Guest Contributor

Latin America is one of the regions hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. In attempts to curb the spread of the virus, governments have imposed strict quarantine measures. Schools and offices have closed, curfews have been put in place, domestic and international travel has been suspended, and large gatherings of people prohibited.

Prior to the crisis, LATAM's tech sphere was rapidly expanding, with heightened internet penetration and demand for digital services. Now, businesses are having to adapt in the new conditions and design models that deliver value at an especially challenging time. Here's how LATAM apps have pivoted to cater to users in quarantine.

Offering more diverse payment options

As restaurants, stores, and even gyms move online, they have to accommodate user payments through new methods. Despite being a predominantly cash-driven region, the pandemic has brought about concerns over the hygiene of physical money, so many people are opting for fintech solutions to avoid handling paper currency.

For example, across June and July, Argentine neobank Ualá doubled its user base, distributing more than two million bank cards to people in LATAM. Additionally, to cope with the sudden rise in cash-alternatives, the company has plans to hire 600 more staff members by the end of 2020.

Over in Mexico, Ecuadorian fintech Kushki has introduced its tailor-made services to integrate with a variety of vendors. Cajita de Pagos empowers users to make payments via smart links that can be received by WhatsApp, social media, email, or text.

Elsewhere, Argentine lending service,, has launched in Uruguay in order to help connect SMEs and freelancers with financial and loaning institutions. Small businesses and independent workers are particularly vulnerable in the COVID-19 crisis, and is a safe, agile, and immediate platform to access funds.

Improving hygiene measures

In the Colombian lockdown, on-demand delivery service Rappi has partnered with U.S.-based Kiwibot for a pilot project with 15 robots. Using GPS navigation, the robots have been taking orders to people's homes, completing 120 deliveries per day and transporting up to 8 kg in weight. By eliminating human contact, the robots are helping reduce the transmission of COVID-19 among workers and Rappi users.

Rappi has also joined forces with Acrus — a fintech-as-a-service company that will develop the RappiPay platform further. The partnership will enable users to manage, schedule, and automate payments directly in the app, therefore lowering the possibility of contagion through hand-to-hand contact when paying. Speaking about the pairing, Alejandro Solís, General Manager, Rappi Mexico says, “We want to make life easier for our customers, particularly during this difficult time. With RappiPay, people can manage all of their financial needs from the safety of their homes”.

Optimizing UX

MercadoLibre is one of the biggest brand names in LATAM, and in only 10 weeks during the pandemic, the e-commerce platform adopted one million additional users. David Geisen, CEO of MercadoLibre in Mexico believes [in Spanish] that "what we are experiencing now is an acceleration of a transformation from physical to digital commerce."

The influx of users actually inspired the platform to tailor its interface to highlight the most popular products being sold. Food, games, and household appliances appear on the homepage to meet shifting user behaviors; and as a result, sales for those goods have soared.

Prioritizing employee care

COVID-19 has forced consumers to reassess how they buy and who they buy from. Users care about how companies treat their employees, and what they are doing to support them in adverse times. Again, leading the way in adapting, Rappi is testing a partnership with Colombian-Venezuelan fintech, Valiu. The two companies are working to make it easier for Venezuelan Rappi employees to send and receive money across LATAM borders. Considering Venezuela is heavily reliant on remittances, the technology is extremely valuable for Rappi staff supporting family members in Venezuela who have been severely impacted by COVID-19.

These apps are just a sample of LATAM businesses reacting to surfacing user preferences in the quarantine. In particularly harsh times, companies that do not take action risk failing to keep up. Although these measures are in response to short-term government policies, they are likely to become part of apps' long-term strategy, and a staple part of how to successfully operate in the new normal.


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