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Africa e-Commerce Boom: Trends, Challenges and Future Prospects

Innovative approaches of the e-commerce sector in Africa are redefining traditional supply chains and business models

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Africa, with its youngest and second-largest population globally, presents a significant opportunity for a burgeoning digital audience. The proliferation of smartphones and mobile devices has contributed to the increasing internet penetration across the continent. Notably, mobile e-commerce is gaining prominence, with platforms like Kenya’s Wasoko, Nigeria’s Jumia, South Africa’s Takealot, and others expanding digital payment options.

The innovative approaches of the e-commerce sector in Africa are redefining traditional supply chains and business models. Kenya’s Twiga Foods, for instance, sources produce directly from farmers and efficiently delivers it to urban retailers, streamlining the agricultural value chain. Similarly, Egypt’s MaxAB acts as a marketplace connecting food and grocery retailers to suppliers in underserved geographies.  Meanwhile, Fresh in a Box, a Zimbabwean company, facilitates door-to-door deliveries of fresh produce and groceries. This all adds another layer of diversity to the innovative solutions within the African e-commerce landscape.

The e-commerce market is poised for substantial growth, with an estimated online retail revenue to reach $49.02 billion in 2023, growing at an annual rate of nearly 14%, according to Statista. By 2027, the user base in Africa’s e-commerce market could soar to 609.3 million, with a user penetration rate of 44.3%. This expansion brings manifold benefits, including economic growth, job opportunities, and improved access to goods and services in rural areas.

Notably, credit cards remain relatively uncommon in Africa; however, the African e-commerce payment market is anticipated to reach $46.1 billion annually by 2025, with alternative payment methods such as cash-on-delivery and mobile money catering to the preferences of digital buyers. This acceptance, coupled with the increasing number of online shoppers, underpins the steady growth of the African online retail sector, with forecasts indicating a continued upward trajectory.

While Kenya and South Africa boast high account penetration rates of 88% and 82%, respectively, Nigeria stands at 51%, and Egypt at 38%. The increasing number of online shoppers in Africa creates opportunities for e-commerce businesses to explore and penetrate new markets. However, addressing the associated financial challenges, such as limited access to multi-currency payment platforms and extended settlement times impacting cash flow, is essential for sustained growth.

The Pan African Payment Settlement System (PAPSS) emerges as a solution, facilitating payment transactions across Africa without reliance on correspondent banks outside the continent. With over 10 countries and commercial banks adopting PAPSS, the e-commerce sector is poised for substantial growth, potentially challenging, arguably, global giants like Amazon.

Africa’s status as the second-highest growing regional economy, along with the rapid increase in online business adoption fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, sets the stage for favorable conditions in the expansion of e-commerce. The inclusion of Jumia on the New York Stock Exchange and AliExpress incorporating M-Pesa as a payment method for Kenyan customers highlights the competitive nature of the market. With over 30 million monthly mobile subscriptions in Kenya utilizing the M-Pesa mobile payment system, there is a significant user base, adding to the heightened competition within the e-commerce sector.

While Africa is steadily catching up with the developed world in technological infrastructure, there remains ample room for increased tech investment. The continent’s potential as a prime location for tech companies seeking investment opportunities is undeniable. Revenue accrued by tech companies involved in analyzing big data and offering cloud services presents a lucrative opportunity for those willing to invest in Africa’s burgeoning tech landscape.

Despite challenges like internet connectivity, delivery logistics, and cybersecurity, there is optimism for the industry. Technological advancements, particularly in artificial intelligence (AI), are playing a pivotal role in the evolution of e-commerce. Features such as AI-driven chatbots for customer support and machine learning algorithms predicting consumer preferences, not only enhance operational efficiency but also contribute to a more personalized shopping experience for consumers.

Big data analysis

E-commerce emerges as a crucial means for MSMEs’ recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and a centerpiece in the development of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). Governments’ efforts across Africa to promote MSME e-commerce can contribute to expanding both the extensive and intensive margins, fostering increased participation and enhancing online sales and exports for MSMEs.

The continent’s tech investment potential further positions Africa as a prime location for companies seeking opportunities in big data analysis and cloud services. The competitive advantage gained by those securing a significant share of the African market underscores the significance of this emerging industry.

Morris Macharia Musyoka is software engineer and techpreneur

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Morris Macharia Musyoka is software engineer and techpreneur
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