logistics

The most significant barrier restraining Argentina from becoming Latin America’s e-commerce leader is logistics. To begin with, quality of roads in certain neighborhoods of various cities, even in the capital city of Buenos Aires, is not suitable for swift deliveries. An average delivery time for packages to reach shoppers is about seven days, which is not a convenient wait time and could dissuade shoppers from ordering online.

An average delivery time for packages to reach shoppers is about seven days, which is not a convenient wait time and could dissuade shoppers from ordering online.

Most logistics companies are unable to deliver as quickly and reliably as e-retail demands. Adding to the list of logistics and infrastructure insufficiencies is the unfinished GPS mapping, owing to confusing address systems and missing postal codes, thus, making deliveries an even more cumbersome task. With the current state of logistics, Argentina secured 61st rank (out of 160) in the Logistics Performance Index in 2018, lagging behind its fellow competitors (in the e-commerce space), Brazil and Mexico.

Payment methods

Online payments can be challenging in Argentina, particularly, for making purchases on international retailers’ websites. More than 50% of Visa and MasterCard cards provided by local banks, cannot be used on international websites. This is a major operational hurdle for international e-commerce retailers, who have to set up other payment methods.

More than 50% of Visa and MasterCard cards provided by local banks, cannot be used on international websites.

Moreover, with exorbitant credit card interest rates (according to the Central Bank of Argentina, credit card interest rates lie between 36% and 111%), customers have become vary of shopping online.

Additionally, debit cards comprise a negligible share of Argentinian e-commerce spend, as they can only be used on limited e-commerce websites, thus, limiting use of this crucial payment gateway.

Distrust

Another key challenge is distrust among several Argentinians toward e-commerce websites, especially when it comes to billing and payment transactions. Some customers are also hesitant to provide card details for online transactions with protection of information being their primary concern.

With no proper legislation in place, trust in the e-commerce marketplace is hard to build. Argentina does not have a comprehensive regulatory scheme governing e-commerce, rather it has just a few regulations that are applicable to e-commerce.

The country also does not adhere to any standard international e-commerce model such as UNCITRAL model law on electronic commerce by the USA or Directive 2000/31/EC (Directive on electronic commerce) of the European Parliament. Without any robust regulation in place, consumers would neither feel protected nor be certain regarding action being taken in case of unlawful activities.

Economy

Argentina’s economy is shackled with sky-high inflation rate (second highest in Latin America in 2018) and depreciating currency against dollar, thus, dampening economic growth prospects of the country. Poor economic conditions have taken a toll on all economic sectors, including e-commerce. High inflation rate has decreased purchasing power of consumers, who have become cautious shoppers.

Opportunities still exist

Nonetheless, outlook for Argentina’s e-commerce market is quite positive, with key e-commerce players craving for attention from Argentina’s proliferating online customer base.

Argentina’s e-commerce market is endowed with opportunities arising from growing m-commerce and social-commerce segments.

Argentina’s e-commerce market is endowed with opportunities arising from growing m-commerce and social-commerce segments.

Smartphones are increasingly becoming the key mode to reach consumers in Argentina, with consumers preferring to use mobile devices for accessing internet over stationary computers or laptops. The use of mobile phones for searching products before purchase is a common habit in Argentina. To tap this opportunity, businesses are increasingly focusing on building mobile-friendly websites – as of May 2018, 74.3% of businesses adapted sites to mobile phones (compared with only 10.4% in 2017).

Another trend emerging in the market is that of social shopping (shopping influenced by social media), fueled by growing social media engagement among Argentinians – as of January 2018, about 76% of the total population were active social media users. E-retailers are now using social networks to interact with shoppers, particularly the young demographic, and also to promote products. As of May 2018, 73.5% of businesses used social media to engage with shoppers and the most preferred sites were Facebook and YouTube.

Argentina’s E-Commerce Growing at an Explosive Rate, but Not without Challenges

EOS Perspective

Argentina’s e-commerce industry has reached a stage where consumers, particularly the young demographic, are slowly beginning to embrace online shopping as part of their daily lives, however, there is still scope for a lot of development for wider adoption. While Argentina’s e-commerce market is dynamic and growing, it could benefit from certain improvements, particularly in terms of payment methods, logistics, and building consumer’s trust in online shopping.

Payment methods need to be kept up to date with requirements of businesses and consumers, and steps are being taken for its betterment. Better logistics is a requisite for online retailing to function properly. In the era of one-day deliveries, a week’s wait time in Argentina is too long, and retailers are looking to resolve this issue.

MercadoLibre, the largest e-retailer in Argentina, has taken giant leaps for betterment of both payment mechanism and logistics. The company introduced a digital wallet, Mercado Pago, through which both debit and credit card payments can be processed. The digital wallet can be used in physical stores as well. Customers can scan QR code on items using MercadoLibre or Mercado Pago apps and choose preferred mode of payment.

Further, MercadoLibre has been adopting various measures to improve logistics. Through Mercado Envios, the company takes care of package shipment and delivery, as the seller only has to take the package to nearest dispatch center of MercadoLibre, and from there onwards MercadoLibre ensures seamless package delivery. Mercado Envios ascertains that the package reaches customer in the shortest time possible and allows tracking of shipment by both seller and buyer. MercadoLibre’s another program, Mercado Envios Flex, guarantees deliver of packages within 24 hours, but it is limited to Buenos Aires for now.

Undoubtedly, customer service and shopping experience need to be revamped, which could help in building customer’s trust as well.

Undoubtedly, customer service and shopping experience need to be revamped, which could help in building customer’s trust as well. The e-commerce platforms could use foreign digital expertise to develop websites that are safe for billing and money transactions. Moreover, online merchants need to understand that a transaction is not complete when a customer purchases product online, but when the package is received by the customer. To be able to gain customer’s confidence, merchants should take end-to-end responsibility, be transparent in communication by clearly stating the delivery timelines or any additional charges that are applicable, among others, before the payment is made.

Nonetheless, Argentina is slowly making progress and is on track to uphold its position as one of the e-commerce giants in Latin America. Despite being the fastest growing e-commerce market in Latin America, Argentina is still behind the two e-commerce powerhouses, Mexico and Brazil, at least as of now. However, the country definitely has the potential to give them both a tough competition with its e-commerce and m-commerce markets growing at exponential rates.

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

Bharatmala – A Game Changer for Indian Logistics?

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Due to its poor logistics infrastructure, bureaucratic bottlenecks, and heavy reliance on roads, India has long suffered from high logistics costs. This has significantly impacted its global trade competitiveness. To address these challenges, the Modi government, in 2015, launched Bharatmala Pariyojana, a flagship project that aims to transform India’s logistics infrastructure. We are taking a look at the key aspects of Bharatmala to assess whether the project has a chance to be the game changer for Indian logistics industry.

India has been long known for its inefficient logistics and freight management. The current freight modal mix is highly skewed towards roadways, which account for over 60% of the total goods transported. This signals under-utilization of cost-effective transport modes such as railways and waterways. India has therefore one of the highest logistics cost, standing at around 14% of its GDP against the average of 6-8% in many other countries.

High logistics costs are caused primarily by poor transport infrastructure and bureaucratic bottlenecks. As per The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) estimates, India could save US$50 billion just by reducing its logistics costs down to 9% of its GDP. To achieve this, there is an imminent need for an integrated logistics and transport policy that can bring down the overall logistics cost by addressing the present infrastructure and legislative challenges. The Modi administration has realized this and therefore strong impetus has been given to improve the nation’s logistics infrastructure.

India has one of the highest logistics cost, standing at around 14% of its GDP against the average of 6-8% in many other countries.

To improve India’s logistics and trade competitiveness, the government, in 2015, launched its ambitious Bharatmala Pariyojana, an umbrella of programs that aim to bridge the current infrastructure deficiencies through corridor-based development across the nation. This in turn is expected to result in faster movement of goods and in a boost of national as well as international trade while reducing logistics costs.

The project aims to construct a network of 66,100 km of highways at an estimated cost of INR7 trillion (~US$101.7 billion). Under the first phase of the project, a total of 34,800 km of roads with an investment of INR5.4 trillion (~US$78.5 billion) are to be constructed by 2022. The funding for the scheme will be raised through various sources: INR1.4 trillion (~US$20.3 billion) will come from the earmarked Central Road Fund (CRF), INR2.1 trillion (~US$30.5 billion) is expected to be raised as debt from market borrowings, INR1 trillion (~US$14.5 billion) from private investments, and the rest from expected asset monetization of National Highway (NH) and toll collections.

Bharatmala - The Game Changer for Indian Logistics

Under the first phase of the project, 44 new economic corridors will be developed to improve connectivity across corridors and remote areas of the country to ensure faster movement of freight. The project will kick start from western states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, and move towards Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand in the north, and towards Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim, and Assam in the east, right up to Indo-Myanmar border in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Mizoram.

Further, 35 multi-modal logistics parks are also planned to be developed that will serve as centers for freight aggregation and distribution, storage and warehousing, and other value-added services. These logistics parks will cater to key production and consumption centers accounting for 45% of India’s road freight. As a result, the consolidation of freight is expected to improve efficiencies and reduce logistics costs by approximately 25%.

EOS Perspective

There is no doubt that, if implemented as per the plan, Bharatmala project has the potential to transform the entire logistics landscape in India. However, given the country’s past project record, there are major hurdles that need to be addressed.

First and foremost, in order to catch up with the ambitious project targets for 2022, the government needs to construct 40 km of roads per day, up from the current average of 23 km. Achieving this looks very challenging, especially when The Road and Highways Ministry has so far lowered the total road projects awards to 20,000 km for FY2018/19 from 25,000 km in FY2017/18.

In addition, timely land acquisitions, lack of clear land titles, regulatory clearances, and dependence on local authorities are some other roadblocks that will hinder project implementation.

Lastly, there is a growing sense of political volatility amid the upcoming general elections in 2019. Given the recent form of setbacks that the ruling party has faced in state elections, there are growing concerns over its victory. A change in government could seriously impact Bharatmala and ancillary projects, since the new government may have different agenda as their priority.

In order to catch up with the ambitious project targets for 2022, the government needs to construct 40 km of roads per day, up from the current average of 23 km.

In 2014, when Narendra Modi’s administration took charge, highway projects over INR1 trillion (~US$14.5 billion) were stuck either for funds or various regulatory clearances. The government has made noteworthy progress since then by expediting many of these projects.

By leveraging technologies and removing bureaucratic bottlenecks, the government seems to be committed to strengthen the sector. A quick look into last two union budgets clearly indicates that the government’s thrust has been on enhancing infrastructure in India and massive budgetary provisions have been made to improve logistics infrastructure. In recent weeks, a big push has been given to complete about 320 important highway projects ahead of the elections next year.

If re-elected, the Modi administration is expected to keep the current infrastructure momentum going. This might not only improve India’s logistics competitiveness, but also make other government initiatives such as Make in India more compelling for private investors. The project might also give a strong push to the economy by generating millions of direct jobs in sectors such as construction, logistics, and transportation, as well as indirect employment opportunities in manufacturing and other ancillary industries. It can boost manufacturing as well as trade, since there will be a surge in demand for goods such as steel, cement, construction equipment, commercial vehicles, etc.

There is no doubt that once completed, Bharatmala has the potential to transform the entire Indian logistics sector. However, at present, for Bharatmala project and the logistics sector, a lot hinges on the outcome of the upcoming elections.

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

OBOR – What’s in Store for Multinational Companies?

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One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative, also known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is part of China’s development strategy to improve its trade relations with countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. OBOR envisions to not just bring economic benefits to China but to also help other participating countries by integrating their development strategies along the way. It has the potential to be one of the most successful economic development initiatives globally. Opportunities are countless for investment along this route. Multinational companies are looking to make the most out of this project, however, capitalizing on this opportunity will not be easy. To benefit from this initiative, companies need to understand that assiduous research and effective long-term planning is crucial, as the nations involved, though offer economic growth, will also present a series of geopolitical risks and challenges.

Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled OBOR in 2013, aiming to improve relations and create new links and business opportunities between China and 64 other countries included in the OBOR. The initiative has two main segments: The Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), a land route designed to connect China with Central Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), a sea route that runs west from China’s east coast to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, and east to the South Pacific. These two routes will form six economic corridors as the framework of the initiative outside China – New Eurasian Land Bridge, China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor, China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor, China-Indochina Peninsula Corridor, China-Pakistan Corridor, and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor.

OBOR brings opportunities and challenges

Multinational companies will have a plethora of opportunities to explore along these economic corridors – for instance, trading companies can take advantage of these routes for logistics, while energy companies can use these corridors as gateways for exploring new sites of natural resources such as oil and natural gas. Along with dedicated routes, OBOR will require huge investment which is proposed to come from three infrastructure financing institutions set up as a part of this initiative – Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), The Silk Road Fund (SRF), and The New Development Bank (NDB).

The development of OBOR opens up a range of opportunities for overseas businesses. However, with the initiative being launched by the Chinese government and all the six corridors running across the country, it is clear that China will play a major role in most of the business collaborations. Thus, multinational companies investing in OBOR can prefer to partner with Chinese companies and leverage the partnership to access projects and assignments in other countries. Companies are also likely to be able to access new routes to sell products cheaply and efficiently, but looking for opportunities across OBOR would definitely involve initial partnerships between multinationals and Chinese state-owned enterprises.

OBOR – What’s in Store for Multinational Companies

Oil, gas, coal, and electricity

OBOR has the potential to open up opportunities for collaboration in the areas of oil, gas, coal, and electricity. Several energy opportunities may emerge with the OBOR initiative, and these energy-related investment projects are likely to be an important part of OBOR. For instance, the Gwadar-Nawabshal LNG Terminal and Pipeline in Pakistan includes building an LNG terminal in the Balochistan province and a gas pipeline between Iran and central Pakistan. Estimated at a total value of US$46 billion, the project was announced in October 2015 along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Energy projects along OBOR include initiatives largely by Chinese companies due to funds coming in from China-led financial institutions. In another investment, General Electric, an American corporation, signed a pact with China National Machinery Industry Corporation (Sinomach), in 2015, to offer project contracting (for supply of machinery and hardware tools) for developing a 102-MW Kipeto wind project in Kenya. The project aims to set up 2,036 MW of installed capacity from wind power by 2030. Kipeto wind project was originally a part of US president Barack Obama’s ‘Power Africa’ initiative, but with Sinomach joining in hands, it is clear that more initiatives like this can be expected to come up in the near future as a part of OBOR.

Logistics

Players in the logistics industry can also benefit from the improved infrastructure along the OBOR. In 2015, DHL Global Forwarding, providing air and ocean freight forwarding services, started its first service on the southern rail corridor between China and Turkey, a critical segment of China’s OBOR initiative. This rail corridor is expected to strengthen Turkey’s trading businesses along with benefiting transport and freight industries of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Logistics companies can also initially partner with local postal or freight agencies to set up new business in these regions. OBOR can provide fast, cost-effective, and high-frequency connections between countries along the route. Improved infrastructure, reduced logistics costs, and better transport infrastructure will also contribute to driving e-commerce businesses in the regions.

Tourism

Tourism is expected to also see a major boost as a result of OBOR initiative. As connectivity between countries improve and new locations become easily accessible, the tourism industry is expected to see positive growth in the coming years. To support tourism, Evergreen Offshore Inc., a Hong Kong-based private equity firm, in 2016, launched a US$1.28 billion tourism-focused private equity fund called Asia Pacific One Belt One Road Tourism Industry Fund to boost relations between China and Malaysia by investing in tourism sector. The company invested in Malaysia as the country is considered an ideal investment destination for a long-term gain. This is in sync with the long term vision of OBOR to promote tourism sector in countries and regions along the MSR.

As OBOR develops, new markets along the routes are likely to open to business. The already existing routes will experience business diversification as infrastructure and connectivity improves. Trade barriers will most likely reduce as developing countries become more open to international investment which brings new jobs, better infrastructure, economic growth, and improved quality of life. There is bound to be growth in consulting business, professional services, and industrial sectors apart from trade and logistics.

EOS Perspective

While OBOR initiative assures opportunities for multinational companies, the path may not be smooth for all. Investing in these new geographies, companies will come across various economies with different legal and regulatory frameworks. Political stability is also a matter of concern – some regions may have sound political structures while others may be dealing with ineffective government policies. In fact, political instability and violence are some of the key challenges in the development of OBOR. Weak government policies and lack of communal benefit lead to political instability including terrorism and riots. These factors influence the availability of resources, negatively impact the setting up of businesses locally, thus resulting in financial losses for multinationals. Local investments need policies and investment protection backed by the governments to facilitate growth which is far more difficult to achieve in case of political and economic instability. Taking advantage of the opportunities associated with OBOR may be of strategic importance, but the companies need to be cautious about the obstacles associated with it.

While OBOR initiative assures opportunities for multinational companies, the path may not be smooth for all. Political instability and violence are some of the key challenges in the development of OBOR.

Local competitors will also present obstacles to multinational firms. The competition is stiff for international players as local companies can operate better in riskier environment at low operating costs. Not only will regional companies pose a threat for survival of multinationals, in many scenarios, partnering with Chinese companies will also be a massive challenge. Many Chinese companies do not implement a clear structure while partnering with other international companies. Decision making and profit sharing is often not properly documented. Lack of clarity in business dealings give these state-owned enterprises an upper hand.

Complexity and lack of transparency in local regulatory framework for setting up a new business is also a hindrance for investments in many geographies along the OBOR. Absence of clear policies and delays in decision-making processes can prove too challenging for companies to adapt to which may even lead to financial losses or failed attempts to establish local operations. Issues such as corruption, challenges associated with supply chain security, and financial risks are some of the other obstacles that companies are likely to face while setting up businesses in new countries along the OBOR route.

Complexity and lack of transparency in local regulatory framework are a hindrance for investments in many geographies along the OBOR.

OBOR is still in the initial years of implementation. The initiative offers great potential for developing regions in need for improved infrastructure and economic growth but what this really means for multinational companies is still somewhat unclear. It encourages participation from international companies to turn the initiative a success, but there are no clear guidelines on how these investments would be integrated into the OBOR. With a major part of investment coming from China-based institutions, dominance of Chinese companies in major projects cannot be avoided. While the underlying aim of the initiative is to reduce China’s industrial overcapacity and to strengthen its economy, there are concerns about the part being played by multinational companies. To what extent would they participate, who would be the main investor (Chinese company or multinational companies), and how much share and what say would the multinational company have in a project, etc., are some of the questions that still remain unanswered.

With major part of investment coming from China-based institutions, dominance of Chinese companies in major projects cannot be avoided.

In view of these risks and challenges, we believe it is too early to estimate the scale of potential monetary benefits for companies wanting to invest along the OBOR route to expand their businesses. It will surely not be easy for multinational companies to compete for benefits from OBOR in an environment heavily dominated by Chinese companies. Developing business policies and financing schemes through related institutions can help the multinational firms to benefit from this initiative in the long run. There is no doubt that OBOR has the potential to open new markets for doing business by redrawing the global trade map, however, with no clarity and transparency on the role MNC’s as part of OBOR initiative, companies need to correctly identify the best opportunity by accessing the right market and find effective ways to mitigate a wide range of associated risks. For now, the future role of MNC’s in this environment is uncertain. They will have to wait and watch to work out a stable business arrangement. But in current times of global geopolitical turbulence, such a harmony is never guaranteed.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commercial Drones Poised to Be the Next Disruptive Technology?

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While drones have been around for decades, the commercial use of this technology is a fairly new concept for various businesses. The rise of commercial drones in the recent years triggered high hopes for incorporating such technology in a range of sectors. However, a lot of preparatory work is required for the market to evolve and for the technology to be incorporated in businesses’ operations.

Initially reserved for military use, unmanned autonomous vehicles or drones are now being considered for the commercial marketplace. In recent years, commercial drones have witnessed significant product innovations and are now being utilized in various industries. Equipped with cameras, commercial drones are used for mapping, delivery, inspection, and surveillance. Valued at US$ 609 million in 2014, the market is forecasted to reach US$ 4.8 billion by 2020. These machines now have the potential to transform the traditional business models by including a range of opportunities across various industries including infrastructure, agriculture, insurance, security, etc.

Growth

Infrastructure

An increased usage of commercial drones has been witnessed in the infrastructure industry. Commercial drones are cheaper than manned aircraft and have the ability to gather data more precise and faster than human surveyors. This helps the construction workers to track the work progress with a higher degree of accuracy. Further, drone monitoring of construction sites enables workers to keep a check on material storage and handling, thereby preventing wastage of materials. While the use of commercial drones in the infrastructure industry will not have any effect on employment, it is likely to reduce overtime costs by keeping a track of the construction progress and eliminating rework or fixes.

Agriculture

In agriculture, farmers use commercial drones to reduce their dependence on extra resources required to produce crops. Drones have the ability to survey fields, spray pesticides, and also collect data required in reviewing crops, with data collection being their most promising utility. This saves farmer’s time and money required to evaluate acres of land manually and also helps in getting timely information about the status of their fields to improve crop health. Commercial drones, thus, help overcome a huge challenge in farming, i.e., limited efficiency in monitoring huge areas of land. The use of commercial drones in agriculture is likely to lead to farming becoming data-driven, leading to better productivity and yield.

Transport

Commercial drones are also increasingly used in the transport industry, particularly for the delivery of goods in the e-commerce sector. Retailers such as Amazon and Walmart have been focusing on setting up the infrastructure required for delivering products to customers. Drone delivery is now considered central to Amazon’s long term shipping plan, and is likely to modify the company’s cost structure. The introduction of Amazon Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery system, is likely to lower the cost of a same-day small package delivery to US$ 1. In addition, convenience store chain, 7 Eleven, and fast food chain, Domino’s Pizza, recently partnered with Flirtey, a drone delivery company, to initiate the delivery of food to customers. The companies believe that drone deliveries will help them cut down their delivery cost and save traffic time to offer efficient delivery services.

Insurance

The insurance sector is also an early adopter of the drone technology. Commercial drones are being used to record details about a location or building to gather useful information for risks assessment and claims processing. With the ability to view difficult angles, take high resolution photos and videos, and easy portability, commercial drones can enter places such as burned out homes or chemical spills more easily than insurance adjusters, thus, saving insurance adjusters from entering potentially dangerous areas. Drones can also speed up the surveying process and save costs by covering large areas of the property in a short span of time, thereby employing lower number of adjusters. In addition, drones are useful in monitoring areas prone to natural disasters, making it easier for national government working with insurance companies to prepare for catastrophe and prevent damage and casualties. For instance, in January 2016, Aviva PLC, an insurance company, deployed drones to survey flood damage in the UK. The drones were used to provide a macro view of the area and guide the company’s staff on the ground. While it is too early to say whether commercial drones will be able to replace insurance adjusters, they are already used to speed up the inspection process and offer more detailed property data.

Challenges

EOS Perspective

The drone technology has started to a find its home in the commercial sector. Various industries have initiated the adoption of drones with a view to increase efficiency, lower operational costs, speed up several links within the supply chain, and obtain valuable information. In the near future, the commercial drones industry is likely to gain more traction, particularly by large scale industries such as agriculture and infrastructure. This, coupled with the ongoing technological innovations such as better sensor technology, seamless software function, better integration, etc., is likely to boost the commercial demand for such machines.

Having said that, the industry will need to overcome certain regulatory challenges to go beyond the currently nascent stage of development. While on the one hand, the development of the regulatory framework has sparked hopes for industries willing to adopt the drone technology, on the other hand, the stringent rules regarding the usage of such technology are likely to cool down the industries’ enthusiasm to some extent. However, though the initial set of rules is restrictive in nature, it is believed, that the regulations might change once the industries exhibit drones operations in a safely manner. For instance, the rule regarding the weight limit might start accepting waivers in certain categories, thereby prompting the regulators to alter the ruling. While it is clear that in its stage of infancy, the commercial drones industry is expected to face regulatory uncertainty, in the long run, with a possible evolving regulatory regime, the business potential of the commercial drones could be game-changing.

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

Intermodal Transportation Picks Up Steam

Intermodal transportation is emerging as a popular mode of transporting cargo owing to its economic and environmental benefits. While companies preferred over-the-road (OTR) transportation as it offered higher flexibility, a significant surge in freight rail infrastructure (especially across the USA and Europe) and a decline in availability of OTR drivers have led to several companies shifting to intermodal shipping. However, intermodal transportation has its own share of challenges, which, if not addressed effectively, can severely impact the entity’s operations.

As shippers are looking to cut costs as well their carbon footprint, they are steadily shifting towards intermodal transportation. This is further boosted by countries investing heavily to improve their intermodal infrastructure. However, growing popularity of intermodal transportation has resulted in shortages in chassis equipment and severe traffic jams at ports and terminals, among other challenges. Companies that manage to overcome these challenges by better planning and use of technology can definitely reap savings offered by this mode of transportation.

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EOS Perspective

The question regarding intermodality is not of a yes or no, but more of a ‘how much’. While intermodal transportation offers several benefits over OTR, it is very critical for companies to assess the extent to which intermodality can work for them. Moreover, given the improvements in infrastructure and technology, companies that currently feel that intermodal does not work them, should not dismiss it once and for all, but should continue to re-evaluate the situation every six-monthly to annually.

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