'Region not supported' - The challenge of being a Gibraltar digital consumer

Jonathan Sacramento - Monday 9th December

Gibraltarians are potentially a nation of super-consumers. Our relatively high standards of living coupled with our love for pushing the boat out makes us, on paper, prototypical cyber-customers.

But our options are limited, and nothing crystalizes this reality like the Christmas shopping season.

In a consumer-driven world of next-day deliveries, Black Fridays and Cyber-Mondays, 4K streaming services, smart devices and voice-activated home entertainment, we are second-class digital citizens.

How many times have you attempted to make an online purchase, or subscribe to a digital service, only to find that Gibraltar isn’t available as an option on the drop-down menu, or get a notification saying ‘sorry we don’t deliver to your country’?

And we’re not just referring to the fact that the vast majority of Amazon’s third-party sellers don’t deliver to Gibraltar here. It’s bigger than that. Google, for example, doesn’t recognize Gibraltar as a jurisdiction for its play store. Amazon 4K Firesticks (widely available in Gibraltar’s shops) can’t be registered in Gibraltar. Smart TVs sold in our stores are region-restricted and won’t let you into their ‘smart hubs’ to install apps unless you jailbreak them. Netflix’s Gibraltar service is incredibly restricted compared to other countries. The list goes on.

There are workarounds for almost everything. You can set your Play store settings to the UK if you find yourself a post code. VPNs will trick most of your devices into thinking you’re in another country. And some clever entrepreneurs in Gibraltar have set up ‘concierge services’ which allow you to deliver goods to their UK warehouses and ship everything to Gib for a fee.

But we’re several steps behind the rest of the Western world. It wasn’t until 2006 that we actually got a postcode, and the introduction of a postcode address system like the UK’s has been ‘under consideration’ for the last 13 years.

These are first world problems, of course. Local shops provide everything we could possibly need, and they would argue that the e-restrictions provide a thin layer of protection for local businesses who face increasing challenges from online shopping.

But the problem deepens when the matter turns to citizens’ rights. The problems highlighted by GBC last week with Gibraltar passport holders getting e-visas for India is a case in point.

A cursory search of other countries’ e-visa application services, such as Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam (all regular tourist destinations) reveals that Gibraltar isn’t on the drop-down list of countries when you attempt to go through the application process. It’s possible you can just choose ‘UK’ and the system will accept the application. But given India’s rejection of Gibraltar passports, it’s very much a Hail Mary scenario.

And the problem isn’t just with countries’ official systems. Using the Easyjet app to download your boarding cards for a flight, for example, will result in a rejection if you select ‘Gibraltar’ as your nationality, even though it’s available as an option. You have to switch to UK to get it to work.

The consumer experience in Gibraltar isn’t just a Government responsibility. Local retailers have an opportunity here to grab the bull by the horns. And some businesses have. At least one local supermarket operates an efficient and well-organised online shopping service. And the recent proliferation of take-away food apps show that local restaurants have cottoned on to the potential of the e-consumer base.

It’s a good start, and shows we are moving in the right direction. Whether we are moving at the right pace and with the right momentum is a question which remains to be answered.