Añora, an Andalusian village of 1,500 founded in the 14th century, is remote and aging, like many other small towns in rural Spain. But it does have one interesting distinction: an unbridled addiction to e-commerce.
Amazon says that among Spanish cities with less than 10,000 inhabitants, Añora makes the most purchases per capita on the e-commerce giant’s site.
Some 84 percent of the village’s residents bought something from Amazon in 2015, and the company ships about 15 parcels per week there.
Noriegos, as the villagers are known, do 60 percent more internet shopping than average for towns of similar size, Amazon says.
What makes this cattle ranching town so enamored with one-click shopping? Jose Reyes, the man who runs the local government-provided internet center, had various explanations.
The most obvious one is that there’s little to buy at home, and the nearest big city, Cordoba, is 50 miles away.
“You have to spend an hour in the car, and even going to Cordoba, you risk not finding” what you’re looking for, the 40-year-old computer engineer said in a telephone interview.
Then there’s the network effect, which is amplified in a small village. According to Reyes, that led internet shopping to catch on almost overnight around 2011 or 2012.
“If you buy something and it works out, the next day everybody knows about it,” Reyes said.
Reyes himself is an avid online buyer and a member of Amazon’s “Premium” service (the loyalty program known as Prime in the U.S.), which offers shipping privileges. Reyes and his wife placed 65 orders from Amazon in the past three months, with purchases including exotic Peruvian beers.
Across the entire village, the best-selling product is a small tube of clear glue that sells for about $8. The reason: La Fiesta de la Cruz, a local tradition celebrated in late April and early May, in which noriegos beautify crosses with elaborate decorations.
“They use a barbarous quantity of glue in those crosses,” Reyes said. “Maybe one day someone said they’d found the cheapest glue on Amazon, the word spread, and then everybody else did the same.”
Another popular product was a digital kitchen thermometer. It caught fire because a chef conducting a cuisine workshop in Añora told students he had found it on Amazon, Reyes said.
The phenomenon shows one of the most interesting aspects of e-commerce: how it gives remote locales access to a bounty of potential merchandise bigger than any Parisian boulevard or American shopping mall.
“E-commerce is rapidly accelerating in Spain and customers living in rural areas are definitively fueling this growth,” said François Nuyts, vice president for Amazon in Spain and Italy.
He added in a statement that, in addition to shopping, residents of these small communities can also use the Amazon platform to sell their stuff elsewhere.
Marisa Breton, a 43-year-old noriega, said she’s the second most active Amazon shopper in town (the foremost shopper, whose name is Rafa, doesn’t like speaking in public, Breton said). “Amazon should give me a prize,” the stay-at-home mom said.
Breton began shopping online a few years ago after her son, now 17 and a computer afficionado, showed her how. Reluctant about sharing financial data online, she opened a credit card account exclusively for online shopping.
“What’s available in Añora, I try to purchase in Añora,” she said. But according to her, the village only has a bookstore, a stationery store, a pharmacy, a gift shop and a few supermarkets. However, she added, “There are lots of bars.”
Breton said she initially became such an assiduous Amazon shopper not because of stuff she bought for herself — but for people like her sister, who didn’t know how to access the Amazon site or didn’t want to put in their credit card info.
That was in the early years, though. She says she has taught most people how to fend for themselves on Amazon’s rich online bazaar.
“Don’t give me fish, teach me how to fish,” Breton said. “People have to be independent and do their own things. One has to learn, especially in these times.”