We previously highlighted the HOME TROTTING trend, which is all about the vast business opportunities linked to immigrant populations traveling back and forth, in large numbers, between their 'ancestral' and adopted countries. But what about the new commercial opportunities whenever these home trotters choose to stay put? What about the increasing flow of money linked to selling and buying goods in, or from, immigrants’ countries of origin? We have dubbed this phenomenon IMMI-MERCE.

One excellent example of IMMI-MERCE is being propelled by the large number of South American immigrants living in the US, many of whom use South American websites to order goods for their relatives and friends back home, primarily as a substitute for sending money. A recent WSJ article decscribed how US citizens of Argentinean descent use Discovirtual.com.ar, the website of an Argentinean supermarket chain, to have food and presents delivered instantly to their family.

The same concept works for US-based Peruvians who order at the E.Wong website in Peru, and Brazilian immigrants who shop on behalf of their relatives at Paodeacucar.com.br, Brazil's second largest retailer. Strictly Peruvian, E.Wong even advertises its service in Florida, California, New York, and Washington DC – areas with large populations of relatively prosperous Peruvians. Not surprisingly, Visa Card, always on the look-out for new e-commerce initiatives, is encouraging this trend, and has closed a deal with E.Wong to streamline foreign payment issues. (Source: WSJ.)

Another area of IMMI-MERCE that remains red-hot: the money remittance business (sending money back home by check or transfer). However, the high cost of existing remittance services is actually one of the drivers behind ordering goods directly online as described above.

Picking up on this opportunity, the innovative people at Mollyguard (a company featured in the November 2002 issue of our sister-site Springwise) have set up www.enviosboya.com. Envios Boya is a Dominican Republic-based remittance and currency exchange service that claims to be up to 33% cheaper than market leader Western Union. Transfers are securely and conveniently handled online, in a partnership with PayPal, which provides the "front-end" money-sending infrastructure for those based in the US.

And last but not least: what do you do when home-sickness engulfs immigrants who aren’t home-trotting often enough? If you’re an entrepreneur, you make sure you bring them back some of the delights from the motherland. Which is exactly what ‘Pollo Campero’, a popular Guatemalan fried-chicken chain with more than 150 outlets in 9 Central American countries, is doing by opening up branches in the US, to the joy of Central-Americans living in California.

Before the first US branch opened its doors in Los Angeles in April 2002, Guatemalan immigrants returning home for a visit could be seen loading up dozens of fried chicken pieces at Guatemala City Airport just before their return to the US. (Source: New York Times.) Now, with the Los Angeles branch a massive success, and Houston up and running, Central Americans living in the US will still be HOME TROTTING, but will have less need to carry bags full of fried chicken with them!

The tangled web of IMMI-MERCE, with ever-cheaper and faster money transfers, direct online ordering opportunities, and immigrant communities sustaining foreign expansion, should attract scores of maverick entrepreneurs as well as marketers at established multinationals. Time to make your website tri-lingual, and finally sort out those foreign credit card billing address issues?


MAY 2003 | Combine native websites with burgeoning immigrant communities abroad, and you have just one of the new business opportunities supported by the IMMI-MERCE trend. And we're talking big money; the World Bank just released the following numbers about the amounts of money immigrants send to or spend in their countries of origin:

Now these are official amounts of remittance payments, and don't yet include online shopping and spending of the kind we described in our IMMI-MERCE trend. Which means this market is even bigger than the billions the World Bank is highlighting. Time to figure out how and where you can get a piece of the IMMI-MERCE action!


OCTOBER 2003 | Global messaging leader Mobileway has teamed up with the Philippines' digital leader Globe Telecom to enable Filipino cell phone subscribers to send/receive pictures and video (MMS) to and from cellular operators in different destinations around the world. Globe Telecom is the first mobile operator in the Philippines to enable MMS interconnection with more than 30 other MMS-enabled mobile operators in the world. (By comparison: the largest mobile operators in the world currently do not have more than 10 MMS interconnect agreements.) By year's end, Mobileway's MMS interconnect service will reach 50 global MMS-enabled mobile operators, and eventually all 80 carriers worldwide that have launched a MMS service should come on board.

TRENDWATCHING.COM thinks all of this makes total sense: if there's one juicy target audience for MMS, it's immigrant communities. When they're not HOME TROTTING, they're in constant need of cross-border communications, and the next best thing to seeing friends and family face-to-face is seeing them in real-time pictures. Size matters, too: with 10 million Filipinos living abroad (Saudi Arabia alone houses more than 1 million Filipino workers), critical mass is already present, even if the current rates for sending pictures may be too costly to some. Thankfully, both rates and photo-cam handsets are coming down in price rapidly. Furthermore, a new report from Strategy Analytics even claims that camera-phones overtook their visually-impaired counterparts in numbers sold in the first half of 2003, with Asia truly going camera-phone crazy.

So in the near future, expect heavy traffic in global picture exchange on national holidays and events like Philippine Labor Day, Philippine Independence Day, Holy Innocents Day and New Year's Eve!

For MMS, the real success may, in the short term, be found in cross-border deals rather than domestic promotions. Just think Chinese and Indian diaspora. Could make for quite a pretty picture.

3. With love from Manila


FEBRUARY 2004 | An interesting twist on our previous IMMI-MERCE spottings: Former immigrants from Central and South America, now US citizens, going back to their native countries to set up and manage US retail chains.

Case in point: PaylessShoeSource Inc, a US based, no-frills shoe store chain, became a popular household brand for Latin American immigrants and refugees living in US barrios in the 1980s and 90s (source: WSJ). Many of them eventually returned to Central and South America, and Payless followed these loyal customers in 2000, opening stores in a handful of Central American nations. It found that brand awareness was high: not only had heavy HOME TROTTING by immigrants contributed to exposure of the brand across Central America, but Latin American wholesalers over the years had also been bulk-buying Payless branded boxes to resell back home. Growth has been phenomenal: last year, the tally came to 200 Shoeless stores in 12 Latin American countries.

So, besides popular brands from immigrants' native countries expanding to the US to serve their former fellow country men in their new homeland -- like Pollo Campero, a Guatemalan fried-chicken chain -- and businesses such as Argentinean Disco Virtual catering to immigrants in the US who use websites to order goods for their relatives and friends in South America, there are now also brands that follow immigrants when they move back 'home'.

Where to start if you want to make money from this trend? Well, examining the top 10 global destinations of remittances will give you a quick insight into which immigrant communities are actively sending billions (and goods!) back home:

Chances are, they've been telling their friends and family about your brand already, if not treated them to it!