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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

Amazon: Prepared to Digitalize Grocery Business in the USA?

For the past several years, Amazon has been battling to break into the grocery retail market. After several experiments, Amazon has now embraced technology to differentiate its offerings and improve customer experience – a bold tech-fueled strategy to establish itself in the grocery market in the USA. Its latest innovations have shaken the traditional retail store concept and brought in revolutionary ideas of checkout-aisle free convenience stores, robot-controlled outlets, and voice-enabled online shopping.

Amazon is set to soon open its technology-powered brick and mortar stores in the USA, an idea that it once shunned, due to the strong belief that it could win over customers only through online channel. These stores have the potential to offer seamless store experience.

Amazon Go – Grocery store of the future

The company unveiled check-out free, Amazon Go store that ensures hassle-free and smooth shopping experience by eliminating the need to wait in queues to bill items – which was one of the key grievances of time-pressed customers. Launched in December 2016 in Seattle, the store is still in private beta mode and accessed only by Amazon employees. The public launch date is scheduled for early 2017.

The store operates on ‘just walk out technology’ that allows shoppers with Amazon Prime accounts to tap their phones on a turnstile while entering the store, and from then onwards, the technology tracks the selected items and adds them to a virtual cart, which is billed and sent to customer’s Amazon account.

The ‘just walk out technology’ has been developed using recent innovations such as computer vision, sensor fusion, deep learning, and artificial intelligence, among others. Products have embedded tracking devices – functioning through high-tech object recognition and inventory management systems – which pair with customers’ phones to charge their Amazon accounts. The weight sensitive shelves alert Amazon regarding restocking requirements.

Amazon has not yet commented on the number of stores it intends to open.

Robot-powered supermarket – Soon to be reality

A robot-operated supermarket is no longer just a figment of imagination with Amazon working towards opening such outlets soon. The supermarket is likely to be an extended colossal version of Amazon Go stores – the idea is to build two story, about 10,000-40,000 square foot store, stocked with over 4,000 items.

Shopping experience will be facilitated with robots that will pick up items from shelves and bag them in the first floor to deliver it customers waiting downstairs. Items will be charged automatically to customer’s account, replicating the Amazon Go’s check-out and billing concept.

Customers will have option of in-store shopping or to order online and pick-up items from the store later – offering both facilities is Amazon’s strategy to attract more customers.

The stores will be able to function with as few as six staff members to a maximum of 10 workers per location during any shift, against the industry average of 90 employees required to run a supermarket. The stores will only require a manager to sign up people for the Amazon Fresh service, a worker to restock shelves, two employees stationed at drive-through windows for customers collecting their groceries, and another two employees to help robots bag groceries, which would be sent down through conveyors.

Eventually, Amazon aims to introduce robot-run stores globally.

Alexa – Powering the age of hands-free shopping

In March 2017, Amazon successfully launched yet another innovative solution, Alexa, which is an artificial intelligence-powered voice assistant that facilitates shopping on Prime Now for its members (currently, limited to the USA). It ensures seamless, hands-free, and convenient shopping experience, as the user only has to give a voice command as ‘Alexa, order from Prime Now’ and the job is done.

Alexa is extremely versatile and a multi-tasker, it can search for items, re-order or track orders, add items to cart, and give product recommendations. Besides being a powerful shopping tool, it can also read kindle books, control selected smart home products, play music from Amazon’s own services, etc.

Voice-enabled shopping service is available through Amazon devices such Echo, Fire tablet, and Fire TV, and it has been integrated with Amazon’s Shopping app for iOS platform.

EOS Perspective

Will Amazon’s innovations threaten other players in the market?

Other retailers feel the pressure to upgrade services to keep up with Amazon’s enhanced shopping experience. Kroger launched ClickList (an online grocery ordering service, where the customer needs to visit the store to pick up the items) across 500 stores and is using technology to analyze shopping habits of customers to generate relevant coupons for them.

In January 2017, Walmart launched Scan and Go app for Android users (already available for iPhone customers), to compete with Amazon. The app scans barcodes of items, customers can pay through the app, and show receipt at the gate before exiting the store. The prototype is still in testing phase and is likely to roll out by the end of 2017.

Amazon’s technology will not be easy to replicate nor will a lot of retailers have the capacity to implement technological innovation of such a massive scale, hence, Amazon is certainly likely to have an edge over its competitors when its stores open for public. Amazon’s competitors in the grocery business definitely feel threatened and have started to revamp strategies and use technology to reach more customers, however, the scale of their innovations still remains miniscule in comparison with Amazon.

Why is Amazon pushing for innovation?

After a decade of Amazon’s food retail experiments, with limited success through online channel, the company decided to launch physical stores. But cracking through the US$ 800 billion grocery market in the USA, already dominated with players such as Target, Walmart, Kroger, etc., is not so simple. Consequently, Amazon strategized to carve a niche for itself by differentiating its offerings, using technology to provide flawless, quick, and smooth shopping experience for customers. The move is expected to accelerate its penetration into the grocery business.

Amazon’s core business model is based on behavior modification, which revolves around attracting consumers to e-commerce website, and now also to physical stores, converting the customers into Prime members, and eventually driving them to spend more across categories.

All of Amazon’s new inventions, including Alexa, Amazon Go, and robot-powered outlets, will push consumers to eventually become Prime members, as holding a Prime membership is the basic requirement to be able to access these services. Prime members, besides paying an annual subscription fee, are likely to shop and spend four times more than the non-Prime members, which makes Amazon’s retail business profitable – in 2016, revenue from Amazon Prime and other subscription services such as e-books and videos stood at US$ 6.4 billion, growing by about 40% annually.

The other benefit of automation for Amazon includes minimizing labor cost, which accounts for lion’s share in a supermarket’s operating cost. Further, the robot-controlled supermarket’s design is likely to slash real-estate costs by reducing the need for aisles that typically occupy large areas of traditional supermarkets. Using robots on the first floor will also allow Amazon to stock more products in space smaller than in conventional stores. The store prototype is expected to yield profit margins above 20% against the industry average of 1.7%.

Further, Amazon envisions to open 2,000 stores in the USA over the next 10 years against the current 2,800 stores of Kroger, USA’s largest traditional supermarket chain. This indicates that, if these store openings are successful and if the profit margins are achieved as expected, Amazon could potentially be a real threat to conventional retailers over time.

Will these innovations be truly disruptive or have limited impact on grocery retail segment?

The path to building futuristic concepts and prototypes will definitely not be a cake walk for Amazon. It might face adversities such as increased chances of theft due to the store formats of Amazon Go and robot-driven supermarkets. Selling random weight items (fresh fruit and vegetables, sliced meats, etc.) can be difficult to incorporate in Amazon Go’s automatic checkout system.

Lastly, success of these stores will depend on their location and sales volume generated – opening stores in downtown areas might be difficult at the beginning because high rentals may not be covered by the sales achieved.

Certainly, the technology-driven stores are not a mass market option for Amazon today nor is the success of these prototypes guaranteed. Also, as grocery retail operates on wafer thin margins, lasting innovation is rare in this segment.

Amazon’s bold technological innovations might not be big enough to disrupt the industry yet. However, considering Amazon’s steady financials and relentless efforts towards automation, it is likely that the company could forge ways to make grocery retail more profitable and efficient in the future.

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