E-commerce, an expanding sector in Catalonia


November 2013.- Amazon, Ebay, Otto, Rakuten, PPR... e-commerce is booming. 

Online sales companies, from general retailers to specialised stores, have tremendous market share in countries like the USA, China, Japan, Germany and Brazil. Generally products are tourism, travel, entertainment and software related, all which have an advantage in terms of online sales. However, traditional firms are also increasing their online business. In fact, studies show that in 2016 the Internet economy will reach 4.2 trillion dollars in G-20 countries. In Barcelona and Catalonia e-commerce has, just as in the rest of the world, increased significantly.

Search engines development, breakthroughs in technology and security interfaces and the expansion of mobile communication are all key to the growth in the sector, with legal, cultural, logistical or after-sales service representing the main barriers to Internet commerce.

In Catalonia

With businesses like PrivaliaeDreamsGrupaliaLetsBonusOfertixUvinum and Atrapalo, Barcelona has become a benchmark for e-commerce in Southern Europe. In the city there are 20 companies with an international presence, a total workforce of 5,000 professionals and a total turnover of 2,000 million euros.

According to the latest data, 40% of Catalan consumers buy online, and the services or products sold more frequently online in Catalonia are hotel reservations, flights, clothing, sporting goods and books.

20 years of history

1993 saw the first crop of companies and entrepreneurs in this sector: Telepolis and Servicom(Eudald Domenec), Inspirit (Dídac Lee), Cinet and Ole (Pep Vallés and Manuel Matés) and Intercom(Antonio González Barros).

As the nineties ended there was a second wave of new businesses: Atrapalo (Nacho Salas and Manuel Roca), Anuntis (Daniel González), Edreams (Javier Pérez Tenessa), Itnet (Carlo Blanco) and Consupermiso (Enric Aparicio).

Diverse business schools began take digital scenario into account in their programmes. Projects to give financial backing to startups and ICT were established: el Cibernàrium and the Glòries Incubator (appearing in 1997) and the 22@ district. At the same time the first private investment funds came on the scene.

Around 2010, a third growth period brought about a boom in e-commerce in Barcelona favoured by the already existing ecosystem – both of business experience and of public projects – which had been developing over the previous ten years. We see new public-private incubation models such as the Almogàvers Business Factory and social buying businesses such as Privalia (Lucas Carné and José Manuel Villanueva), Groupalia (with Joaquin Engel and Juan Santana entering the company later on), LetsBonus (Miguel Vicente, bought up in 2011 by the American company, Living Social), Ofertix(Antonio Alcántara), Offerum (Vicente Arias), Uvinum (Nico Bour), Ulabox (Jaume Gomà), Meqedouno (Borja Recolons), Carritus (Jesús Haro), Outletic (Jordi Surdé), etc.

Why Barcelona appeals to the e-commerce sector

Over and above the healthy appeal of the Barcelona brand itself, some of the city’s strong points as a headquarters for e-commerce companies are its 20-years experience in the sector, the pool of available talent in Catalonia and the fact that it is the Mobile World Capital. The city enjoys a thriving culture of innovative projects at the hands of young companies that co-exist with multinationals who have their headquarters in Barcelona.

Catalonia also has a university ecosystem centred on boosting business knowledge. Prestigious universities train students in technological subjects and provide the necessary business management tools. Highly trained workers are available at competitive labour costs, as are location costs such as office space, etc.). Barcelona has a great entrepreneurship and support framework for innovative projects, with special emphasis on the ICT sector.

Barcelona is and has been the last few years the host to the Mobile World Congress, the world’s most important Mobile Technology trade fair. This gives even more support to the e-commerce sector and to the coming generation of m-commerce.

The future: M-Commerce

M-commerce is just 2.5% of e-commerce today, but is expected to grow 45% by 2015. Key technologies will be NFC (Near Field Communication), LBS (Location Based Services) and AR (Augmented Reality).

M-commerce can speed up the process of e-commercialization, but it can also change it with bearing in mind its special characteristics:

  • new purchasing patterns, e.g. increased impulse buying. 
  • it can be more difficult to compare products, as smart phones screens are smaller.
  • it can mean a concentration of online retailers.
  • it may be cheaper to open m-commerce outlets.
  • specialized operators may be able to survive among wholesale ones.

However, some barriers to m-commerce still exist. For customers there may be usability issues and security concerns, and retailers suffer from rigid legacy systems limiting the full benefits of m-com.

The Ecommerce & Tech Barcelona Cluster

Recently, following the route taken by other cities around the world (London - hub Silicon Roundabout, Berlin, Paris, Tel Aviv, Sydney, Sao Paulo and Silicon Valley), some companies in the digital and e-commerce business have joined forces to create the Barcelona Ecommerce & Tech cluster, an association open to all players in the sector, aimed at consolidating and empowering the sector and make Barcelona a point of reference in this area.

  • Founders of tech and e-commerce companies
  • Managers of venture capital firms
  • Founders of tech and e-commerce companies
  • Management of e-commerce business in non-digital businesses
  • Top executives and managers of technological multinationals based in Barcelona

Consolidation of the cluster itself (companies, business schools and venture capital funds), talent (attracting international talent, work practices, encouraging entrepreneurship, etc.), internationalization and promotion of competitiveness (improvement of legal and tax issues, funding, digitization, partners, etc..) are the cluster’s strategic objectives, which also aims to help businesses seek finance and detect opportunities. Several venture capital firms are also involved. Its main task is to connect successful entrepreneurs to new entrepreneurs, spread and promote the digitization of traditional trade and publicise success stories, innovations, trends and business opportunities.

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