Bulevar Cubano was born as a shop window of products “Made in Cuba,” the first online shop focused on consumers on the island that offers products and services designed by entrepreneurs, like T-shirts, jewelry, leather handbags and home-made soaps.
Yunier Soler, Yoslandy Lopez and Gerardo Rodríguez are the three young Cuban computer scientists who are behind this project, which in just one week after coming out has already made four sales when it is still making itself known.
In their effort to find technological solutions to the difficulties present in Cuba, it was Soler who proposed the idea to his two friends, who were excited with this pioneer initiative on the island, where Internet did not start spreading until 2015 but which already has 4.5 million users in a population of a bit over 11 million.
In two and a half years, Cuba has gone from being practically disconnected to having more than 500 Wi-Fi public zones – a dollar per hour – where there are an average of 250,000 daily connections, allowing Internet in homes and planning to offer this year cell phone connection to the web.
“The aim of Bulevar Cubano is to function like an online shop that has landed on Cuban reality, where the majority of persons don’t have a way to make online payments,” 31-year-old Rodríguez explained to EFE.
Due to the U.S. embargo on the island, in Cuba it is vetoed to use online payment runways through bank cards or systems like PayPal, which is why Bulevar Cubano allows for making reservations of the products from its website and the payment is made in cash when the delivery is made at home.
“It is basically a sales channel for entrepreneurs who are producers of some type of Cuban manufactured goods…. It is one more example of how the private sector is trying to cover services that in other countries are usual and that barely exist here,” Rodríguez pointed out.
Even though this is not the first online platform that has emerged on the island, the others have been geared at sales in the international market, which is why Bulevar Cubano expects to give all Cubans the option of purchasing without importing “whether they have or don’t have credit cards or family abroad.”
Global online shops like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, Asos or Zalando don’t function on the island since people can’t pay online nor do they have Cuba on the list of countries to which they make shipments.
According to its creators, another of Bulevar Cubano’s advantages is that it gives any entrepreneur the possibility of expanding the reach of their activity by making it possible to offer their products and services free of charge in this virtual shop, without having to invest on their own webpage.
Since President Raúl Castro expanded in 2010 the spaces for the private sector, Cuba already has more than half a million self-employed who have given a boost to innovative businesses on the communist island, like designer of clothes and accessories, decoration and crafts shops, developer of webpages or event planner.
This is the case of Cuban Sandra Borges, who last September launched her firm SBorges Design with her own creation of jewels and handbags made with silver, semiprecious stones or natural elements like horn, bone and leather.
Borges, who began in design as a hobby, is one of the first four women who have joined Bulevar Cubano to sell their creations, since it is a “magnificent idea” that provides entrepreneurs a “very good opportunity to make known their work.”
“It is all very recent. Bulevar Cubano is barely coming out and we are just a few creators who are on the platform, although I believe it is going to grow a great deal, that we are just the foundation,” she said.
According to Borges, if the platform prospers and the island continues its opening to the digital world which it initiated two years ago, “perhaps someday it will be possible to have an online sales site like in the rest of the world.”
EFE / OnCuba