When is the digital revolution coming to Colombia?

If you live in an “industrialized” nation, you likely enjoy certain luxuries on the internet. For example, if you email a business, they will email you back.

In Colombia, it doesn’t work that way. You could try emailing a locally-owned hotel or real estate agent, but your efforts will be fruitless. Your email might be responded to within a week. If at all. If it doesn’t bounce back.

When shopping around for clothes, furniture, or other goods, you might expect to see prices on a provider’s website. Maybe even – gasp! – an option to buy online. In just a few clicks. With your credit card.

In Colombia, 99% of businesses with a website have no prices advertised and no option to buy.

Nowadays, you might expect a company to have at least three of the following: a website, a profile on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and/or Pinterest.

In Colombia, most companies get by with just a Facebook account. Their Facebook page probably doesn’t link to any website, or have the about blurb filled out, or any phone number to reach them at.

They might be listed in a local online yellow pages, which would be typed in capital letters, rife with spelling errors.



(In the example above, notice the use of all caps, the lack of their own domain, the social media icons that link to nothing, and the bits in English.)

If they do have their own “website”, it might be built on a free website platform with broken images and a non-functioning contact form or no contact information at all.

This makes comparison shopping a grueling process. You know how to find the best deal on, say, electronics? Go to every electronics store you know of and ask the price. Then go back to the cheapest store and buy it.

An elite few are getting it right…

I didn’t start analyzing how truly deficient Colombia’s internet presence is until a recent online exchange I had with a local business here.


I stumble across a vegetarian shop and restaurant in the Manila sector of El Poblado. I check out their website, and I’m blown away. It’s covered in high quality images. Their address, telephone number, and social media links are clearly visible from every page. They boast not only an email address, but a contact form. And not one sentence is typed in all caps!

I see they also offer online ordering. I sign up for an account and receive a confirmation link to my email box in seconds. I click it, add a few items to my shopping cart, and hit send. 25 minutes later, they show up at my door with the products I ordered.

Magic! Finally, a company that understands the basics of e-commerce. I rejoice!!!

OK – that’s a bit overboard. But seriously, their online presence is dominating other restaurants in the city. Shout out to Casa Vegetariana, my new favorite local businesses.


The situation above is commonplace in other countries – why not here?

Why is there such a resistance to making use of the internet?

Why aren’t businesses sold on the increased profit potential that awaits them in cyberspace?

Oh Colombia… the internet doesn’t bite. I promise!

  • Story of my life! Love medellin but customer service and internet have a very long way to go.

  • Dave in Belize

    Ahhhh yes. Life in the “developing” world. Here in Belize it took me quite some time to get used to the fact when someone (ie: immigration office, bank, car dealer, you name it) says “I’ll call you back” DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH!!!!

    What they really mean is… “If you want to find out the answer to your inquiry or buy my expensive product, YOU call ME back”.

    I can honestly say I’ve never, ever, EVER been “called back”. Such is life in Belize

    Then we have the local interwebs………sigh…… (don’t get me started…..) lol

  • twinwolf

    Maybe Colombia needs some good website designers and hosting companies to get businesses on the right path. On my recent trip to Medellin, I was surprised to learn that I could not get Internet service on my cell phone without a year contract. As a short term visitor, I opted to only use WiFi on my phone where I could find it. It was a disappointment but I absolutely fell in love with Medellin. In Panama, I can have Internet on my phone and pay as I go. Cell phone companies make a fortune on pay-as-you-go Internet service. I have found that businesses in Panama realize they can reach out and touch the average person on the street and are more likely to put effort into Internet marketing. Jasmine, I would love to learn more about your experiences in technology topics such as these. Perhaps Colombia is ripe for Internet businesses, such as good website designers and hosting companies. Love your blog! .

  • JoelDuncan

    I totally agree with you. There seems to be some fear of using the internet as a marketing channel and to an even greater extent – a ‘sales’ channel. Yes Colombia is slowly crawling into the internet age but something seems to be holding them back. I think that it may be their culture in general which in turn dictates their business culture.

    Let’s just say that it is a pretty generally accepted fact (especially here in Medellin) that people can be very desconfiados (not trusting of others). I figure that they don’t trust that if they put their credit card numbers in an online sales portal that they will really get their goods. I also think that people and businesses are so accustomed to the face-to-face, mom and pop shop style of business that they shy away from communicating digitally.

    One of my role models in the photography world says that in order to make more money in photography one must “educate-sell”. In that order, educate then sell. I think that there needs to be more people like us who can lead by example, educate the businesses about the benefits of online businesses, then sell them on the idea of joining us in the new world.

  • You’re right about that! Customer service is another topic I’m going to explore in a future post.

  • Good point. I truly admire those with the ability to teach. Maybe the generation who has traveled to other places and seen how the internet works overseas will start the trend to get online.

  • Actually, you can get a prepaid data plan here. I use Claro and I pay about 30,000 COP per 15 days if I want to use it. No year-long plan necessary.

    There are a few good web designs out here, but the experience I’ve had with hosting companies (albeit limited) is that they come with a bandwidth limit – pretty crazy in 2013 if you ask me. There is definitely space for internet businesses here.

  • Hey Dave, it’s been a while!

    I think I’ve called at least 5 different real estate agents without getting a call back. How the manage to rent out their apartments, I do not know…

  • Agreed. Trying to find governmental info online is also difficult. Maybe if it started with them and larger corporations, people would start to be more trusting.

  • twinwolf

    Thanks for the info on the data plan, that is good news. It will make my next trip even better. I am already making plans to return to Medellin

  • I only needed to google “DAS cartagena teléfono” to get:

    Dirección: Popa Cr20 A 29 D-18 Plaza De La Ermita
    Teléfono: (5) 6660438

    I don’t know whether they answer but that info was out there., four hit in google. Perhaps you should have try Spanish? :)

  • Maybe there is a career in there Jasmine! You could offer hotels or restaurants to update their pages and set up their social media features for them. Just in case you run out of money…;-)

  • That is definitely a great business idea for someone with better sales skills than I have :)

  • Eva

    Hahahaha…yes to ALL of this. Even getting people to pick up the phone is often difficult, it seems like almost everything has to be done in person. I do wonder if the general business culture based on relationships (and the assumption that you will get better service if you know the person) has something to do with this.

  • Good point! I’d say that’s a factor since building relationships via the internet isn’t very common in Colombia.

  • Sounds like that could make things extra tough for you and your job! I imagine Colombia is not a very easy destination to cover.