MercadoLibre, Inc. (NASDAQ:MELI)
dbAccess 2012 Technology Conference
September 12, 2012 6:20 p.m. EDT
Pedro Arnt – CFO
Ross Sandler – Deutsche Bank
Okay, we're going to get started. So, thanks for joining us. I'm Ross Sandler, the recently joined member of the Deutsche Bank Internet Research team.
We've got -- we're very excited to have MercadoLibre all the way up here from Argentina to participate in the conference. So we've got Pedro Arnt, the CFO.
Why don't you just give them a quick 60-second overview. I mean, I think most people are familiar with your story, but just give us a quick overview of it, and then we'll hop into questions.
Absolutely. Apologies for being late.
So, MercadoLibre, we've been operating in the region since '99. Started as an idea arbitrage, I believe, we say now as eBay. The business model has evolved significantly and what we have today is an ecosystem of essentially online solutions for merchants and retailers that want to move online.
So we have the marketplace business where we started, which is a marketplace that has certain characteristics that make it a little bit different from our US peer in that 98% of what we retail is done through fixed price, 80% of the goods sold are new goods, 70% of the merchants selling on the marketplace are small-sized retailers. So in many ways it has a flavor more similar to Amazon's 3P business.
We have a business called MercadoPago, which is very similar to what PayPal is in the US. Essentially the strategy there is to become an online payment standard for online transactions. And more recent business units around online advertising, so, search advertising based on our different web properties and MercadoShops, which is a software-as-a-service e-commerce store front solutions that allow us to offer technology to set up web stores for merchants that either want to go multichannel and, in addition to sell on our marketplace, sell on their own URLs or their own brands. And as that product develops and rolls out more features, it will allow us to start targeting midsize and larger retailers and offer them technology.
And the key thing about the ecosystem for us, of course, is that anyone who's using any of those pieces we can cross-sell the different pieces of that ecosystem to them. And so as distribution channels, they work very synergistically amongst themselves.
Great. So I thought we'd start with just a macro given that I think most of the audience here is based or is focused a little more in the US. Can you just give us an update on what the environment is like right now in kind of your core retail business across the various regions? And has the macro environment changed materially in the last call it two or three quarters visa vie where we are today?
So I think -- so there's two relevant I think pieces to look at macro, right? The first one is looking at online commerce and how early days it still is and the tremendous tailwinds that that secular shift from offline retailing to online retailing presents for a company like ours. So, online commerce is still less than 3% of overall retail in the region. The online payment space is extremely nascent. And so we're operating with these tremendous tailwinds that should sustain for quite a long time.
And so whether GDP in the region is growing 4% or is it growing 3%, we're fairly isolated from that. At the margin, obviously it's significant. But we have a business model that, A, is just helped by the overall context of constantly growing online commerce. And additionally, the marketplace has typically proven itself to be much more resilient than traditional retailing even in times of tougher macro. So we've gone through economic crises in Argentina, in Venezuela over the last 12 years, and the marketplace continued to perform relatively better than the overall macro and retail space even those times of tougher economics because consumers typically could start looking for selection in price more intensely when macro conditions are less favorable. So I think that's an important backdrop.
Having said that, big picture Latin America I think presents a very compelling investment argument mid to long term, growing middle class, growing access to credit, more stable macroeconomic policies in most of the countries in the region, and I'm sure we'll get to Venezuela and Argentina at some point, than any time in my 40 years of having lived in the region and been in the region. So I think both at a macro and a secular level, compelling positive situation for us going forward.
Okay. And then some of the more specific related to the company and some of the things you guys have done in the last 12 months or so. A little over a year ago, you guys basically ripped out all the code that supported the website, the various websites that you managed across the region, and you went through this process of kind of rebuilding the technology in a more flexible way. So, can you just walk us through without getting too deep into the technical aspects of it what were some of the more consumer or merchant-facing pieces that got upgraded and how did this impact conversion rates on the platform?
Sure. So, you know, when you look at online retailing, it's still a fairly new industry as a whole, and so there still are significant points of friction and significant usability learnings that we're going through as an industry. And so it's fundamental as an online retailer that you have a lot of capacity, you constantly innovative and AB test, and really push the envelope on removing friction from the buying piece, whether that is the age-old showing less pages and more clicks, whether it's making the payment process more integrated and more streamlined.
And so the technology overhaul is because essentially we realized that the way we had built our hardware infrastructure and the way that we were architecting the software, it was getting more difficult for us to be able to AB test and innovate in short-term cycles as the platform had grown out and we had added all these adjacent business units. So rewrote the entire code in a way that made the different pieces of our platforms independent and that we're now much more agile in just moving things around, testing and shifting.
And so once we had that backend rewritten, the first thing we started doing towards the end of Q2 last year was to redesign the entire what we call buying flows, so, from the moment a user registers all the way through to the moment he checks out. Eliminated unnecessary steps, eliminated data that we were asking for before the transaction occurred, backended a lot of those additional data requests after the transaction had occurred, integrated payments more seamlessly, and a series of things that when you look at our business results in the back half of last year, our merchandise volume growth accelerated from high 20s, low 30s, into the 40s and 50s. So we had tremendous short-term impact from improving conversions by simply aggressively AB testing the different points that a user had to go through between registering and completing the transaction.
And on that point, you were largely successful with the overhaul and it's now kind of anniversarying, [creating] more challenging comp in the back half of this year. So, do you think that all the low-hanging fruit has already been picked up or is there a roadmap that you guys see that you can continue to improve various aspects of the conversion path and kind of keep the momentum going?
So, great question. Really conversion was the first thing we worked on because it was the lower-hanging fruit. And if you look at what we've said is the focus of our product development efforts right now, it's on things that are perhaps even more critical long term to the buying and selling experience on the platform but that don't have the kind of short-term list that working on buying flows had last year. So we talked about things like driving increased adoption of our payment product on platform, mobile, shipping, vertical expansion into new categories, opening up our APIs so that we can start integrating with midsize and larger retailers. So, tremendous opportunities long term but that don't have the kind of short-term impact that we had when we were simply iterating on the UI and improving conversions.
Okay. I think one of the areas you guys had mentioned at your Analyst Day last fall was you were going to try to do something that eBay was pretty successful with which was go into your bigger categories and create kind of a tailored shopping experience and redesign some of the verticals. So, has that been rolled out broadly across all the verticals? And then when you make these changes, how do we think about the pace of the rollout across your geographies, so, Brazil being the biggest market, Argentina, et cetera, do all of them have the uniform upgrade features at this point or is it kind of a phased introduction?
So, verticalizing the experiences, we've moved forward with that. We now have a vertical category within apparel that looks quite different to many of the other categories in Brazil and Argentina. It hasn't been rolled out beyond those two countries. And honestly, there's still a lot of work to be done there.
So when you want to get deeper into a category, the technology platform is an important part of that, but there's a lot more that goes -- that has to go on. Right? You need to shift the focus of business development, certain categories in apparel is certainly a good example of that, require I guess you can call them anchor tenants or anchor merchants. So you need to bring on branded apparel sellers to generate the kind of buzz around the category that's necessary. Apparel retailing requires a certain level of duration that consumer electronic retailing certainly doesn’t. So we need to continue to do that and get better at that. So, all in all, we've advanced, but probably given where we were a year ago perhaps at a quite measured pace.
Other initiatives like the mobile initiative, it's different. It's actually exceeding our expectations and things are moving along faster than we thought. I think it's fair to say that apparel is moving along nicely but at a fairly cautious pace.
And then the geographies in terms of --
Brazil and Argentina, so far for apparel, Argentina was recently launched in Q2, and nothing beyond Argentina and Brazil in terms of apparel. And that's usually the way we roll out most of the new feature sets. You kind of start with the larger markets where you have the biggest impact, so, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela. And then the smaller markets are probably, you could say, on an 18 to 24-month lag in terms of the feature sets and the technology they have.
If we look at the marketplace broadly in a Brazil or an Argentina, we talked earlier about the demand side of it, so, kind of what user penetration in the region and how under-penetrated total e-commerce is versus retail. But if you look at the merchant side, the seller side, do you guys track metrics in terms of what percent of the total addressable market of sellers are available in a Brazil or an Argentina? And where do you think you are today on that? I'm guessing like in consumer electronics you probably have most of the sizable folks that maybe in other areas is still kind of a work in progress.
So I don’t have specific metrics, but a couple of things that I think -- the way we think this through, right? So, in terms of the size of the merchants, there's a lot of upside there. And as I was saying before, when you look at the core of who sells to our marketplace today, it's still mainly small-size mom-and-pop stores or very small three to four store retailers.
And the midsize retailers and the larger retailers that I think have a lot of very interesting use cases for the marketplace, whether it be excess inventory, old SKUs, or even your core inventory in a multichannel strategy, we haven't been able to really service the needs of those guys historically because, as a consumer internet company, we would have conversations with these retailers and what they would want is to be able to integrate through backends where they could use their existing management information systems and plug into the marketplace, and we weren't offering that kind of technology. And that's what we're able to do now.
So in terms of moving after midsize and larger retailers, there's significant opportunity for us and we're beginning to execute on that. And when you look at the smallish retailers that we work with, I would say that even there we're still scratching the tip of the iceberg because it is a very fragmented retail space throughout Latin America, less consolidated than in many mature markets. And so although we have about 4 million unique sellers a year, of which the vast majority of those guys are mom-and-pop stores, there are still many, many more than aren’t even online yet because it's such early stages of internet adoption.
And one other follow-up on the merchant side, so, one thing you guys have been really successful at, and they probably had some issues that you guys haven't had with their marketplace, but they've moved more GMV to top-rated sellers and they've done a really good job of identifying and ranking the quality of the sellers based on buyer feedback. And so this has been transformational for these guys. I think you guys mentioned at the Analyst Day that you have around 2,000 or so certified or what you called the top-rated sellers. Is that as big of an opportunity for you? And as you move up, is that something that is an important metric that you guys follow?
So that's interesting, because I think this is one of the areas where we adopted the business model quicker than eBay did. I mean, in many things, there's a lot to learn from them, and in many things, I think we were ahead of them.
So, because we didn't have the legacy dependency on auctions and the fact that auctions kind of force you to sort by time remaining, we were already sorting by relevance very early on because auctions were such a smaller part of our business. And so that pushed us down the line of saying, okay, what constitutes relevance? And obviously price is one, but very quickly you get to quality of the merchant.
And so our site has consistently pushed the merchants with the better feedback rate to the top of the sorting algorithms for many, many years now. And I think that was also instrumental in being able to capture a much bigger share of overall e-commerce than maybe had for a long time because they were so tied to this legacy C2C and auction business. And I think they've done a great job, as you said, to move away from that, but that's a transformation that we had already undertaken quite a long time ago.
Yeah, makes sense. You mentioned the shipping initiative in Brazil. So, from what we understand, it's basically consolidate the group of sellers and offer a lower cost shipping to buyers. But you're also doing some other things to kind of remove friction or enhance the user experience. So, can you walk us through how that works? And is this a pretty big deal, do you think, as far as Brazil? And I know that their postal system is different than the other countries, but do you have other ideas like that that you could roll out in the other major markets?
So I think the shipping initiative is quite transformative as it occurs. And to be quite honest, the starting point for marketplace businesses like ourselves is that the shipping part of the buying experience is horrendous, because depending on which merchant you're buying from, if you leave it up to the different merchants to set the shipping price, the shipping standards and everything, you get, A, a very inconsistent experience where, depending who you're buying from, shipping is going to be different. But you also might have some merchants that do a great job and others that do a horrendous job.
And so what we set out to do is figure out, okay, how do I ensure consistency, low price, and how do I set the picking and handling service levels and the delivery service levels across the entire base of merchants? And so the way to do that was to integrate the marketplace with the carriers so that at any time that you buy something on the marketplace, we know where the buyer is, we know where the seller is, and we have the relationship and the contract with the carriers. So that we can set price, we can set service levels, we can collect the shipping costs within the checkout flow, and only release the money to the seller once the tracking number has confirmed that the package was delivered.
So as we roll this out, we'll have accomplished I think one of the big disadvantages that marketplaces typically have versus first-party retailers, which is to ensure that the shipping piece is at least cost-effective and consistent. So I think this is transformative. It will take time because you now need to onboard millions of merchants onto the platform, but I think it'll be huge for us in terms of guaranteeing long-term positive user experiences on the marketplace.
And is the same setup possible outside of Brazil or is it --
So, absolutely. I think one of the advantages we see in Latin America compared to what we hear from some of our other global peers is that, unlike my limited understanding of China where it's very hard to get packages to certain parts and there's a lot of investment that has to occur in the actual infrastructure, Latin America is fairly well off. So you can identify within any of the countries in the region a specific carrier that's doing a pretty good job of getting things from Point A to Point B. What you need to do is ensure that the sellers and the merchants on the platform are doing a good enough job.
Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. MercadoClics, so this is a business that you guys spent a small amount of time talking about but it's actually like one of the very, very fast-growing hidden gems within the overall revenue stream. I think it's a 5x or 6x in the last two years, something on that order. So, how meaningful of a business is this and when is it kind of -- is it approaching that point of materiality where you have to disclose how big it is at some point? And then, I guess just a little bit around how it works and some of the low-hanging fruit there.
So the story behind the advertising business is, when we looked at our traffic metrics, you know, we do somewhere around 35 million unique visitors per month, and we're only -- and we do about 6 million items sold per month. And so, clearly, MercadoLibre is being used by consumers in Latin America as more than a transactional site. It's also being used for shopping comparison, for reviews, for content, and sort of as a gateway into e-commerce as a whole. So we realized that we were, to a certain extent, product search, but the product listings that we were offering were close to whatever was listed on MercadoLibre. And so we weren't monetizing that gap between the 6 million units sold and the 35 million unique visitors.
So, one way to try to monetize that would be to search advertising, and additionally, it would also complement the offering that we had for our users in that through the search advertising they'd be able to see not only the products that were being sold on the marketplace by our merchants but also products being sold by branded advertisers that were advertising cost per click through us. And so that's what it is. It's essentially search advertising similar to Google Ad Words run on our marketplace.
It's still small, so it's less than 5% of revenues. I think there is potential there. Our core is still transactional, so we've said we always think that the marketplace and the payments business will be significantly larger than advertising, but this is mainly accretive revenue to us.
Okay. Let's shift gears to payments, I guess. So, do you know what MercadoPago's market share of payment business in Latin America? Is that a --
Yeah. No. So we have a good sense of what the online retailing market is and what our market share is. I think online payments is such a huge addressable market and there's less data. We haven't disclosed anything that we feel comfortable with.
Yeah. And one of the faster-growing areas in payments is what's happening off [MELI]. We can talk about both on and off. But with regard to off [MELI], is this mostly the traditional kind of merchant services business where it's your retailers putting MercadoPago on their website, or is there other things, like other types of transactions that are being adopted off [MELI].
So, just to give a quick sense of the size of the opportunity here, right? Of our own marketplace, only 30% of transactions are settled MercadoPago. You look at PayPal and eBay in the US, I think it's something like 80% or 90%. So, just from growing the adoption of the payments product on our marketplace, there's a huge run rate for the payments business.
And then additionally, perhaps even the largest opportunity is the merchant service business. And today, the core of the merchant service business are online retailers, so, a similar type of merchant to the ones we have on the website. But over the last 12 months, we've seen some significant growth from new segments. So, for example, grouponing and couponing is a segment that exploded in the region. We process payments for groupon, we process payments for Peixeurbano which is one of the largest Brazilian coupon sites. That segment has been very, very good to MercadoPago in terms of driving growth.
So when we look at it, you can clearly identify different online industries where MercadoPago adds a lot of value. So, tourist industry and sort of online sales of tickets. Gaming is an important one when you can do micro-payments. You have a growing number of online media providers. There's significant room to grow across different types of industries that go beyond traditional general merchandising online.
And you mentioned I think 32% or so is your [on-MELI] penetration right now. So you guys, you've done a couple of different things there, and one thing you did, this is about two years ago, was the bundling of the take rates and the bundling of the product where you're not, you know, you're asking your merchants to offer it. And is there potentially a strategy where you're going to mandate that this is the de facto payment choice? And if so, when does something like that happen?
Right. So what we said is that, yes, we believe that it would be beneficial to the marketplace if over time we're able to drive MercadoPago adoption to 100%, right? But the tricky part for us is we've taught our consumers over the last 12 years that when they buy on the marketplace, they can pay through different methods. They can choose to pay COD, they can choose to pay through bank transfers, they can choose to pay through in-store pickup and cash payments.
And so we're at the point now where we're trying to figure out is how do we help that transition along without negatively affecting conversion rates and the business. And I think we have a pretty clear blueprint of how we want to get there.
And the other relevant piece here is that it's more of a buyer challenge. When you talk to the merchants, they are clearly willing to move all of their transaction settlement to MercadoPago because it significantly reduces the cost and complexity of their business. With these multiple payment alternatives for every transaction they make, they have to figure out with the buyer how the buyer is going to settle. So it increases cost and complexity significantly. So the merchant piece, I think once we've eliminated the added costs from it by bundling the price and it costs the same to a merchant whether he's settling through MercadoPago or not, that piece is taken care of.
So what we're working on now is how do we gradually shift buyer behavior? And the way we're doing it is by making it very gradual and targeted. So we're picking specific categories or specific seller profiles where we think the system has the most benefit from moving to obligatory settlement through MercadoPago and flipping the switch gradually in these different segments.
Conversions do get hurt a little bit, so there might be a transition period, but I think we continue to be committed over the long run to drive adoption towards 100%, if not at 100%.
Okay. And the other thing that often comes up in discussion is around take rate. So, after bundling your combined take rate, I think it's somewhere in the high single digits per dollar of GMV versus if you add eBay's together it's 7% or 8% for marketplaces, another 4% for PayPal. So you have a pretty steep discount. And I know that Marcos and you've also said that you're not -- you don't feel like it's the right time to start really worrying about take rate, you want to just drive adoption. But that's an obvious opportunity long term. So, how do you guys think about take rate and potentially driving take rate higher?
I think we continue to see this as very early stages and we're in no hurry to over-monetize or to monetize aggressively. I think it's still about bringing as many merchants online as we can. Obviously if you keep your take rates relatively low, you can do that. And I think the lower take rates also serve as a deterrent to new entrants. I mean, marketplace businesses already have significant network externalities in themselves, and if on top of that you have low take rates, and we can run a very healthy P&L as we do, keeping those prices low, then we're very comfortable with that position. So when you look at our core marketplace take rate, it's closer to 5%, so it is a significant discount to either eBay or Amazon in the US. And we kind of like those low levels for as long as we can maintain them.
When you look at the consolidated take rates, that's going to continue to climb because we have all these complementary business units that are increasing their mix participation of consolidated revenue. So, today, what we say is there's already 30% of our revenue streams that are coming from payments, classifieds and advertisers. So those are accretive to take rate in their own right, and as those continue to grow faster than the marketplace, we'll continue to add to the consolidated take rates without us having to increase pricing on the marketplace, which I think is the healthiest way to grow, not through pricing but through volume and new revenue streams.
That makes sense. And then financing, can you just talk real quickly on that. That's actually a really good business for you guys and one that isn’t talked about that much, but what percent of your transactions is actually -- fall through financing? And then, is this, I don’t know if you guys have disclosed it, but how big as a percent of revenue is financing fees?
Yes. So the financing has been fairly consistent in that about half of the transactions that settle through MercadoPago are done with some consumer credit tied to it. And the way we run that is we don't have any exposure to consumer risk; we essentially have a spread on what the bank that's extending the credit charges the consumer. Right? So, as MercadoPago penetration has grown, that ratio of 1 in 2 Pago transaction is being done through finance has held fairly stable and we're already at about 15% of total MercadoLibre transactions being done through credit. In the case of Brazil which is where the credit market is the most developed, it's roughly 25%. And our expectation is that as Pago continues to grow, so will the credit offering and the credit revenues that we drive from there.
We haven't given specific disclosure on the size of that business, but it's in the high single digits of overall revenue. And because we book it net of costs, it's more than that in terms of margins.
Okay. Why don't we open it up to anybody who have questions? Yeah, right here.
Just wanted to, you know, three to five years out on Amazon (inaudible) concerned with the near-term strategy, but one of the common responses is that Amazon obviously uses logistics as an advantage to come to market and that's something that they necessarily used against you in Brazil. But as I thought about that, there's other markets where logistics are not an advantage for them, like Japan, where they've taken a lot of share in certain categories. So, can you just sort of talk me through how you guys think about Amazon over the next three to five years?
Sure. So the first thing I would say is we don't specifically -- we don't think specifically about Amazon. I think what we think about is, where do we believe that we can continue to improve the user experience for our buyers and sellers? And that's what we focus on. And I think it's -- Amazon is a very relevant sort of peer set because they've done a great job at really delivering great customer experiences. In the case of US, it's very predicated around the logistics piece, I agree with you.
And so when you think about what we're trying to do with shipping, clearly what we're saying is, okay, one of the disadvantages that our marketplace has traditionally is that it wasn't involved in the whole shipping piece. And if you really want to guarantee great transactional experiences, you need to participate in as many of the touch points with the consumer as you can. So let's go figure out what we can do around shipping and logistics.
What we don't want to do is just sort of, because Amazon does it through warehousing and fulfillment by Amazon, we need to do the same thing. We're a different company that's coming at it from a different perspective, right? Amazon already has the warehouses because they're also a first-party retailer and what they're using is that capacity to then offer it to their retailers. We figured there was a different way that we could at least take our first cut at shipping, which was driving off what our core strengths have always been, which is building technology platforms to address friction points on the marketplace. So we've gone off and built this more similar to eBay's strategy around how do we integrate the carriers, the marketplace and the sellers.
Once we've done that, if in conversations with our merchants we realize that doing fulfillment for them is something that they think can add value to them and we can extract value from that, then we'll go ahead and do it.
But so it goes beyond Amazon. I think when you have a business that has the kind of growth ahead of it and an addressable market that has the kind of growth ahead of it that e-commerce in Latin America has, competition will intensify. It's been competitive over the last 12 years and it'll only get more competitive. What we need to do is continue to focus on executing and delivering value for our buyers and sellers. And if we do that, given the brand we've built, the positioning we have in the region, the understanding of the region, I think we'll be fine whether it's against Amazon, Walmart or whoever we compete with.
Any other questions?
Okay. I think we'll wrap up.
Great. Thank you.
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