It’s a well-worn theme in all of the blogs, online expat newspapers and forums: new electronics – computers, laptops, iPhones, stereos, TVs, games consoles, cameras and so on – are very expensive here in Argentina. The problem, of course, is the import duties that the government sees fit to impose.
If you want to get your hands on some sweet electronics, and you don’t want to pay the insane prices at your local Garbarino, you have a couple of options. Getting a friend who’s going back to the States to buy what you want there and courier it back to you is definitely the best, but when that’s just not possible it’s time to do what the locals do and log on to MercadoLibre .
You probably already knew this, but MercadoLibre is ‘the eBay of Latin America.’ What you might not have known is that it’s an Argentine company, a dot-com start-up success story that’s listed on the Nasdaq and which, by the way, has been doing very nicely share-price wise despite the financial crisis and global recession. It has more than 42 million registered users.
Actually, MercadoLibre is not exactly the same as eBay. Though this has changed recently, eBay has traditionally focused on auctions, where the final price for what is being sold is established only through bidding. MercadoLibre, on the other hand, has always relied more on the fixed-price model. Consequently, 90% of MercadoLibre’s items are sold at fixed prices. Also, the vast majority of the products on MercadoLibre (80%) are new items rather than second-hand. These two things – fixed prices and new items – make MercadoLibre actually work more like Amazon than eBay in practice.
In terms of using MercadoLibre, it’s all pretty much what we’re used to from other e-commerce websites like eBay and Amazon. Registering an account is quick and easy and you don’t need to be a permanent resident in order to get one.
One feature of MercadoLibre is that it has a PayPal-style payment system called MercadoPago. This is great because it saves you having to go to a bank to make a payment for something you’ve bought. MercadoPago allows you to use a credit card, and even better, the payment is held until you receive the product and have a chance to inspect it (in other words, it acts as a kind of escrow). If you’re happy with the product you just go online to your MercadoPago account and release the payment.
Like eBay, once a MercadoLibre transaction is complete the seller and the buyer write feedback on each other which is visible to other users. For maximum safety, it’s best never to buy from someone unless they have a lot of positive feedback, though this is obviously not so much of a big deal if the amounts of money involved are small.
At the start of this article we talked about buying electronics, and it’s true that MercadoLibre is the cheapest place to buy them in Argentina, but that is (of course) not all that’s sold on there. You can also buy cars, motorcycles, musical Instruments, appliances, sporting equipment, baby clothes…even pets! It can be hard to find specific items that you need in Buenos Aires just by looking in the stores, so buying on MercadoLibre instead can save you a lot of shoe leather and frustration. Try it out!