Colombia flag Colombia: Buying and Selling

The distribution network in Colombia

Evolution of the Sector
Western style, large supermarkets are part of a noteworthy retail transformation in the last decade with major, domestic and international grocery chains opening new stores, of varying sizes, at intense rates. Over the past years, discount stores have increased market share and continue opening outlets throughout the country offering wide private label portfolios cheaper than grocery chains. Traditional retail is still the most common retail format in Colombia. Outlets are small, independent and are present all around the country; a recent commerce survey concluded that in Bogota there is a mom-and-pop store for every 94 homes. Small remote towns only count on these traditional stores to cover their basic food and beverage needs since modern retail is not present. Mom-and-pops usually offer small/individual packaging products (one sausage, small oil bottles, etc.) and purchase frequency is higher.

Under-invoicing of goods and contraband articles sold at deep discounts remain a problem for legitimate retailers. The Colombian government has attained encouraging results in its effort to reduce contraband. Free trade zones and bonded warehouses are commonly used for imported merchandise and processing of export-oriented goods. Modifications to the Free Trade Zone legislation took effect in November 2007 and offer interesting benefits. The MUISCA electronic customs system will address contraband and invoicing issues.

Online commerce is becoming more common among Colombians. Most retailers have websites available for shopping online and all kind of smartphone applications ease the grocery shopping experience. According to Euromonitor, food and beverages are among the products preferred by Colombian consumers when buying online. Recent tax reform led to a VAT increase from 16% to 19% that increased prices and affected     Colombian consumer purchase decisions. As a consequence, consumers started looking for more affordable, good quality products, leaving room for private label options and hard discount stores.
Market share
All sales channels are available in Colombia, with different distribution methods depending on the type of product. These methods range from traditional wholesalers to more sophisticated methods, such as department stores and hypermarkets, which are gaining popularity. While most imported goods, especially capital goods and raw materials, are still purchased through agents and distributors, some large domestic manufacturing companies import them directly. The most important commercial areas are in large cities: Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena and Pereira.

Traditional distribution, symbolised by local groceries and other small shops called 'tiendas', witnessed the arrival of modern distribution networks: supermarkets, hypermarkets and shopping centres. The leaders of mass distribution in the country are the following: Grupo Exito, Olimpica, Jumbo-Cencosud, and Alkosto.
Retail Sector Organisations
National Traders Federation (FENALCO)
Association of Colombian Shopping Centres
Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism
Chamber of Commerce of Bogota

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Latest Update: September 2022

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