How e-commerce supports African business growth

From the outside, you look at Africa, you read the news, and you think it’s going to be very difficult—everything is going to be very difficult. We started the business in Lagos, and on the first day we had consumers buying mobile phones. I was so surprised. On the very first day we opened the website, nobody knew us, and yet ten consumers bought mobile phones.

We were very surprised by the appetite of consumers for products that are sometimes expensive. We were very surprised that we could find a way to make the deliveries happen. A lot more positive than negative things were happening. I’m very bullish about e-commerce in Africa because what is unique in this continent is you have this very big population—over one billion people—and they are very connected.

There are more than 400 million internet users in Africa, which is the second-largest internet-user population on the planet, just after China. And yet distribution for goods and services is challenging. And it’s notorious that in Africa, for consumers, it’s more difficult to find goods and it’s more difficult to shop. Because of mobile and because of the internet, consumers now have a way to access goods and services in a more efficient way.

Understanding Africa’s consumers

Consumers in Africa want the same thing as consumers everywhere else: they want good products at a good price, good quality. It’s the same thing. I speak to a lot of business partners who are thinking about Africa and how different it is. There are some things which are the same everywhere. And for us, consumers want to save time and save money.

In terms of consumer segments, what is surprising is we have a lot of consumers who are not necessarily in the big urban areas. From an outsider, one could think, “OK, e-commerce is for the inhabitants of Lagos and Cairo and Nairobi.” We have a lot of consumers who live in the small villages and in the small cities. Why? Because they see a lot of choice on Jumia, and they don’t really have that choice in the areas where they live. For them, it’s very difficult to have access to the goods.

Overcoming barriers to business

One of the barriers, obviously, of e-commerce is the logistics because we have to move the products from the merchants who are selling the products to the consumer who is ordering the product. And logistics is obviously a big challenge for whoever knows Africa.

In Africa, there’s no address system in most of the cities. For someone to find a consumer, you need to have a local partner who knows where the consumer is, based on very subjective information. And, for example, if you say in a city in Africa, “I live in the third street by the church with the blue door,” that’s the address.



Georges Desvaux

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