Both Argentina and Chile have experienced sustained growth in cross-border e-commerce purchase volumes since the pandemic despite economic difficulties and global logistics disruption. Chile continues to be a more mature market than its neighbor, but both are forecasted to grow at a healthy pace, according to Americas Market Intelligence (AMI) projections.
Argentina: a resilient market despite government restrictions
AMI figures show that by the end of 2019 (pre-pandemic), cross-border e-commerce in Argentina was worth US$150 million. Post-pandemic, it is estimated that the market will be worth USD 1 billion by the end of 2025, growing with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32% between 2021 and 2025. This growth will be fueled by the boom in domestic e-commerce and the number of users that have started buying online thanks to major improvements in international marketplaces such as mobile apps and Spanish-language websites.
¿How does cross-border e-commerce work in Argentina?
The regulatory framework allows online consumers in Argentina to purchase in two different ways.
Any consumer based in Argentina who wishes to purchase from abroad will have to do so following the two regulated consumer import frameworks: the “door to door” or the “small package” frameworks.
#1 Door to door framework (via Correo Argentino)
- This framework enables consumers to buy from abroad and have Correo Argentino (the state-owned mail company) deliver the package to an address or have their package delivered to their closest Correo Argentino branch that operates a customs control service.
- Products permitted: Books, foods, clothes, toys, technology/electronics, homeware, etc., if they:
- Weigh less than 20kg
- Are not worth over USD 3,000
- Are for personal use (i.e., not commercial use).
- Process: The user purchases online and logs the parcel’s tracking code on Correo Argentino’s online portal where they complete a sworn statement and pay for import duties and the “processing” fee. After this, Argentina’s revenue service Administration Federal de Ingresos Públicos (AFIP)-Customs will decide whether the parcel can be delivered to the address or will be delivered to a branch.
- Import duties:
- If the purchase value is less than USD 50, no duties apply.
- If the purchase value is greater than USD 50, the buyer must pay 50% tax on the surplus (e.g., a USD 80 purchase means the buyer pays 50% of USD 30).
- Once the buyer has had more than 12 parcels delivered in a calendar year, each of the next parcels will be taxed at 50%, regardless of value.
- Processing fee: approximately USD 2 per parcel.
#2 Small package framework (via courier)
- This framework enables consumers to buy from abroad and have the parcel delivered by a courier.
- Products permitted: Books, foods, clothes, toys, technology/electronics, homeware, etc., if they:
- Weigh less than 50kg
- Are not worth over USD 3,000
- Are for personal use (not commercial use)
- Process: The user purchases online and has the parcel delivered by a courier (e.g., DHL and FedEx). The parcel arrives at their address and the buyer pays for the import taxes which are calculated by the courier using AFIP’s database. In some cases, especially when purchasing at large marketplaces, there is only one payment that covers the product’s cost, shipping, and import duties. Buyers are limited to 5 parcels in a calendar year.
New Models: Parcel Managers
Argentines buying from abroad face several “pain points” such as English language-only websites, as well as complex and long import processes. As a result of this, a new kind of business model in Argentina has appeared, in which local companies manage the buying and logistics process involved in buying from abroad.
In general terms, these “parcel managers” will run a warehouse in the United States which allow customers to buy from anywhere in the world, and have their purchases shipped to the warehouse. The company will receive these parcels and consolidate them under one big parcel which is then shipped to Argentina. This business model falls under the small package framework as the parcel managers are registered as couriers. The buyer will then pay a fee (and import taxes) to the courier in exchange for their management service and home delivery.
These companies mostly focus on improving the overall buying experience by minimizing delivery times, allowing customers to buy from more sellers, and offering several payment methods (including financing). The leading six companies in Argentina in 2022 are:
Cross Border E-Commerce Faces Two Main Challenges in Argentina: Waiting Times And Foreign Currency Controls
As a result of government and Central Bank regulations, all ‘overseas’ purchases paid for using local credit and debit cards are subject to an additional tax of around 65%. In practice, this means that the dollar price at which these operations are settled ends up being higher, and thus more expensive for the consumer.
However, the main pain point is waiting times. Social networks are flooded with complaints of parcels taking 3 months (or even longer) after arriving to be processed and dispatched for local delivery at Correo Argentino’s international warehouses. Many others complain about packages never being processed and being “lost”. When a package lands in Argentina, it is held up by customs until it is processed. If the parcel is classified for home (door to door) delivery, Correo Argentino will deliver a telegram with a local parcel tracking code to the buyer’s address. The buyer then logs this code on an online sworn statement and pays taxes (if it applies). If the buyer did this correctly, the package is then sent on its way to the buyer.
Correo Argentino and Customs act in a discretionary manner while processing products for home delivery or pick-up at a branch. In many cases, picking up the parcel at a branch ends up being a visit to Correo Argentino’s warehouse in Buenos Aires City, which is only open during work hours and is usually crammed.
Even though some of these issues can be avoided by having parcels delivered by couriers, each buyer can only have up to 5 parcels delivered in a calendar year. The only workaround to this is to turn to parcel managers, which allow buyers to have several purchases delivered in a single package.
Opportunities for Parcel Managers: Financing and “Closed” Ecosystems
Argentines, no matter the value of their purchase, love to pay in installments. These new players in the logistics industry can benefit from this by financing their clients’ purchases or by teaming up with third-party financial firms such as fintechs. For example, TiendaMia, one of the most mature players in this industry, offers their clients financing if they are clients of Banco Galicia. Aerobox allows customers to pay for shipping costs in installments through MercadoPago.
The unbanked population is excluded from buying online in overseas stores because online payments require a debit, credit, or prepaid card. Accepting cash payments would not only help the unbanked enter the market but it also would become an incentive for those that are keen on buying from abroad but are wary of cybersecurity issues.
One of the main barriers to effectively engaging in cross-border e-commerce is being able to navigate marketplaces in English and being able to carry out the purchase. A massive opportunity arises for couriers to integrate existing marketplaces with their websites. TiendaMia is leading the way in this area. The customer can search for products on Amazon and Walmart, among others, without leaving TiendaMia’s website. On top of this, TiendaMia filters out all those products that, by law, cannot be imported into Argentina. This means that buyers will never be able to buy a product and then find out that it cannot enter the country.
When it comes to logistics, parcel managers need to highlight their advantages over “regular” international shippers: safe shipments with better tracking, personalized customer care, and faster shipping times.
Chile, The Region’s Small and Low-Value Parcel Giant
Chile is one of Latin America’s most prosperous economies. Boasting a GDP of USD300 billion in 2021, its economy is the fifth largest in Latin America and the Caribbean, behind Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia. Currently, 19 million live in the country and it is expected that 20.48 million will be residing in Chile by 2025.
Cross border e-commerce has grown enormously in the last few years, so much so that around 60% of packages in transit are cross border. Compared to Argentina, cross-border e-commerce in Chile is a more mature industry because of less government intervention. AMI statistics estimate that by the end of 2019, Chilean cross-border e-commerce was worth around USD 740 million, only to more than double by the end of 2020 reaching USD 1.7 billion. AMI analysis expects e-commerce in Chile to grow with a CAGR of 19% between 2021 and 2025, meaning that its e-commerce market volume will reach US$31.9 billion by 2025, a considerable market size.
In Chile, like Argentina, there are two options for consumers to have their international parcels delivered. The first option is to have Correos de Chile (state-owned) deliver the package once it lands in Chile. The second option is the courier option.
If customs determines that the purchase is not for resale and that it is correctly valued at less than USD 30, import duties and VAT will not be charged. Otherwise, import duties are fixed at 6% and VAT at 19%.
Opportunities: Asian Boom and Overseas Warehousing
China is the main driver of the boom in cross-border e-commerce in Chile. In 2021, 60% of cross-border parcels bought by Chileans came from China. As a result of its large marketplace, low prices, and cheap shipping, AliExpress has become Chile’s favorite marketplace, comfortably outselling eBay and Amazon, generating 12 thousand orders every day.
As a result of this, Correos de Chile has partnered with AliExpress and Wish (a US company that ships its products from China) to “reduce friction in the shipping process” and “shorten delivery times.” In November 2021, Cainiao, the logistics arm of the group that owns AliExpress, expanded its contract with Atlas Air to improve its shipping capacity to Latin America. AtlasAir now operates daily flights in the Hong Kong-Brazil-Chile corridor, compared to 3 weekly flights before the agreement.
In April 2021, Amazon started offering free shipping for eligible products on orders over US$49 to customers in Chile. This shows the potential of the Chilean market for the e-commerce giant.
Overseas warehousing is a new logistics model that is very popular in Europe. We believe that it has real potential in Chile. In the overseas warehousing model, the international seller establishes warehouses in free trade zones and stores its best-selling products. When a purchase is made, the seller only needs to either ship it locally (if the buyer resides in the same country as the warehouse) or ship it internationally to a neighboring country. The idea behind this model is that the seller is closer to customers, minimizing shipping times.
One of the pioneers of this logistics model is AliExpress. The company has established several warehouses in Spain, Belgium, France, Poland, Malaysia, and the Czech Republic.
- Shorter waiting times: This model is the most effective in shortening delivery times. Once the buyer completes their order, the seller only needs to ship it locally or regionally. Compared to express international shipments, this logistics model is not as restricted in terms of volume and weight, expanding choice for the buyer.
- Utilizing free trade zones: Chile is an ideal country for this model to thrive in thanks to its free trade zones that would drastically reduce friction for the movement and shipping of products.
- Difficulty predicting stocks: The key in this logistics model is that the seller accurately predicts how much they will sell and therefore how much to store. At the best of times, this is a challenging task. With a growing cross-border e-commerce industry, it becomes even harder. If the seller keeps more stock than they need, this stock will have to be stored for longer at a cost. This model is best for high-volume products.
- Location problems: Choosing a country (and a city/region) is limited by local logistics (how easy is it to move products in and out of the warehouse?) and by the availability of low-cost international shipping (are final prices good enough for the buyer?).
- No custom products: This logistics model is not suited for businesses that sell personalized/customized products as the products need to be stored in the warehouse before they are ordered.
Contact us if you’d like to learn more about the key players in the logistics and payments sectors of Latin America. AMI has completed hundreds of studies in the region for global companies interested in expanding their footprints, entering certain markets for the first time, or improving their e-commerce operations, both domestic and crossborder.