Ecommerce In The Caribbean
The Caribbean has had a slow growth when it comes to eCommerce, though the industry according to Statista, is now worth $5b annually. This growth has been contributed to majorly by the fact that Covid-19 forced people to shop online and thus prompting the more conservative Caribbean businesses to transition into online stores.
The growth of eCommerce in any region is usually influenced by the:
· Availability and affordability of internet across homesteads.
· Growth in cities.
· Widespread usage of debit cards instead of cash when shopping for household items.
· The growing investment by companies in logistics and warehouses.
Some of the factors above did play a role in the growth of eCommerce in the region, albeit slowly. Before we go ahead and discuss the current and the future of eCommerce in the Caribbean, let’s first understand why its growth has been primarily slow.
The Slow Growth of eCommerce in the Caribbean.
The slow growth of eCommerce in the Caribbean can be attributed to the fact that the Caribbean people prefer physical shopping, where they visit the particular store, feel and inspect the product before parting with their money.
Caribbean countries are usually small, thus the need to enhance and propagate person-to-person interactions, even when it comes to business transactions. Besides, the online retailers that existed did not really work as much to make the locals trust them enough to part with their money before receiving the products.
Many retailers who wanted to go the online route knew that they had to invest time and money to realign the mindset of the people, and even train them about online shopping and the benefits of new services such as personal shopping.
The other reason why there has been a slow growth of eCommerce in the Caribbean is because of the lack of localization of the internet in the region. In fact, only 50% of the homesteads here have access to uninterrupted internet and doesn’t come cheap either.
Until recently, there wasn’t a convenient online payment solution that worked seamlessly in the region. To run an online store, many businesses had to rely on Cash on delivery method, something that didn’t really work with companies offering digital services and products. To enable other solid payment services such as Stripe companies had to cut corners or buy tickets to the US to register companies over there.
Factors That Necessitated the Adoption of ECommerce in Trinidad and Its Surroundings.
With the increasing demand for faster delivery and the growing busy schedules, the region had no choice but to embrace the convenience of online shopping. To make this happen, companies and brands took advantage of the prevailing favorable conditions to set up online stores.
Some of the factors contributing to the adoption of eCommerce in the Caribbean include:
Improved Internet Coverage and Speed
Many households today in the region have access to the internet and most countries in the region have seen high download speeds of up to 56mbps.
The Entrance of New Payment Systems in Region.
Lack of a reliable online payment solution has been the main challenge in rolling out eCommerce in the region. However, with the new solutions entering the market, it’s now easier for consumers to complete transactions online and have their orders processed. One such infrastructure is WIPAY.
WIPAY is a Caribbean payment system that allows people to make and receive card and cash payments instantly and securely, thus solving a challenge that had been encountered by many merchants since Stripe is still not supported in the region.
WooCommerce users can also use this First Atlantic Commerce Gateway by Webgold to accept and process payments thus eliminating the need for international processors. Earnings are routed straight to the merchant’s bank account.
eCommerce Service Providers and Infrastructure
While major eCommerce platforms like WooCommerce and Magento can be used almost anywhere in the world, setting them up can be a challenge for the common Caribbean person who isn’t tech-savvy.
Taking advantage of the now growing eCommerce industry, many reputable companies that specialize in various eCommerce platforms have been set up and they offer full-web development around these platforms.
Some of the notable businesses that offer eCommerce development services in the region include:
· Ollo Caribbean: WooCommerce developers
· Webgold: Shopify developers
· Bizspice: Magento developers
Another notable e-commerce platform that is rapidly growing in the area is WIShops. This is a product by WIPAY and thus comes with WIPAY already integrated with it. With over 800 templates to choose from, WIShops makes it super easy for anyone to build, customize, upload products and launch their online stores in minutes.
Improved Banking Platforms
Some banks in the Caribbean region have embraced internet banking and even started financing e-businesses. These banks include JMMB and BDL.
Case Study: eCaribbeanOnline
One of the early adopters of eCommerce in the region is eCaribbeanonline.com, a website started by Rennie warner, a Trinidadian. This idea came about when in 2011, Warner bought a phone from abroad and later discovered that his neighbor was selling 2 phones of the same brand at a price cheaper than he had paid.
Wanting to spread the message that Caribbean-made products were quite as good as the imported brands, Warner set up an online store where people could buy and sell products online. He called it Trini Buy, Trini Sell which was later, over the years rebranded to eCaribbeanOnline and now exports products to other countries.
Challenges Still Facing ECommerce Businesses in the Region
The high Cost of Telecommunication Services.
Despite the deregulation of the telecommunication market in countries such as Barbados, the telecommunication services charges are still exorbitant, which thus promotes the perception by the local businesses that the broadband connections fees make it unfeasible to establish eCommerce models in the area
The high charges are not unique to one part of the region though. They are generally high all across the Caribbean.
The reluctance of Local Banks to Facilitate Online Transactions.
It turns out that changing the established behavior of local banks of not being receptive to financing eCommerce requires more than just policy formulations. By not fully servicing the online sector, local banks are killing the narrative that seeks to enhance the validity, integrity, and reliability of electronic transactions.
The Future of eCommerce in Trinidad
Covid-19 has changed the face of eCommerce in the Caribbean for good, but that doesn’t mean that all the hindrances that existed before the pandemic have been combated. We are looking forward to a regional economy that is more welcoming to online shopping and banks starting to see the sense and the future of eCommerce.
More local businesses will add online stores to their bonnet and soon competition for the digital dollar will start picking up in the region. With increased competition, the residents will get rewarded with cheaper shipping and faster deliveries. As a business, the time to act is now. Establish your online presence, build a reliable online store, and put systems in place to ensure that every order is processed and that customers can track their orders online.