As e-commerce in Latin America becomes more sophisticated, e-commerce enablers must up their game
According to eMarketer, e-commerce retail sales in Latin America reached $47 billion in 2015. Compare this to US retail e-commerce, clocking in at $341 billion in 2015, and Latin American e-commerce looks troublingly underdeveloped. The reasons for this are well known: banked rates hover at around 30% and a fear of fraud deters even affluent credit card holders from shopping online. A lesser understood reason is that local e-commerce payment enablers and banks lack some technological expertise, resulting in too many authentic transactions being declined. In Mexico, this number is 14%. In Peru, it can reach 60%.
The good news is, e-commerce in Latin America will grow 15% annually through 2019, ranging from 11% in Brazil to 40% in Peru. This is due to organic growth, but also because of a concerted effort by payment enablers to improve the customer experience, an opportunity that is inviting ever more competition.
E-commerce enablement in Latin America remains a fragmented industry. In Brazil there are at least 20 e-commerce payment gateways–technology companies who enable online payments for merchants. In Colombia, which represents just 9% of Brazil’s eCommerce market, there are 10. Peru, smaller still, has at least eight. Going forward, competition will ramp up in three distinct ways: 1) existing leaders will expand into new markets and improve their product offering; 2) local startups will enter the market; and 3) new international gateways will arrive in Latin America for the first time.
Regionally, market leaders include PayPal, PayU and MercadoPago. PayPal established local presence in Brazil and Mexico in 2010 and 2012, respectively, and has since expanded local service to Chile, Peru and Colombia. PayPal has exceled at gaining consumer trust of its brand thanks to its enhanced security and value-added services such as free return shipping for remorseful buyers. PayU has the largest footprint in e-commerce enablement in the region with presence in seven markets; growth is in the triple digits for newly launched markets, such as Peru. As a Colombian company, PayU has positioned itself as the Latin American e-commerce expert. In 2015, MercadoPago partnered with Alipay to enable payments in Mexico for AliExpress (Alibaba), the largest marketplace in the world.
But where PayPal, PayU and MercadoPago have achieved regional recognition, other gateways have faltered. The region is littered with less savvy companies with unstable and insecure platforms, which can result in dismal conversion rates under 50%. As consumers climb the e-commerce learning curve, their expectations for user experience increase and merchants become less tolerant of shoddy service.
Emerging local competition
New local players want to capitalize on the mediocre service of incumbents. Conekta, founded in Mexico in 2012, enables advanced features less common in Latin America, including recurring payments, card-on-file, and anti-fraud tools that negate the need for authorization via 3D Secure. Similar launches include Brazil’s Ebanx, which specializes in enabling local payment methods for cross-border e-commerce, and Peru’s Culqui, catering to the m-commerce market. As these companies consolidate in their home countries, we can expect regional expansion, with a focus on small and medium businesses that need excellent customer service and intuitive tools.
Additionally, local payment gateways and merchants are capitalizing on cash payments for e-commerce. The boleto bancario, a cash-based invoice used religiously in Brazil, actually gained share in e-commerce in 2015, ticking up from 18% of transactions to 19%. This is due in part to Brazilians turning away from credit in a more economically challenging climate, but also because an increasing number of e-merchants are accepting boletos for the first time. SafetyPay, a Miami-based cash payment enabler, has expanded throughout the region to 14 markets, and is actively integrating operations with local gateways. PagoEfectivo, a Peruvian competitor to SafetyPay, launched in October 2015 the country’s first prepaid card specifically for e-commerce. By enabling these alternative payments, merchants tap into two severely underserved segments: card holders who are afraid to use a credit card online, and uncarded customers who are otherwise shut out of the e-commerce channel.
Emerging local competition is trouble for international gateways, including 2Checkout, Adyen, and Global Collect, who face the disadvantage of not being plugged into local processors. As such, transactions are charged in foreign currencies and consumers are assessed FX fees. Merchant earnings are stored abroad, necessitating costly wire transfers to the local market. Traditionally, many merchants have preferred international gateways because of their technological superiority, better authorization rates and lower fees. But as the local gateway offering improves, merchants region-wide are switching to local providers.
This does not stop new international players from being attracted to Latin America, with the belief that they can outwit or outmuscle the region’s local solutions. The most poignant example is Stripe, who is in pursuit of the burgeoning m-commerce segment. In beta phases in Brazil and Mexico, Stripe wants to launch its own product in the underpenetrated segment of in-app payments and payments via social media. It faces little or no competition.
As the e-commerce market matures, international payment companies are launching evermore sophisticated products into Latin America, encroaching on the turf of legacy players. Visa launched Visa Checkout, a card-on-file wallet, in Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil in 2015, and MasterCard will likely expand its competing product, MasterPass, in 2016. eCommerce giant AliExpress has made significant strides with its proprietary gateway, AliPay, and YellowPepper is powering multiple digital wallets in Colombia, Mexico, and Ecuador.
Heyday for merchants and consumers. A test of cunning for payment companies.
A turbulent competitive landscape is a win for merchants and consumers. With increased competition, consumers enjoy an improved e-commerce experience, enhanced convenience and a lower risk of fraud. Merchants face declining fees and better customer service as greater competition pushes lame ducks out of the market.
One downside for international merchants, however, is the complexity of the e-commerce enablement landscape from a regional perspective. There is no one provider to enable e-commerce for all of Latin America, a rude awakening to merchants expecting an easy LatAm solution. Gateways who a) have presence in multiple markets and b) enable local payment solutions, such as PayU and Ebanx, have the best shot at international merchants and their lucrative cross-border sales. But international merchants unfamiliar with these less-known brands are often gun-shy to go with a local solution. Regardless, a multi-faceted approach to Latin American e-commerce is required.
Payment gateways, both big and small, are under fire from all angles. Large players need to measure the competitive dynamic and identify acquisition targets or weaknesses that they can exploit with their own service launch. Start-ups, armed with superior technology, need quick wins and need to find the right partners to scale up their operations. New players, in search of funding, need to prove to investors that their offering is superior to what is found in the market. In short, competition is growing fiercer and to compete, companies must arm themselves with market intelligence.
Original source: Americas Market Intelligence
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 eMartketer. 2015. “Retail Ecommerce Sales Near $50 Billion in Latin America.” http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Retail-Ecommerce-Sales-Near-50-Billion-Latin-America/1012744/.
 De Nale, R. and D. Weidenhamer. 2015. “Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales, 4th Quarter 2015.” US Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/pdf/ec_current.pdf/
 3D Secure is technology offered by Visa and MasterCard for card-not-present transactions, which requires the user to authenticate his/her identity, thereby enhancing securing. However, authentication adds an additional step to any e-commerce transaction and results in significantly lower authorization rates. Gateways are attempting to bypass the process using their own security features.
 Ebit. 2016. “Webshoppers 33a Edição 2016.” http://img.ebit.com.br/webshoppers/pdf/33_webshoppers.pdf