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Time is a scarce commodity in the modern lifestyles of the 21st century. Fortunately, nowadays it can be bought – if only for brief moments. Latin America is back on track and growing after a worldwide recession, and now its consumers are making convenience a top priority. The art of gaining and buying time is costly, but worth it for many people.
Throughout the region, the trend can be easily seen in large urban areas (where lifestyles are more frantic) and in key sectors: transport – which has become karma for inhabitants of almost every country in the region – and retail sales are notable examples.
In Latin America, time is more important in large urban areas than in farmlands and cities of the interior, where lifestyles remain slower. The number of people living in cities has grown in recent years, especially in Brazil and Mexico, and so consumers are seeking out more and better convenience offerings. Furthermore, cities have incorporated a myriad of new activities and forms of entertainment, which causes companies to fight for their consumers’ time.
POPAI Brazil, the local head office of the international trade association marketing the retail industry, revealed in March that Brazilians spent 78 minutes on average in shops in 1998 – in 2010, the same figure slid to 34 minutes. This means people shop 129% faster. Besides that, 71% went shopping with company, while now 70% go on their own; finally, 75% went through every section – now only 38% do so.
Traffic chaos has taken over in São Paulo, Buenos Aires and Mexico City. In Argentina’s capital city, according to official data, there is a population of 2.8 million at night, but during the day up to six million people enter the city. This means commuting, and public means of transport – mainly buses and trains are not the most beloved or efficient choice.
In the three largest urban areas of the region, reaching downtown areas from the suburbs can take up to three hours a stretch, in a day with normal traffic. That is why new – and more expensive – options have appeared. One of them is “combis” (vans), in which between 15 and 20 people can commute.
In São Paulo, where traffic is usually a constant worry, the richest have their own option in order to gain time: helicopters. Several companies offer helicopter services, and the passengers get into them at heliports located at their homes in the suburbs, reaching their jobs in fifteen minutes.
According to reports by Brazilian media, this method of commuting costs around US$5,000 a month. “You pay for the time, but also for your own security and the fear of kidnappings,” thinks an executive from São Paulo who uses it. In cases of mid and long-distance commuting services, delays in Brazilian roads can reach extreme dimensions, up to the point that some prefer paying up to seven times the price of buses in order to take flights.
A growing trend in the region is the appearance of new payment options, which perhaps are not new in North America or Europe but are a novelty for local people, who began using them in order to gain time. According to POPAI Brazil, for example, the low levels of access to banking services meant that in 2010, 58% of supermarket purchases were paid for in cash, 15% with credit cards, 15% with debit cards and 5% with “shop cards,” which have begun to appeal to low-income consumers that can’t access banks.
In Chile, department stores Falabella and Almacenes París have their own cards, which offer faster service and special discounts.
As internet retailing spreads and consumers begin to trust this way of buying a little more, online tax payments – as well as the purchase of aeroplane and bus tickets – are expanding rapidly in Argentina. Time as a valuable factor is clearly expressed in the logo for a popular online payment site, PagoMisCuentas.com (the site name is Spanish for “I pay my bills”): “Save up minutes and exchange them for prices.”
Each bill paid online, the site explains, saves customers 20 minutes of queuing in the real world. Customers are rewarded, rather like with an air miles system, with points after each online transaction which are redeemable for gifts.
Gaining time can be a wish, an expectation and a consumer trend in itself. Why not wish to get home earlier so you can sit and watch TV? That is why products and services “to avoid wasting time” and making things easier are emerging. At Easy, an important DIY retailer in Chile, Peru and Argentina, last summer’s star was an aquatic robot which cleans swimming pools automatically. It costs US$4,000.
Another popular product in Mexico was I-Robot’s Roomba 534 Pet, which automatically cleans floors. “How to make things faster” has gone viral on the internet. The trend has spread from the USA, where there are online courses on Quick-dry nail polish (to save one month of your life), Fast-pour ketchup (to save two days) or Speed-tie tour shoes, to save four days of your life.