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After a morning spearfishing in the lagoon, 20-year-old fisherman Turoa Faura rode home on his red tricycle, carrying his young nephew in the rusty basket affixed to the back. On the patio of his aunt’s house, he shared photos on his phone of his fishing exploits: bright blue parrotfish, yellow-lip emperors, silvery trevallies, and a cooler full of tiny, rose-colored einaa — a seasonal delicacy.

Faura is tall and well-built, with bleached blond highlights in his black hair. When Rest of World met him in December 2021, he wore a white T-shirt featuring a large black Adidas logo, which he had recently purchased online using his smartphone.

Shopping online and getting the T-shirt delivered to the island where he lives was a new experience for Faura. “I began ordering online this year,” he told Rest of World. “At the start of the year, I still didn’t know that I could order online myself.” He’s also used online shopping to buy fishing gear and sports equipment.

Faura lives in Manihi, a remote coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is one of 118 atolls and islands that make up French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France that has its own government and is considered semi-autonomous. The islands are scattered over more than 3,500 square kilometers of ocean — an area five times as large as the French mainland.

The luxury of online shopping and home delivery, considered indispensable by many in the West, has long been out of reach for remote islanders like Faura. There’s no Amazon same-day delivery or Alibaba shipping to Manihi, and Turipaoa has only three small shops, which mostly sell food and essentials. There are no restaurants, hardware stores, or clothing shops that sell sought-after brands like Adidas.

Until recently, huge distances, a scattered population, and lack of internet access have made e-commerce unviable in French Polynesia. In the last few years, however, a nascent courier scene has taken off, making it possible for islanders to access an ocean of e-commerce products that were previously unavailable. As the global online shopping market continues to grow — a trend that has been augmented by the Covid-19 pandemic — local services are closing the last gaps for those living in some of the world’s most remote places.

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