There’s a lot to unpack in this sort of assumption.
The primary issue is the nature of the items being bought through online couriers. If local businesses were to want to capture that market share, they would have to consider factors such as:
- Can I realistically produce substitutes for the items being bought?
For e.g., Smart LCD TVs are a popular purchase through skyboxes. These are manufactured using raw materials from outside of T&T, and leveraging expertise and manufacturing economies of scale only available in other countries. Trinidad can develop capacities along these items’ supply chains, but that still doesn’t translate into a wholly natively produced products since items like these often have supply chains that span across multiple countries and competencies.
- Can I competitively produce substitutes for the items being bought?
For e.g., clothing. Again manufacturing processes become an issue that goes far beyond the payments issue we are concerned about. Can we produce clothing that is of a comparable quality at a competitive price to what folks purchase online? Do we even want to do this and leverage our finite local resources (human resource and material) for this versus finding something that is a far more high value proposition?
- Can I effectively deliver produced substitutes for the items being bought?
Assuming that folks are even able to overcome the hurdles above to produce viable substitutes, the next question becomes one of being able to attract sales and capture market share from already established platforms. The Amazon.com’s and macys.com’s of the world offer much more than just a storefront for purchasing items. They are platforms that aggregate demand and provide a rich shopping experience full of variety/options, user-submitted reviews and quick turnover on items based on identifying changing trends. Billions of dollars go into optimising how items are displayed, which are presented to the customer at any given time, and how customers can be coaxed into buying more and making return purchases. Their service levels on things like fulfilling warranties and seamlessly honouring returns are also things that we’d have to compete against. Finally, those seasonal deep discount sales that those platforms can do because of their high turnover inventories and significant economies of scale would surely be a challenge to replicate locally. These are an entirely different class of issues that are equally as important as the two points about producing items made before.
The nature of the world today is one of supply chains stretched across multiple countries. A strategy of trying to “produce locally” so as to not spend forex, or capture credit card transactions that would otherwise flow outside is not the right approach imo. Rather, we should be looking to high-value-generating activities that we can do, to plug in to these global supply chains and generate forex returns that would far outstrip what we could potentially repatriate by trying to produce locally or competitively satiate local demands for foreign items.
And in servicing these global markets, being able to meet the customers where they are (on web/mobile, and through familiar platforms) through the payment methods they actually possess becomes crucial to competiting effectively… which is why I believe the issue of fixing online payments in T&T needs to become a priority one at a systemic level.
p.s. I found the following to be a great podcast for unpacking that whole question of “global supply chains”