Chile

"Sanhattan" Symbolizes New Chile

A nation of connected consumers

When the Costanera Center is inaugurated, not long from now, Chile will have the tallest building in Latin America. The 70-story tower is part of a mixed-use complex of retail and shops in the financial district of Santiago.

Chileans refer to the area as "Sanhattan," a reference to Manhattan and a symbol of how rapidly the country is reaching higher levels of development, with fast highways, enormous shopping malls and tall skyscrapers.

As income increases at all socio-economic levels, people throughout Chilean society enjoy greater access to products and services that in the past were out of reach for many. Cars, smartphones and electronic devices are widely available. Going out to dine or have a drink is no longer restricted to a few; flying domestically or even abroad is not only a privilege of the richest.

And the consumer has become more engaged with technology. Mobile phones have long exceeded 100 percent penetration; many people now have smartphones. Notebooks, digital cameras, portable media players and tablets have become necessities rather than luxuries. Home computers and Internet connection are common.

Chilean statistics on the use of Internet and social networks—mainly Facebook—tend to resemble those of developed countries rather than regional neighbors. That's because the shopper needs to be connected. Social networks are already a part of daily life and consumers link to brands through them. Consumers use social networks to learn more about products and services, and most of all to contact other consumers and share experiences.

Retailers extend influence

Retailers have a lot to do with all these changes. They have formalized trade, moving most transactions from the traditional "mom and pop" economy to supermarkets and shopping malls. And they've extended their influence throughout South America. Chilean retailers operate in Peru, Argentina and Columbia and are planning expansion to Brazil and Mexico.

They also have helped improve the lives of most Chileans, providing greater access to products by providing credit. Retailer credit cards are accepted widely and are twice as numerous as bankcards.

Economic progress recently has been punctuated by several major scandals involving retailers and by protests against the government demanding greater equality of opportunity. The retail scandals involved a pharmacy charged with price fixing and a clothing retailer accused of revising credit debt without informing its credit card customers. Students have held street demonstrations arguing for a more equitable education system.

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