DHL study finds Latin America e-commerce primed for takeoff 

DHL and the Panama Ministry of Commerce released a new report highlighting the massive growth potential of Latin America’s e-commerce market last week during a press event in Panama.  

DHL’s white paper, titled, “E-commerce in Latin America and the role of Panama as an e-commerce hub for the region,” specifically focuses on trends shaping online retail in key Latin American markets, opportunities and challenges for its development and the ways in which logistics can be a catalyst for accelerated growth of the sector. 

E-commerce in Latin America is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 22% per annum through to 2021, according to data from Americas Market Intelligence. Meanwhile, DHL’s report identifies cross-border e-commerce as a major opportunity for logistics providers due to the lower density of physical retail space, high penetration of smart phones, limited product availability and purchase savings throughout the region. 

Based on an evaluation of eight key trade centers in the Americas against elements critical to developing successful regional logistics hubs to support cross-border e-commerce, Panama scored the highest as a potential e-commerce hub, according to DHL. The five key elements measured included:  

  • Free trade zone capabilities; 
  • Efficient port and airport infrastructure; 
  • Business-friendly trade and customs regulations (for example, for cross-border returns); 
  • Specific e-commerce logistics knowledge; and 
  • Inter-industry cooperation, with merchants, technology and logistics providers working in sync. 

At the same time, the white paper pointed to areas requiring further development to boost Panama’s e-commerce readiness further, which included expanding its air connectivity, investing in B2C-specific logistics infrastructure and talent, and simplifying export processes.     

“Latin America is set to be the next frontier for the e-commerce revolution,” said Matthias Heutger, DHL global head of innovation and commercial development. “The sector remains relatively underdeveloped in the region, so there is still a significant opportunity for retailers to establish a foothold and for logistics operators to support their future growth by establishing efficient e-commerce supply chains.” 

DHL identified e-commerce as one of the four key global trends in its Strategy 2025 released at the beginning of this month, and said this white paper supports that view. 

In January 2018, DHL and the Panama Ministry of Commerce and Industry jointly launched a Global Center of Excellence (GCOE) that aims to fulfill the central objectives of the “National Logistics Strategy of Panama by 2030” to increase international investment in Panama in the areas of logistics and transport. 

Moving forward, DHL said it plans to continue making investments in e-commerce fulfillment capabilities, cross-border and last-mile delivery operations across the entire Latin American region to support its customers in capitalizing on the opportunity. 

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Chelsea Toczauer

Chelsea Toczauer is the Associate Editor of the company’s daily news and monthly magazine Air Cargo World. She holds two BAs in International Relations and Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Southern California, as well as a double accredited US-Chinese MA in International Studies from the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University joint degree program. Chelsea speaks Mandarin and Russian.