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Getting to grips with the challenges of e-commerce in an unpredictable world

The Mercado Libre team, a player in online sales and payment in Latin America, presents an overview of recent changes in e-commerce and explains how it sails on these turbulent waters, during the Leader Insights Forum, organized by Teleperformance.

Mercado Libre is the most prominent online sales and payment platform in the Latam region, with over 166 million users and 4,000 searches per minute on its marketplace. Like the majority of online sales companies in Latin America and around the world, the team was faced with a "new reality" to which it had to adapt quickly.

According to Gabriel Codesal, first party senior director of Mercado Libre, online commerce, like in Europe and North America, has sharply picked up speed since the start of the pandemic. Thus, "83% of consumers indicate in the months of March and April that they leave their homes only when it is essential", says the manager. Logically, the penetration rate of e-commerce has almost quadrupled between the week of March 16 and April 9: on a 100% basis for the first week, the penetration rate rose to 179% seven days later, 161% in week 3, then 387% in week 4. In addition, the duration of each connection session increased by 17% between February and May 2020. The number of searches per user also: "It jumped by 39% between February 24 and April 27," says Gabriel Codesal.

For the Mercado Libre marketplace, orders increased by 39% in Brazil, 47% in Uruguay, 52% in Argentina, 112% in Mexico, 119% in Colombia (and 125% in China). The company claims to have managed to cope with the influx of orders: "55% of the articles were delivered within 48 hours after purchase," says Gabriel Codesal.

At the same time, the number of new customers has skyrocketed during this period (+45% compared to 2019). Mercado Libre announces that it has acquired or regained 5 million customers. The strongest variation is observed in Colombia, while Brazil, the largest market in the marketplace, shows a growth rate of 28% compared to 2019 in terms of new customers.

These buyers prioritize the purchase of clothing, automotive accessories and decorative accessories, garden furniture or gardening accessories. Above all, from March 16, the platform was confronted with a peak in health-related research (hydroalcoholic hand sanitizer gel, masks, disinfectant and thermometers) in all the countries where it operates. Overall, the search for masks peaked the fastest, up to 818% during the months of March and April. The search for computer equipment was also in full swing: game consoles, TVs, headphones and laptops were among the top 10 searches for the months of March and April 2020.

Identifying changes in individual habits

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mercado Libre had identified three groups of customers: sporadic buyers, regular customers, whose purchases were three times more frequent than the previous ones, and local buyers, who bought five times more than frequent customers, on average twice a month. Since the beginning of the pandemic, two out of three local customers have bought again (at least once) on the platform (a figure ranging from 72% in Argentina to 52% in Colombia). "While local customers used to make a purchase every 17 days, they have ordered on average every 12 days, their purchase frequency has changed radically," says Gabriel Codesal. Likewise, sporadic customers, who were buying on average every 268 days via Mercado Libre, have increased the frequency of their orders, which have been 29 days apart since March. "We had to review our entire customer segmentation," confirms Gabriel Codesal.

When asked about the biggest challenge faced by the teams during the pandemic, Fernando Garcia, Mercado Libre's customer experience director, explains that it was "to make the teams work in complete security, by putting them to work from home. When we accomplished this, the biggest challenge was to deal with the overload of activity, especially regarding customer service requests. We had never faced a challenge of such magnitude in the two years of our existence".

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