14ymedio, Havana, 28 June 2023 — A labyrinth of obstacles, verifications and absences makes it difficult to buy on the Nihao 53 digital platform, with which the Chinese conglomerate Leke Holding Group hopes to consolidate its presence in Cuba. With the intention of supplying the wholesale market on the Island, the site offers food, furniture, construction materials and countless items to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), but the products are not always available for sale or cost crazy amounts of euros or dollars.
The obstacles also assault the buyer from abroad, leaving little room for doubt about who can receive the services of Nihao 53: Cuban “entrepreneurs” within the country, with accounts in foreign banks and the ability to store orders in a warehouse reserved by the Leke group.
Its clients, summarized the directors in a recent report by the Sputnik news agency, seek “access to raw materials that are almost impossible or very difficult to find” in the economic context of the Island.
The platform is described as “an indispensable connection” between Cuban merchants and the international market. Its general manager in Havana, Yeline Ramos, says that Nihao 53 works by sales categories, which range from “machinery and products of the automotive industry” to “construction products, raw materials, toiletries and gastronomy.”
She said they have everything to succeed: the support of the Cuban Government, its unbeatable relations with China and the fact that they began operating at a lucky time and date, 11:00 in the morning of November 11, 2022. As for the name, it responds to the “hello” greeting in Mandarin Chinese – ni hao – and the Cuban telephone code, 53.
Ramos explained that the company wants to improve its distribution “strategy” for the next quarter. In addition to picking up the products in the warehouse, the owners of micro-SMEs will be able to access Nihao 53 products in other provinces of the Island. It will be a way to alleviate the “very undersupplied market” in the interior of the country.
The director of Business Development for Nihao 53, Mario Ríos Vidal, criticized the sphere of possibilities for wholesale sales on the Island as “insufficiently exploited.” The coronavirus pandemic, he said, was an incentive for China to decide to promote that market modality in Cuba.
“We analyzed the competition, what we could offer to the Cuban market, and what its fundamental needs are,” Ríos explained, although he did not describe what “competition” he was talking about in an economic context like the Cuban one.
The most promising area so far, he said, has been what is known as “sublimation”: the personalization of objects and garments with the brand that the client wants. This is “a virgin sphere” on the Island, in which Nihao 53 is a pioneer, celebrated Ríos.
“We not only place the merchandise on the website but we also follow up on the purchase. We intervene in the process and the after-sales because we want feedback. We want to know the users’ feelings, if they are satisfied or pleased, and we cover their expectations or any problem they have in order to reinvent ourselves and improve,” he added.
One of the Cuban MSMEs that systematically accesses the services of Nihao 53 is KeDetalles, a company that sells personalized gifts “through the sublimation technique.” “This alliance has been of vital importance,” its owners told Sputnik, since the Chinese portal “leads them by the hand” in the purchase process.
Another “pleased” company is Manualidades María, which also sells products with its “sublimated” brand. “Until now there was no company that gave us the possibility to buy here, without the need to import, a very cumbersome process for our small business.”
However, Nihao 53 cannot be congratulated for much more. Outside the category of small items and printing – the only things well-stocked – the offer is poor. Although they promise “new lines” of chicken, sausage and flour, the least attractive thing on the platform is, precisely, the gastronomy.
Mostly canned products, sweets and some foods are the only things for sale. In addition, you have to buy them in large quantities and at unreasonable prices: a pallet of small juice boxes costs $1,166.
The company offers the “star product” of the shops that sell to Cuba and the MSMEs: beer. For 52 cents a can, a very competitive price, it offers the Belgian product but, of course, you have to buy it by the pallet for more than $1,200.
The most striking prices are those of construction materials. A crate of transparent acrylic slabs is $3,700; 60 slabs of glass 4 millimeters thick cost more than $4,100, and the same amount, 6 millimeters thick, exceeds $5,500.
Other categories, such as machinery, textiles and furniture, are completely empty, while cleaning products are sold in excessive quantities if you’re not thinking about resale.
Despite the low supply and the poor viability of the platform, Nihao 53 receives the client with an optimistic voluntarism: “Cuba dreams, undertakes and grows.”
Translated by Regina Anavy
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