Expert Foresees Growth Potential in e-Commerce in Africa

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By Emma Okonji

The rise and growth of e-commerce in the world and primarily in Africa has created many business opportunities, not only in urban but also in rural areas. The growth has been exponential and has undoubtedly increased connectivity, reaching even the previously inaccessible remote villages across the continent and connecting them with e-commerce, according to e-commerce expert, Josephine Wawira.

According to her, over the past three years, the market has been noted to move substantially in the direction of developing logistics meant to tear down barriers for e-commerce penetration in rural markets. Consequently, online retailers can now reach customers in remote cities, while locals have access to a variety of products from major urban cities.

“While over 50 per cent of the world is now connected to the internet, only 36 per cent of the African population is, and even more poorly served are rural areas. This penetration rate is, however, increasing across Africa, and together with that of the mobile, which is now at about 80 per cent, represent a potentially major growth lever as well as a significant growth opportunity for e-commerce to serve this otherwise underserved demographic.

“With this in mind, it is important for e-commerce players to eliminate roadblocks that hinder the penetration of the rural economy,” Wawira said.

According to her, fulfilling the needs of the rural e-commerce consumer requires bespoke approaches, that will especially break the mistrust around online commerce. She cited instances where e-commerce players need to provide digital literacy programmes towards educating users around online purchase processes, and advised platforms to incorporate several local languages in the markets they operate in; which should also be the case for their customer service departments to drive better conversations and connection with the customers.

“Understanding local languages will also come in handy when carrying out ground activations for new customers and vendors looking to move their businesses online. Consumers with varying spending powers require provision for more diversified products to choose from, she added and quoted the CEO Jumia Nigeria, Juliet Anammah, in her article for the UNCTAD in October 2018, where she noted that “the reach of digital platforms can no longer be contained and captured by a small group to the exclusion of others. The primary means by which digital drives inclusion is via providing accessible information on products, services and price as well as connecting buyers and sellers who may never have connected through traditional channels.”

Wawira, advised Africans to successfully make in-roads in reaching and gaining the trust of rural consumers, e-commerce players must continuously remain innovative. She, however, said one such company piloting diverse strategies to reach and activate rural e-Commerce consumption was Jumia, operating in 14 African countries. According to her, 25 per cent of deliveries made by Jumia were in remote areas, in regions where choices for products are extremely limited for consumers.

She encouraged pan-African e-commerce platforms to expand into rural areas by building agent networks through their JForce program, allowing agents to traverse the cities and make purchases for their clients for a commission.

She commended Africa’s digital platform, which she said, offers diversified services and products, from home appliances to electronics, mobiles, fashion apparels, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) and on-demand services at relatively affordable prices, a development she added, had allowed them to attract every possible customer and vendor in the markets they operate.