Doing business online in the Caribbean in 2021 and beyond is no longer optional for the region.
The new Global Digital Insights report, produced by DataReportal in collaboration with We are Social and HootSuite, puts figures to the experience which was 2020. The pandemic forced everyone indoors and online and this manifested in increased social connections, online spending, streaming more entertainment and games and finding new ways to learn.
This is especially true for the Caribbean and the islands in the Eastern Caribbean, which is where I will focus. I will discuss what your Caribbean business should be doing online and where you need to be to reach your customers and potential buyers.
In the wider Caribbean, 77% of the population have a mobile phone. In the Eastern Caribbean mobile phone penetration is almost two phones to every resident. Montserrat has a 184.9% mobile penetration or 9228 phones with a population of under 4900.
The top five most used social media platforms for the world are Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram. Not surprising, Amazon is in the top five of most used apps.
The report gives you country by country data and you can find out what the digital landscape is for every island in the region. You will find links to the Eastern Caribbean islands at the end of this article.
A Mobile First World
Across the Eastern Caribbean, mobile phones were the primary tool used to access social media. All of the 3000 people on Montserrat who are on social, use a mobile phone to go online. In Anguilla and Antigua & Barbuda, 99% of those with phones connect to social media that way. This number doesn’t drop too far for Saint Lucia and St. Kitts & Nevis at 98%.
In Dominica, 98% of those with access connect to the internet via a mobile phone.
Android devices are the most popular across the globe and in the region. I noted that the US Virgin Islands, although outside the scope of this article, are primarily Apple users. The global averages of activity on Android devices are: 44% of the time is spent on social and communication apps such as email, 26% on videos and entertainment and 9% on playing games.
For the islands, 56% on average connect to the internet primarily using a mobile phone. The use of tablets increased in many islands, which can be attributed to purchasing devices for use by students who had to switch to online learning.
What this Means for Caribbean Businesses Online?
Social media is not the only thing people do on their phones.
- Build a web presence which is separate from a social media platform.
- Mobile friendly (responsive) websites are essential. Many companies want to spend time on making the site visually exciting, but it is a pain to navigate on a phone. Once people get to your site, they should be able to see exactly what problem you solve and how to get you to resolve it.
- Optimize images for faster loading. Taking too long to load will frustrate and chase buyers from your website.
- Fill out the Alt text section on images. Search engines and social media want to create the best experience for everyone. That includes persons with disabilities. The text in the Alt section allows people with visual disabilities to know what is happening in the photo.
33.9% of the world’s population who are online use a search engine for brand discovery. About 32.6% also use ads on television to help them decide, 29.4% rely primarily on word-of-mouth, ads on social media account for 27.6% and the same percentage depend on a product or company website to make decisions.
Overall GenZ are more likely to begin their search for a brand via social media.
Older audiences use the web primarily for searching.
Voice search is increasing through digital apps like Siri and Google Assistant.
Using images to search is also growing especially for females.
What this means for your Caribbean business
- Caribbean business websites must be search engine optimized to allow for easier discoverability.
- Create more thought leadership content around your area of expertise.
- Add content that is visual as well as auditory, such as a YouTube video of you answering a frequently asked question or podcast where you do the same.
- People want to consume information in the way they prefer, not in the way you do.
What are Caribbean people searching for online?
Each island’s top searches included the island name, the island’s news, music, Movies, Google Classroom and YouTube. There were several Spanish word queries topping the Anguilla search list. The lottery was also quite common across the entire Caribbean.
Top queries via YouTube include dancehall artists such as Kartel and Shensea, searching for full movies, and TikTok videos.
What this means for your Caribbean business
- Create content that is relevant to the location you live and the people who need your solution.
- Provide solutions that inform and entertain.
- The report notes that globally content where people are learning something continues to trend. Create content that answers the question How-To…
- Speak to your customers in their primary language of communication. Make your website translatable.
- Create content for social media in other languages.
What are they buying online?
For the first time, travel was not the number one reason why people spent money online. Fashion and beauty accounted for 665.6 billion dollars in online sales as everyone was forced into more self-care, fighting off a virus and dealing with isolation. Travel was second with 593.6 billion, with toys and hobbies third with 525.6 billion. Games accounted for 135.8 billion in online transactions.
77% of internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 said they purchased something online in the past 30 days.
What does this mean for you?
Data on local economic impact was limited to the larger islands such as Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. The island reports include potential ad reach for various platforms. This data, coupled with information on how many women and men are using social media, and who is most likely to engage can help you craft campaigns targeted to your ideal customer.
- People are becoming more comfortable with shopping online. Amazon was a top search phrase for the region.
- Make it easy for residents to purchase goods online. Coupled with delivery and a payment solution, become the store which puts customers’ needs first, even when they are stuck at home.
- Caribbean fashion and beauty bloggers should step up their content creation and intentionally integrate Amazon and other sales platforms to generate revenue.
- Fashion designers should collaborate with influencers who can introduce their clothing to local and regional buyers.
- Singers and other performing artists need to create more content that is available for consumption in both free and paid formats. Registering with performance rights groups such as Eastern Caribbean Collective Organisation (ECCO) to enable collection royalties must become a priority element for artists.
- Filmmakers and television producers must create content for an online and mobile environment. Get on platforms such as ComeSeeTV from Dominica, Caribbean One TV, Tego, and Studio Anansi to stream to audiences.
- Doctors, consultants, lawyers, other service professionals can create platforms like WebMD to answer concerns and become the trusted source for information in the local context.
- Create a YouTube channel to share locally relevant content. YouTube is the second most searched platform after Google.
Everyone must look at alternative finance options to allow more people to complete the sale online. At the same time, they should still understand the challenges of payments within the Caribbean and provide other ways to process transactions.
While many Caribbean people still use Facebook and Instagram primarily for doing business online, they should also consider ramping up visibility in other spaces. This includes Twitter, which has a growing audience among younger islanders and can give brands a new arena to establish a presence as interest grows. This is also the case for LinkedIn, which has a potential ad reach for Dominica of 19,000, 43,000 for Saint Lucia and 3300 for Montserrat. There is room to grow and gain brand visibility on these platforms.
The over 50s are the fastest growing groups for platform adoption. Don’t discount them. Create content that speaks directly to their problems and desires.
This year’s reports reveal that people are more likely to research “how to do things” on the internet than they are to look for information about specific brands, products, or services. Rather than saying we are the answer, create a how-to video that shows them how to resolve their problem. How can they get the best use out of your product?
Along with the top global platforms, seek out regional and culturally based spaces such as WI Match for building connections with Caribbean people. Find groups on LinkedIn which speak to the market you wish to serve. If it does not exist, create one.
Collaborate with other brands and find influencers who have a growing audience in your market segment.
Authentic Caribbean content that speaks to life in the islands in the way it really is, sells. Do more of it.
If your local market seems small, consider the entire Eastern Caribbean as your marketplace.
Links to local digital reports
See all the Caribbean reports here – Reports — DataReportal – Global Digital Insights
Digital in Grenada: All the Statistics You Need in 2021 — DataReportal – Global Digital Insights (This currently has Guadeloupe data embedded. I’ve asked them to correct it and hope they will soon.)
Nerissa Golden is media and business strategist and the author of seven books, including In Plain Sight and The Making of a Caribbeanpreneur: Strategies for Overcoming Fear and Building Wealth. Subscribe to the Caribbeanpreneur newsletter for more weekly insights.