E-Commerce is a slow-growing sector, constrained by limited internet access and limited energy infrastructure. U.S. owned company Access Haiti has been successful with wireless Internet Service Providers (ISP). Natcom, a joint venture between the Vietnamese state-owned telecoms company Viettel and the government of Haiti, provides both cellular and internet service, and continues to work to expand its services nationwide. Cellular provider Digicel also offers internet service. Mobile payment systems have also proven popular, including Moncash, from the telephone operator Digicel; Natcash, from Natcom; Lajan Cash and Mannitoks. The Moncash service has the largest number of active customers in the country, with two million customers and more than 200 formal businesses that use the system for their electronic payment transactions. Electronic payments help promote financial inclusion, as some Haitian banks have few branches in the smaller departments.
In 2020, Internet consumption increased by 13 percent, according to consulting firm ProfIT. Issues related to public awareness and education, however, as well as those related to digital security, hamper progress of the sector. The World Bank is interested in developing digital connectivity. On October 30, 2020, the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) pledged $60 million for a digital acceleration project. The government has made minimal progress in modernizing the laws that govern credit banking practices, security instruments, and collateral. In early 2017, the Parliament enacted legislation making electronic signatures and electronic transactions legally binding, but no further action to improve laws governing credit banking practices have been taken since.
Despite the principles established by the law on electronic signatures, the justice system lacks a specialized unit to effectively investigate abuses committed with electronic devices. A cybercrime bill to limit scams, incitement to violence, threats and forgery has not yet been ratified by the Parliament. Haiti’s national domain is “.ht.”
In November 2019, Amazon Haiti debuted its “Amazon Cash” service, enabling purchasers to complete Amazon transactions by visiting participating stores and placing orders without the use of a debit or credit card. All online orders are made from the participating stores, and are subject to an additional 40 percent charge fee, customs rate of 30 percent and value-added tax (TCA) of 10 percent. Payments are made to the participating store using cash or a credit card. Delivery takes 7 to 10 business days through a package forwarder in the United States before it can be picked up at the participating store in Haiti.
Most companies don’t have websites, and many independent businesses maintain a Facebook and Instagram page. Since the pandemic, some sellers use the WhatsApp application to promote their business and take orders. Cash payments, checks, and bank transfers are the preferred methods of payment. Phone and online payments are only offered by a few companies. PayPal services are not available in Haiti.
Bitkòb, the Central Bank of Haiti’s digital currency, was unveiled on March 26, 2021. The digital gourde has the same value as coins and banknotes.
E-Commerce Intellectual Property Rights
There are currently no laws in place to regulate electronic intellectual property rights. The country lacks the capacity to prevent piracy and counterfeit distribution. As a result, theft and infringement of intellectual property rights is common. Haiti does not seize counterfeit goods or prosecute on IPR violations.
Mobile banking is becoming increasingly popular and is seen as a more secure and reliable alternative to mainstream banks, which are subject to service disruptions and street crime. The sector is composed of the country’s two cell-phone providers, Digicel and Natcom. Under a mandate from the Haitian Central Bank, both providers are using a bank-led partnership to deliver their mobile money services to their customers. Standard services include cash in/cash out, airtime purchases, formal bill payment, informal payroll, international remittances, and repayment loans. Telephone companies are aggressively promoting mobile money payments to facilitate commerce and more merchants are accepting mobile payments.
Many companies and informal business owners are taking advantage of social media platforms to maximize their online presence and boost their brand visibility. The digital marketing sector is growing rapidly, digital is therefore a promising sector. And three areas of activity are technical, customer relations and web marketing. There is a lack of developers, data analysts and data scientists. In Haiti and since the beginning of the pandemic, companies are increasingly prioritizing social networks as a mode of communication. The increase in network presence and visibility has also dramatically increased. Many entrepreneurs are also advertising on WhatsApp groups.
Social media has expanded, and Haitians turn to social media for breaking political news and to critique the government, particularly over WhatsApp and Twitter. Utilized as a mechanism for sharing information, social media can be particularly helpful for information-sharing in times of crisis and natural disaster. Social media sites such as Facebook are also frequently used by small businesses to save on website maintenance costs.
A study by the firm Safitek Research published in April 2019 confirms no less than 94 percent of smartphone users are connected to social networks, while 20 percent of the population has access to networks and social media. ProfiT, a Haitian consulting firm in strategy and digital governance, reports 2.3 million people were connected on social media in 2020, an increase of 15 percent. WhatsApp instant messaging is the most popular social network, used by 85 percent of smartphone owners, while Facebook is used by 55 percent. Fifteen percent of smartphone owners use YouTube, 14 percent use Instagram, and 6 percent use Twitter. Haitian youth subscriptions on TikTok are increasing with usage mostly for entertainment purposes.
According to We Are Social, Inc.’s Digital Report 2021, cellular telephone subscribership has been increasing rapidly, with 7.37 million total mobile connections, an increase of 220 thousand connections in 2020. Many individuals subscribe with both major cellular providers, Digicel and Natcom, in order to take advantage of different tariffs and deals on the different networks. Less than 11 percent of homes have an internet connection, and Wi-Fi access remains limited. The lack of Wi-Fi access makes most users dependent on mobile data purchases to gain online access. This limitation in Internet access makes mobile phones the primary tools used to access the Internet.