eCommerce in Latin America has up to 8x upside in the near term

Brian York
Latin America logistics
3 min readAug 19, 2021

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There’s been a flood of new eCommerce-related startups hitting the market in Latin America recently. These include eCommerce holding companies acquiring and optimizing independent brands (such as Wonder Brands), “house of brands” companies that create new brands every month (such as Miind), and high-growth brands starting from scratch and quickly becoming a dominant brand within their industry (such as Raw Apothecary).

With all these new companies vying for some piece of the LatAm eCommerce market, one wonders just how big the market can get. Well, let’s dive in and take a look at some numbers…

In 2020, Latin America had the second-largest growth in eCommerce — online sales grew 30.6% compared to 2019. The region with the largest sales growth was (1) North America with 33.5%; in third and fourth place were (3) Western Europe and (4) Asia-Pacific, with 11% and 6.1% respectively.

Digging deeper into this data, we can make a better comparison between the two regions with the highest growth. By doing so, we see that 2020 sales in North America (USD $749B) were nine times higher than in Latin America (USD $83.6B), which is not attributed to the population in each region, since North America has a smaller number of inhabitants, but to other causes such as internet penetration, which is 14 percentage points lower in Latin America (74% vs. 88%), as well as the lack of development in terms of technological infrastructure, banking services for the population, and last-mile logistics.

What about comparing LatAm to China, which is the largest and fastest-growing eCommerce market in the world? China’s eCommerce sales reached $826B during 2019 and approximately $990B in 2020, 1.3x greater than all of North America and 11.8x greater than Latin America. Without a doubt, LatAm is facing an online commerce giant from which the region can take many lessons about best practices.

In 2020, online sales in China accounted for 44.8% of total retail sales, a figure that is expected to reach 52.1% by this year. For the first time in history, the majority of sales in a country will be made online!

In comparison, online sales in LatAm accounted for 5.6% of total retail sales last year — there’s still a massive amount of growth opportunity (up to 8x) for the region!

Which LatAm countries are benefiting the most?

According to data from Inside Intelligence and eMarketer, three Latin American countries entered the rankings for the fastest eCommerce growth worldwide this year. Brazil comes in at no. 2, Argentina no. 4, and Mexico no. 5, with growth of 26.8%, 26%, and 21.1% respectively.

At Cubbo, we’ve discovered that high-growth brands in the U.S. and Europe are choosing to launch in Mexico first as they expand their direct-to-consumer offerings in LatAm because of its proximity, market size, and market opportunity. Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia are other countries of interest after companies prove out their product offerings in Mexico.

With the combination of high growth rates, low percentage of online sales vs. retail sales, and fast technology adoption in general, to me it feels like it’s still early days for eCommerce in Latin America. While the region might not fully scale into the 8x potential upside in the near term, I think it’s clear that there’s still a massive amount of opportunity in the sector for the region.

For a full analysis on this subject (including sources), we’ve written more about the opportunity for eCommerce growth in Latin America here (in Spanish). Enjoy!

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