14ymedio, 6 April 2021 — Electronic commerce in Cuba hangs by a thread, but that thread does not depend on its ability to satisfy customers. According to consumers, the TuEnvío platform is unstable and out of supply, but closing it “will never be the solution,” warns a manager.
After more than a year and a half of operation, the main official Cuban online shopping gateway fails to satisfy even the lowest standards. Complaints, criticism and scathing ridicule accumulate in its brief existence, although the authorities clarify that they will insist on improving TuEnvío.
“The alternative would be to resign and say that until the necessary conditions are created there will be no electronic commerce,” acknowledges Héctor Oroza Busutil, president of the Cimex Corporation, one of the key pieces of the state network that must guarantee that what is purchased in the virtual world actually exists and is delivered to the customer.
Created in 2019, the TuEnvío store became a mandatory platform for thousands of Cubans who access the network through national servers and who try to find in this digital commerce site what many times is not available in the network of stores and supermarkets, also managed by officialdom.
The most recent official statistics suggest that the virtual store has 820,100 registered users and of these, about 192,000 access it each day. Most of these are customers who, every day, try to fill their electronic carts and buy frozen chicken, hygiene products, sausages or soft drinks, among the few products that are sold in the store.
Despite the increase in users after the arrival of the pandemic and the rigors of confinement, the figures, far from encouraging Cimex to make the service more efficient, have served to create a shield of justifications in the face of operational impairments and scarce availability of goods.
The first complaint of users lies in something that the country has been dragging for more than a year: the commercial shortages. As Oroza Busutil acknowledged to the State newspaper Granma, the demand in TuEnvío “far exceeds the supply that, although it has never been enough, in recent months has been even more affected by the unavailability of merchandise.”
Tired of lining and fearful of the crowds where Covid could spread freely, many Cubans dream of clicking and achieving a food delivery at home, but sometimes “the devil is in the details” and the technological solution adds stress rather than reducing it.
“I have my hours to try to buy something and that is why from very early I am trying to be one of the first when they open the digital store,” Lilianna, a mother of a teenage son who lives by reselling products purchased through the commercial portal, tells 14ymedio.
“Many times I do not achieve anything, but since I spent so many hours in front of the screen, I already know some tricks. The customer who arrives new and does not know how this works does not have any chance,” Lilianna emphasizes. “The same thing has happened here as in the stores, if you don’t get up early, if you don’t have a contact or someone to sing the play for you , you don’t buy anything.”
Until last December there were about 20,000 daily purchases of modules, the mandatory product combinations if one desires to buy anything. The goods in greatest demand are mixed with others that nobody wants and thus to buy a bag of detergent you have to pay for a box with a dozen bottles of water or a floor cleaning cloth.
Establishing the obligation to buy the so-called “combos” was an official attempt to exercise equal distribution in a digital market which, in other countries, is governed by the laws of supply and demand. In the end, all the restrictions appear to have favored resellers more than individual buyers.
“From the effects on merchandise in January, they dropped to 15,000 daily purchases, and in the month of March there was a better performance,” said Oroza Busutil, a figure that shows the loss of the initial enthusiasm to buy through the catwalk. commercial but that also contrasts with the anxiety of acquiring products that the economic crisis has brought.
The official also said that, due to the limited availability of merchandise, there is no possibility of resuming the commerce of these stores that allowed users “to access and buy products by departments, as happened at the beginning in TuEnvío,” which is why they sell combos or modules with multiple products.
The shortage of products is not new for Cubans. For years they have lived in an economic crisis that, before the arrival of the pandemic, offered first glimpses of how harsh the current months were going to be. But the technical failures of TuEnvío are infuriating, they emphasize the low efficiency of a system that, far from implementing a good service, always ends in inefficiency.
Internet users complain about the slowness of the platform, blank pages, combos that disappear from the shopping cart and failures in the payment process. “Many times the reason this happens does not lie in the limitations the platform may or may not have, but in the other actors involved, such as the EnZona and Transfermóvil gateways, Redsa and the country’s banks,” Oroza Busutil justified.
Added to this is the fact that Cuban banks “do not have the technology to support that number of requests coming in at the same time.” The official acknowledged that TuEnvío has technical problems and cannot process the thousands of requests, but if this is solved, when purchases “reach the payment channels” there will be a “gridlock.”
TuEnvío is built on a technology that has been in use since 2007, explained Gilberto Luis Díaz, General Manager of DataCimex, to justify the many times that users get ” Error in the server.” However, the official added that “the system has been improved in order to solve these problems.”
The stores have “a server and up to six nodes to manage and balance loads, among other improvements.” They even increased the bandwidth, as he said, a year ago there were 40 megabits and now there are two gigabits.
Granma also reported that Cimex is developing a new platform, “based on technologies of modern programming, which should be ready before the end of the first half of the year,” but the official media itself warned that no improvement or technological change will eliminate “the main problem” in trade: the imbalance between supply and demand.
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