Back in soviet times when the economy was fixated on heavy industrial goods consumer items reached their market by word of mouth and demand aggregated to prioritise supply below the radar of the State. Cuba with its vast underground of unlicensed products and services either pilfered from the State or, brought in from outside works in the same way. And like so many other informal markets all over the developing and emerging world, word-of-mouth or, to use a buzz word from the textbooks, viral marketing drives demand and pulls the product to market.

Cuban cars and the digital bazaar

revolico.com has transformed this en la calle (street based) market into a digital bazaar for a broad range of goods from housing to cars to classified ads. revolico, meaning disarray, has become one of the top 3 web sites in Cuba with over 1.5 million page views per month and over 100,000 ads placed in the last two months.

The mission statement of revolico makes clear that it works by collective intelligence and through a spirit of cooperation. Asking users to refrain from political postings, it is all about transactions and linking buyers to those that can supply a given need.

The most popular offering is computers and computer software but the most powerful image of this Cuban eBay is the auto listings section. Ownership restrictions within Cuba mean that only vehicles built before 1960 can be bought and sold freely. This means that the only place where detroit seems to work is in Havana! This is where 1950’s Chevrolets or, other vast chrome maquinas (machines) or almendras (almonds) rattle their way through the potholed streets and trade at a premium. And now, the web can rev up the transactions as never before.

Such digital bazaars and the viral marketing that they generate are all over the informal markets of the developing and emerging world. TVS, the Indian motor cycle manufacturer, sold over 30,000 units into remote rural districts through eChoupal and an increasing number of products and services are driving demand and enabling better distribution through the web. And now, the mobile phone is opening up even more possibilities. With around 10 million new subscribers per month in India and many more all over the Majority World these are markets and market access approaches that cannot be ignored.

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