Experts speaking at the ongoing e-commerce conference have pivoted logistics marketplace as the gateway to increasing the penetration of e-commerce on the continent.
The conference, organized by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) underscored the need to build the requisite infrastructure to enable export of products outside the borders using e-commerce.
Jessica Anuna, a graduate of UNCTAD’s e-Founder Fellowship Initiative and who runs Klasha, an online fashion retailer for African millennials, said that the barriers to e-commerce were almost prohibitively high. “It’s cheaper for me to ship from Asia than from within Africa,” she said.
In thinking on possible solutions, Nicolas Martin, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Jumia Ecommerce branch was emphatic that one size fit all cannot work on the continent. “Logistical problems in Kenya are unknown to Egyptians or Moroccans and its worse in other countries like Togo, Cameroon”, he emphasized.
Martin added that Jumia is applying marketplace in the logistics sector and its success is being applied in developed world like USA, where Amazon is using it. According to him, these countries have saturated their traditional logistical mechanisms and now need to adopt to new ways of reaching to customers faster and efficiently.
In Kenya, the Communications Authority recently called for proposals to undertake services for steering of the country to a proposed national addressing system. Through a reliable addressing system, it would be easier for deliveries and any pick up of substandard goods to be done efficiently.
“Countries with good internet connectivity are in better position to thrive in e-commerce/digital economy”, added Nicholas Martin.
Complementing the Jumia Co-CEO views was Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s Director, Division on Technology and Logistics. “It is important to think of automating procedures and processes. Automation is the best solution to address Africa’s logistics problems, she asserted.
For Africa, the value proposition for e-commerce is more than elsewhere. “Issues of certainty in price, availability of products, access to stores, pricing homogeneity and difficulties of parking in malls drive Africans to shop online more, than the rest of the world”, Martin asserted. These bottlenecks still make the continent ripe for better penetration and uptake, but building the trust is what will take time.
Ethel Cofie a Ghanaian IT professional and entrepreneur noted that the best way to predict the future is to design it yourself. She said that countries that are receiving most fintech investments are more likely to be the frontiers of e-commerce. Other than Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, she said the other countries are Ghana and Egypt.
But for this to happen, creating demand for services online would better be driven by government taking its services online.
“A solution is to get government to put up critical services online, like taxes, thereby forcing people to use it. This create a comfort for them, that would then easily enable them embrace digital economy”, she noted.
The comments were made during the ongoing UNCTAD’s Africa eCommerce Week held in Nairobi, Kenya.