West Africa Welcomes E-Commerce with Opened Arms

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How did West Africans transmogrify from technology skeptics to ecommerce enthusiasts? Nomad Africa’s PAUL ADEPOJU researched deeply to provide an answer.

E-commerce store Jumia Nigeria, West Africa has won the Best Retail Launch of the Year award at the World Retail Congress, making it the first African company to win the award. The site is one of the most visited in Nigeria, a nation that only joined the comity of nations with mobile communications about ten years ago. Looking back at the early days of communications in the most populous African nation, one cannot help but ask how the nation moved from using technology as a means of communication to using communication technology as a platform for the nation’s multibillion dollar e-commerce sector.

E-commerce is no longer a foreign concept, it has become localized in West Africa – everything from clothes, shoes, books, phones, electronics, bus and event tickets to groceries can now be sold and bought online. E-commerce businesses are everywhere, yet many are springing up daily. From big ones like Jumia and Konga to smaller ones like Buyology that are struggling to gain attention, West Africans, just like East Africans and Egyptians and Moroccans and the rest of Africa now love to shop online.

Chibuike Alagboso is a technology expert who believes e-commerce, though at an advanced stage in West Africa can still become bigger.“I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface yet as far as e-commerce is concerned. The sector could be bigger than it currently is,” he said. He noted that as long as some products are being sold in shops and not online, there will be more avenues for new investors to venture into e-commerce.“The popular e-commerce websites in the region are the ones that are selling general products and merchandise.

There is nothing phenomenal and creative about selling goods online; many shops do it outside Africa. But it is innovative here and they are successful,” he said. In addition to online sale of general products, the sub-region is also recording an increase in the number of dedicated websites that offer specific products for sale. One of such sites is Drinks.ng (where you can buy all types of assorted drinks and liquor online) was founded by Lanre Akinlagun. In an exclusive chat, he said he decided to start selling drinks online following a personal experience. “A friend got married and he had explained to me the difficulties of buying drinks in Nigeria for his wedding, this planted a seed and I decided to explore the situation more,” he said.

On the current status of the industry in West Africa, he said online business owners are willing to take on the numerous challenges due to the availability of large markets. He described West Africa as a very big market in need of more goods and services. “West Africa is a very big market and we are in need of a lot of goods and services to satisfy our ever growing appetite. The good thing is in knowing there is a market out there for us to reach, people screaming for our service, it’s just legit for us to continue expanding our reach” Akinlagun said.

In Ghana, the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) and the MEST Incubator that provide training, investment and mentoring for aspiring Ghanaian software entrepreneurs with the goal of creating globally successful companies that create wealth and jobs locally in Africa, is also recording similar successes. It is responsible for MPower, Dropifi, SayaMobile and several others that have been featured on CNN, Financial Times, TechCrunch and several other international platforms. It said it is creating businesses that can compete on the global scene.“MEST aims to establish a generation of software entrepreneurs who inspire generations to follow in their footsteps. Our geographic focus is currently on Accra, Ghana, but we hope that a sense of pride and hope will ripple across the African continent and encourage similar initiatives everywhere. It is our desire that the companies launched through the MEST program will inspire a future prosperous technology industry in Africa,” it said.

In Cameroon, the West African nation is also opening up to e-commerce. Acha Nelson, CEO and co-founder of QuickTicket, the nation’s first online bus ticket service said the country can trail the blaze in Africa and can compete with Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. “I am confident it will explode, internationally. I am sure in five years Cameroonians will dominate the technology market in Africa. If I was an investor, the one place I will put my money, will be Cameroon,” Nelson said.

Out of all the markets in West Africa, Nigeria is leading in ecommerce which according to Vytas Paukštys, chief executive officer (CEO) of Eskimi, Nigeria’s largest mobile social network, is as a result of the size and aggressive nature of the market. “I will say Nigeria is probably the fastest, South Africa is more advanced in terms of digital media and payment, but Nigeria is the most aggressive market we’ve seen. It is of course the largest market,” he said. While future of e-commerce looks bright in West Africa, already existing platforms have been able to overcome the trust barricade that kept many West Africans away from shopping online. This has flung the door wide open for everyone interested in a piece of the enormous market which Tunde Kehinde, co-founder and CEO of Jumia Nigeria said could be ten times bigger.On the future of the sector, he said the next phase is specialization and is already happening with platforms like Drinks.ng that only sells drinks.“The market is very big and I think there is still enough market for people to succeed. As many are coming up, I see people will begin to focus on specific categories – whether it’s clothing, books or phones. I see that happening soon,” Tunde Kehinde said.

This article was written by ADEPOJU PAUL

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About Author

Born in Zimbabwe and living in South Africa, Miriro is a seasoned publishing editor and writer, having worked with leading brands in investment, business leadership and entrepreneurship. Passionate about Africa’s development, Miriro is also a dynamic marketing consultant with 10 years experience working with startups and large multinational corporations. With a heart for travel, Miriro spends her time discovering the nooks of crannies of Africa’s hidden gems, taking the roads less travelled, meeting the beautiful people and enjoying their food and culture. She enjoys tackling complex strategic challenges in the passion-to-entrepreneurship pipeline, particularly focused on the implications of 4th Industrial Revolution and workforce automation on Africa's travel and tourism industry. Miriro is currently the Managing Editor of Nomad Africa magazine.

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