Business Life

eCommerce in Latin America & the Women Behind It

eCommerce in Latin America is steadily on the rise. A program launched by the Internation Trade Centre aims to give women-led businesses a stronger foothold in the handmade industry.

Handmade goods from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama are becoming more popular as the demand for non-mass-produced items soar. Accordingly, markets with such demand include the EU and North America.

Until recently, it’s been hard for consumers to have access to authentic, handmade Latin American products without visiting these countries. This is in part due to the skilled business owners not having an online presence, and focusing mostly on tourism. With eCommerce in Latin America rising in popularity, the tide for these businesses is beginning to change.

Latin American businesses have always had difficulty gaining exposure in American, EU, and Asian markets without relying solely on the tourist industry. Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic all but ended global tourism. As a result, consumers are traveling less which poses a major challenge for many of these Latin American craft businesses. 

eCommerce in Latin America - women-led-businesses leading the handmade industry

Helping eCommerce in Latin America

Back in early 2019, several parties, including the International Trade Centre (ITC), the European Union (EU), Women Business Enterprises (WBE), and the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) began working together. These parties banded together to help women-led enterprises in Latin & Central America sell their wares online, to a global market. 

Initial research from ITC revealed that the workforce of the Central American craft industry was roughly 80% female, with only 25% of businesses owned by women. To address and shift this gender imbalance, ITC launched a project aimed at empowering Latin American women to create an online market for their products by offering training and education in eCommerce.

This research led to the development of ITC’s project, Central America: Women and e-commerce. It gives eCommerce in Latin America an opportunity for women-led craft businesses to gain the skills, training, and guidance needed to reach a global audience. 

The organization reached out to Marmalead to assist entrepreneurs in establishing an online foundation for eCommerce in Latin America.

eCommerce in Latin America moves away from the brick and mortar storefronts

Learning eCommerce in Latin America

After an intense week of face-to-face and online learning, entrepreneurs learned the basics of eCommerce: how to develop a website, manage payments, and shipping and delivery. 

These workshops also focus on the basics of running an online business, as well as the finer details of selling handmade goods on marketplaces such as Amazon handmade, eBay, and Etsy. Marmalead is delighted to be one of the go-to tools used to help these female entrepreneurs make their products more visible on Etsy. 

After the workshops, experts worked with each business in a one-on-one setting. These workshops help lay the foundation of their online store to create a long-term eCommerce strategy

After the first six months of the project’s rollout, eCommecre in Latin America businesses saw great results.

  • 48 online orders from the US, Switzerland, Puerto Rico, UK, Italy, Austria, Russia and Guatemala
  • 15,403 visits of webshops, eBay and Etsy stores
  • 855 products listed on eBay, Etsy and websites
  • 3,000 new Instagram followers

ITC also organized a more comprehensive session for advanced businesses. This helps educate them about measuring, testing, and learning from their past efforts. In turn, more advanced companies can share their findings with beginners. 

The community then supports itself by bringing businesses closer together, which fosters the continued growth of the industry.

eBay, Etsy, PayPal, Payoneer, and DHL support the program with expert advice and offer preferential pricing for participants of the project. In December 2019, eBay launched the eBay Central America Hub, promoting over 45 businesses selling jewelry, textiles, ceramics, and leather goods. 

eCommerce in Latin America focuses on a long-term strategy

Real Results

The ITC program is still underway since December 2019 and as of October 2020:

  • 11 stores optimized on Etsy using Marmalead
  • 1,554 products listed online
  • 96,544 online visits
  • USD 21,917 in revenue
  • 434 online orders
  • 45 companies developed 202 new products for online sales thus far
  • 117 Companies individually coached to develop new products for online sales

The Success of Nicahat

Maria Isabel Montoya, the founder of Nicugraguan brand NicaHat, uses Etsy to sell her products to the United States. Due to the established presence of NicaHat on Etsy, her business is kept alive during the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

Maria joined the program in early 2019. So when local sales started to suffer as a result of the pandemic, she applied her skills learned from the workshops. She analyzed how to export new markets and create high-quality, engaging content to help sell her products, becoming a pioneer for eCommerce in Latin America.

Maria says that her most significant achievement was the launch of her Etsy store in March 2020. She owes its rapid growth and success to the ITC program and the effectiveness of its partners like Marmalead. 

“If I had not been prepared to sell online, I would have been forced to close the business; however, the training and tools provided by the project helped us cope,” says Maria. 

Marmalead and ITC

Marmalead is honored to be part of the ITC project since its inception. 

Richie and Gordon, the co-founders of Marmalead, say that “being part of the ITC project is close to all of our hearts here at Marmalead, and being able to help women-run businesses in other parts of the world is something that’s only more heart-warming.”

ITC is continuing its efforts to empower Latin & Central American women through eCommerce. The program is funded by the EU, implemented by the Central American Economic Integration (SIECA), and supported by Marmalead.


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