Describes how widely e-Commerce is used, the primary sectors that sell through e-commerce, and how much product/service in each sector is sold through e-commerce versus brick-and-mortar retail. Includes what a company needs to know to take advantage of e-commerce in the local market and, reputable, prominent B2B websites.
Last Published: 2/22/2018

Overview
ECommerce in Uruguay is still in an early stage, but is growing rapidly.  In 2016, almost 1.3 million people in Uruguay made a web-based purchase.  Some of these online stores are showing a 30 to 50 percent annual growth rate, although online purchase growth rates are even higher in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, México, Colombia and Perú.  Only 45 percent of online purchases are paid with credit cards.  Local advertisers mention that the Internet serves as an effective means to promote products and services, but not necessarily to close business transactions.  Companies have increased website use as a way to increase online sales.  Sales of computer accessories, appliances, clothing, and furniture have the lead, followed by books, hotel/restaurant reservations, and cellular phones.  The items most frequently purchased online from overseas include clothing and shoes, videogames, auto-parts, and sporting goods.  In most cases, these items are purchased because they are too expensive in the local markets or unavailable in local stores.
 
Many government-related procedures (requesting appointments for the renewal of a driver’s license, for example) can now be done online.
 
Uruguay has one of the highest levels of Internet penetration in Latin America.  Data released in December 2016 shows that 85 percent of Uruguayan households had access to at least one computer, and that 81 percent had used the Internet.  When smartphones are included, the percentage of Uruguayan homes with access to the Internet increases to 94 percent.  Use of the Internet in 2016 was mainly to search topics of interest (89 percent), navigate social media (85 percent), watch videos and/or download music (71 percent), secure information on products and services (60 percent), and read news (6 percent).  Seventy-eight percent of users have e-mail accounts.  Two thirds of Uruguayan homes have Wi-Fi.  Ten years ago, Uruguay gave each school-child a laptop through Plan CEIBAL, Uruguay’s ten-year-old educational-technological initiative.  If requested, the State-owned telephone monopoly ANTEL provides a free monthly 1GB Internet connection to any household with a landline.
 
Current Market Trends
In July 2012, the GOU enacted a decree which allowed for the importation of five $200 online shipments per year per person exempt from duties.  Due to intense lobbying from retail stores and shopping centers, the number of shipments was lowered to four and then again, as of 2016, to three shipments per year.   E-commerce logistics lags somewhat behind and suppliers are rethinking strategies to deliver products in a convenient way.
 
Domestic eCommerce (B2C)
The majority of Internet purchases are apparel, sporting goods, spare parts for vehicles, and goods not generally found in the market or at a much higher price tag.
 
Consumers tend to buy products over the web and pick up the shipped product at the store.  A major retail outlet with 25 locations throughout Uruguay recently reported that eCommerce sales represented only 3 percent of total sales, and aimed at reaching 9 percent by 2019.  Other companies that sell through the web report a similar percentage of eCommerce sales.
 
Cross-Border E-Commerce
The United States and China are the countries from which over 90 percent of online purchases are made.  Including shipping, these products tend to cost approximately 60 percent of similar products available in the market.  Prohibited products include:  makeup, enamel, creams, perfumes, shampoos, razors, toiletries, toys, alcoholic drinks, sun and reading glasses, cosmetics, perfumes, tobacco, cigarettes, lubricants and greases, cell phones, and seeds, as well as prohibited goods or those requiring licensing.  Amazon, Ali Express, and eBay are the three major platforms used.
 
B2B eCommerce
There are no restrictions for B2B eCommerce, but given the relatively small industrial base in Uruguay, it is seldom seen.  The Uruguayan Government publishes most of its tenders online at Agency Procurement and Contracting.
E-Commerce Services
Uruguay is a regional leader in software development.  As such it possesses the necessary human capital and tools to support e-commerce activities in various industry sectors.  A leading example that started in Uruguay and quickly spread throughout Latin America is a platform (and app) to request online food deliveries from restaurants.  The development of software to enable electronic billing systems was wholly developed locally.
 
Popular eCommerce Sites
Among the most popular B2C sites are:

  • MercadoLibre, a Latin American equivalent of eBay which commands 36 percent of eCommerce transactions in Uruguay.
  • OLX Clasificados, no auctions, only straight sales.  OLX charges no publishing fees or sales commissions.
  • Woow, a local discount company similar to Groupon.
 
Online Payment
According to data from Grupo Radar (2016), 45 percent of Uruguayan customers pay with credit cards on eCommerce websites, 22 percent prefer to pay cash at the store, and 13 percent opt for paying for purchases through independent payment agencies.  The remaining 20 percent use bank transfers, Paypal, and prepaid credit or debit cards.
 
There are almost 400 payment agency locations in Montevideo and 350 locations in more than 100 towns in the interior.  Uruguayans use these agencies to pay utility and telephone/cable bills.  These agencies also perform currency exchange, payment of salaries and pensions, and the sale of tickets for sporting and musical events, etc.
 
Local entrepreneurs have developed popular e-payment apps.  Consumers can pay utility bills (and over 600 services such as schools, cable TV, HOA fees, HMOs, insurance, etc.) by scanning the bar codes which appear on the bills and having the amounts owed debited immediately from their bank accounts.  The development of a local PayPal™ equivalent, Mercado Pago, an online wallet for payment processing) has facilitated eCommerce sales.  This PCI-certified platform allows for payment using local credit cards in full or in installments (the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard certifies that the platform accepts, stores, processes, and transmits cardholder data in a secure fashion).
 
Pagos Web and CobrosYa are similar yet less widespread applications used for online and telephone sales.
 
The use of electronic wallets, however, precludes customers from enjoying discounts offered by local credit cards when using certain services or purchasing from certain stores.
 

 
Mobile eCommerce
According to a recent poll, 2.2 million Uruguayans (total population is 3.3 million) have a smartphone.  This figure increased by 18 times in the last four years.  The number of smartphones with 3G and LTE connections increased 30 percent in 2016.
 
Digital Marketing
Several digital marketing firms operate in Uruguay and some universities and academies have begun offering specific short-term programs directed at companies and advertisers.  Foreign firms doing business in Uruguay advertise mostly through traditional media.
 
Major Buying Holidays
Major shopping centers organize three or four “buying holidays” throughout the year in which the 22 percent value-added-tax (VAT) is refunded to customers.  Purchases, however, must be done at the store.  Uruguay’s Digital Economy Chamber (CEDU) organizes a yearly three-day eCommerce buying spree (CyberMonday).  The 2016 event registered 33 percent more buyers, and some stores reported an increase of almost 500 percent in sales over the 2015 event.  Seventy percent of CyberMonday buyers were from Montevideo.  In 2017, CyberMonday took place June 12-14.
 
Social Media
Overwhelmingly, Facebook (FB) is the most popular social medium.  In a recent country-wide poll, 50 percent of those interviewed declared themselves “totally addicted” to social media.  Chatting on FB, WhatsApp, or other social media platforms are the primary uses of the Internet.
 
Sources:  Multi-Ahorro Hogar on eCommerce (Observador 3/22/17); Farmashop (Observador 2/17); Perfil del Internauta Uruguayo (2016).
 
Trade Promotion and Advertising

It is advisable to work with a local advertising agency.  Several local ad agencies produce TV commercials for foreign clients. 

El Pais, El Observador, and La Republica are the leading newspapers in terms of circulation, while Busqueda is a highly respected, weekly business-oriented journal.  Television and radio advertising are also popular.  Several major international advertising agencies maintain offices in Montevideo.
 
Web Resources for Advertising

 
The Embassy periodically hosts industry-specific and/or horizontal trade missions.  Details on how to participate in these trade missions may be obtained from the Commercial Unit, U.S. Embassy Montevideo, Tel:  (5982) 1770-2776 or by e-mail at:  Office.Montevideo@trade.gov

Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting http://export.gov/usoffices.



Uruguay eCommerce Industry Trade Development and Promotion eCommerce