As an entrepreneur in Panama, I embarked on a journey into the world of ecommerce in Panama with a mixture of excitement and naivety. The possibilities of reaching new customers and enabling traditional payments for customers were alluring, but I soon realized that the path ahead would be challenging.
The Challenge of Choosing a Platform
One of the first challenges I faced was choosing an ecommerce payment platform. I researched the offerings of various Panamanian banks, but I quickly discovered that they had their own unique approach. Rather than offering a menu of platforms to choose from, the banks required me to open an account with them before even discussing their ecommerce solutions.
The Banistmo Endeavor
In my first attempt I opened an account with Banistmo, with the approval process taking three months. Of the solutions I researched, I felt that Wompi (their ecommerce payment product) would be the best choice for our company. However, once my account was finally approved, I had to wait another two weeks to speak with a representative about their ecommerce offerings. Unfortunately, Wompi does not offer an integrated ecommerce solution, which meant that I would need our systems developer and business partner to integrate the Wompi platform with WooCommerce and WordPress and onto our website. This was an undesirable outcome and a path we preferred not to embark on.
Issues with the Solutions
Two issues with this solution:
- A. The response time of Banistmo was long, they had no sense of urgency.
- B. The solution was not integrated, required significant programming, and was designed to take the customer onto the bank’s own platform and away from our site. Ultimately my developer business partner and I felt this was a situation we did not want to happen.
MetroBank: A Glimmer of Hope
I then turned my attention to MetroBank, who were willing to provide a presentation on their ecommerce solution. However, they seemed to favor the use of PayPal, which would require me to open a US bank account. This was not an option for my fully Panamanian company. Pressing them, MetroBank ultimately presented another local system that could be integrated with WooCommerce, one of the most popular eCommerce solutions with a large, worldwide user base and community.
After careful consideration, I decided to go with MetroBank’s offering. The integration offered significantly reduced development time, and proved a more viable option. We found ourselves weighing fees which were not favorable with the cost of integration, and the time required. Making a choice for us was a tradeoff. The final factor in our choice to move forward with MetroBank was their greater commitment to customer service.
Obstacles in Integration
Settling on MetroBank and their system in no way assured a smooth integration considering Ecommerce in Panama. I had to open a new bank account with MetroBank which was time-consuming (Including numerous signatures to ensure they matched). I also had to make some concessions on the features I wanted due to the limitations of local systems. Finally, this system does not accept American Express. This last, while a nice to have, was not a deal changer as American Express is not as widely used in Central America, and most clients are aware of this and have either Visa or Mastercard.
Reflection and Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
It is possible to succeed in the world of ecommerce in Panama. With careful planning and unwavering determination, you can overcome these challenges and build a successful business. In all, I spent 6 months managing this process. Actually receiving the keys to the payment platform and seeing our online store open was immensely satisfying. Here are some tips for entrepreneurs embarking on the journey of ecommerce in Panama:
- Do your research.
- Be prepared to open bank accounts with multiple institutions.
- Be flexible on your desired features.
- Be prepared for higher fees.
- Have an experienced developer.
- Market your business effectively.
Closing Thoughts on Ecommerce in Panama
There is no single popular payment e-commerce in Panama, so businesses need to carefully consider their specific needs and prioritize their must-haves when choosing a platform. This may require more development and technology integration than in other countries, as businesses may need to customize their platform to meet the unique requirements of the Panamanian market. Technology is evolving very fast, so in time I’m certain there will be more options available.