Two Venezuelan cousins want to change the way Latin Americans discover and purchase products online.
Frustrated by their own experiences in the virtual-retail world, Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge second-place finishers Alejandro Gomez and Gerson Gomez Arellano launched Wuelto.com to give small businesses more visibility online.
“Small-business owners in Latin America are doing amazing things, but they don't have a place where they can show what they do,” said Arellano, who still lives in Venezuela.
As former sellers on Latin American’s largest e-commerce site, the cousins had found it difficult to build clientele for their electronics-resale business. The two had become the second-biggest seller on the website Mercado Libre but still felt the site limited their company’s potential.
“You were not able to upload a photo or have a brand, so your customers are not able to find you again easily after they made a purchase,” said Gomez in an interview at the company’s office at the Miami Entrepreneurship Center.
Gomez, 27, also found that there was not much security against fraud for customers and sellers. The site did not protect buyers, which made them wary of purchases.
While a safe and seamless online shopping experience is the standard in the U.S., they say this is not the case in Latin America.
So in November 2013, the pair came up with the idea to create an e-commerce site with more discovery infrastructure for business across Latin America.
“We all like to see amazing products, but there are so many websites and it is annoying to try to find the coolest products,” Arellano said. “There is nowhere that is really an online mall in Latin America.”
Gomez received both his bachelor’s degree and MBA from Florida International University, and Arellano has a business degree from a Venezuelan university. Using their business experience, the cousins launched Wuelto.
Wuelto, which went live in February, allows businesses to build an online brand through customizing their profiles.
“You can have a profile so you can start creating a connection with your customers,” Gomez said.
As buyers browse, icons indicate to them which country the product is from. They can use search filters to find sellers domestically or in a specific country.
Wuelto counts major businesses, such as Amazon and Best Buy, as affiliates, and smaller businesses benefit from the traffic brought in by these large retailers. Although these businesses draw in more traffic, they do not have more exposure than the site’s small businesses.
“It is good for young entrepreneurs because they can compete at the same level as Amazon,” Gomez said.
Affiliates are different though in that the purchasing process is redirected to their sites, where as the checkout process is on Wuelto for other sellers. Those sellers are charged a 10 percent commission fee and affiliates pay a referal fee of 6-15 percent. Gomez says they have generated a few thousand dollars in revenue so far.
Another unique component of the site is the social-network feature, which allows users to follow stores and their friends.
“When you are browsing for products you will see that the feed is based on the stores and the people you follow who have styles like you,” Gomez said.
Users can also view their friends’ wish lists to find gifts for them.
“Your girlfriend might have wish lists at different sites, like Forever21, but here all of the things she wants are in one place,” Arellano said. “You can browse her list to figure out what she wants and order it right there.”
Access to Wuelto is also available through an app.
And all of the businesses go through a screening process to limit fraud. Unlike some other e-commerce sites, Wuelto requires that the businesses are properly registered. Buyers are also offered purchase protection.
“It is a little more secure, and we can mediate your purchase,” Gomez said.
There also is a degree of curating their business-approval process to make sure quality products are sold.
Arellano, 33, says one of the most beneficial features of the site is the increased communication between customers.
“You can message back and forth with the owners of the store and talk about the products,” Arellano said.
The site currently serves nine Latin American countries in addition to the United States. More than 3,000 users have signed up since February.
The cousins say their continued success will be based in large part to the site’s social features.
“In Latin America, people trust referrals more than brands,” Gomez said.