eCommerce is growing in Africa. The eradication of traditional barriers to entry, including internet access, cost of technology and access to mobility, means that ecommerce has become a reality for any sized operation.
According to Mark Chirnside, CEO of payment gateway PayU, a South African online payment service provider, from a local point of view, ecommerce is growing at a rate of 30% per annum.
And by all accounts, 2013 is going to be a bumper year for ecommerce across the continent. As the second fastest growing mobile market, Africa heralds a clear opportunity for retailers, merchants and other businesses to trade online.
PayU believes this year will be a time of safer payment methods, coupon and loyalty points, as well as the rise of SMEs.
In November 2012, research by Cisco Systems estimated that global e-commerce would increase 13.5% annually over the next three years and reach an estimated $1.4 trillion in 2015.
Experts in the ecommerce space have acknowledged the growth, globally, of online trade, but warn that those entering the market have to produce the goods – otherwise they will fall foul of an increasingly tech-savvy and discerning consumer base.
The combination of Africa’s growing mobile might and greater access to the Internet has helped to propel the relevance of ecommerce and online trade.
Numerous online businesses have emerged on the scene, providing a service within retail and entertainment sectors, for example.
Across the continent telecommunications service providers are seeking to expand broadband services and thereby address the need for bandwidth to facilitate ecommerce. The rollout of LTE services and introduction of fibre under-sea cables to link regions is considered progress.
According to internetworldstats.com, by Quarter 2 2012, Internet penetration for Africa stood at 15,6% of the population on the continent.
However, whilst the issue of bandwidth is largely being addressed, the need to develop existing infrastructure, including payment options and payment systems, represents another challenge.
In an article entitled Africa e-commerce: Beyond the Hype author Mawuna Remarque Koutonin explains that there are definite challenges that impact on the growth of ecommerce in Africa, including lack of access and convenience of the Internet, relevance of ecommerce websites for Africa and Africans, and lack of insight into who the target market is and what they are looking for.
ITNewsAfrica has delved into the online world to list the top websites geared for ecommerce. These sites trade in various product and their wares are targeted at different industries/ sectors.
These sites have been ranked according to the length of time in the market, service level, features and user experience.
Launched in 1999, bidorbuy.co.za is marketed as Africa’s largest online marketplace. The emphasis is on providing a variety of product to numerous categories that cover all aspects of the modern lifestyle.
In terms of consumer experience, the browser immediately gets a sense of an online shopping experience. Images and produce info dominate the site and there are links to specials, newly introduced product and much more.
One of the sites main selling points is the offer to consumers to be able to purchase and sell items – there is a strong trade component to the website.
According to the site sellers set a start time, end time, pricing information and provide all images and details on the product being sold. It generates revenue by charging the seller a commission of between one and five percent on all successful sales (except for high ticket items like cars, properties).
Consumers are offered various payment methods. Information available on the site, sourced from Google Analytics) states that over 1.4 million unique visitors per month and over one million items listed for sale.
Buy Correct is the trading name for Nigerian retailer, UK2ME Logistics, focused on competitively-priced goods to global consumers. The operation’s value proposition is that being an online retailer, they are able to avoid overheads and transfer the cost-saving to the consumer.
They source goods from the UK and US that cover a range of industries, including fashion, electronics, Home & Décor.
The online retailer Buy Correct is therefore backed by the experience, resources and logistic experience of its parent company, UK2ME Logistics. This speaks to the sustainability of the operations.
It offers next-day delivery to residents in Lagos and two-to-four working days to cities and towns outside this metropolis.
It also offers full money back guarantee should goods be damaged or lost in transit.
There is also a link to Frequently Asked Questions, which makes life easier for the first time visitor wishing to take advantage of the services.
The site was included amongst the top ecommerce sites in Africa by Silicon Africa.
The name Kalahari has been synonymous with online business for some time. The consumer-driven site has included several new categories, including appliances, home & living, homeware and luggage, which indicates a strong offering for the consumer.
There is also a concerted effort to attract and retain the custom of Afrikaans users.
Recently, Caren Genthner-Kappesz as the online retailer’s new CEO. According to Genthner-Kappesz South Africa has made significant progress over the past few years in terms of broadband access, but more still needs to be done in order for the country to compete with the rest of the world in the online shopping space.
Although specifically set up for those who move in culinary circles, online retailer yuppiechef trades in a range of kitchen ware, appliances and tools to transform any individual’s cooking experience. The ecommerce venture was established in 2006 and is based in Cape Town.
In 2012 the site was awarded with a South African eCommerce Award for Best eCommerce Store and one for Best Shopping Process. It was also a runner up for the Best Design Standards & Ease of Use.
The site focuses on the online community aspect of eCommerce, a captive audience, so to speak, and there is a concerted effort to integrate social media into the offering.
Organisers behind the venture have also extended its reach with the electronic Spatula Magazine and newsletter.
The availability and reliability of channels on a site to engage visitors is always an indication of the strength of an online business.
Services include free delivery in South Africa and the offer to consumers to shop by price/ brand/ the latest products or by what has been categorised as the most popular.
Information on the site says it has near 26,5 thousand Facebook ‘likes’ and over 144 thousand followers on Google Plus.
As its name suggests, Botswanacraft is dedicated to the trade of handicraft. The company also hosts functions, has a restaurant and wholesale offering. It has been privately owned since 1983 and employs over forty people. It also facilitates work indirectly for rural craft producers across Botswana.
The online store features a range of product for purchase including Basketry, San Crafts, books and music.
Delivery is said to take two weeks and prices include express postage charges. The purchase process seems fairly straightforward with consumers required to send through information (visa/mastercard details, contact information and courier company details).
It is a straightforward merchandise store and images play a central role in communicating the value of the product.
The business is established and, based on its online prominence, is renowned for handicraft, particularly basketry.
Nigeria’s online shopping site Jumia offers consumers a wide variety of goods to choose from – although fashion and high-tech seem to be a core focus.
The emphasis is on shopping and the site is designed to provide a quick, hassle-free online trade experience. Its portfolio of shopping categories is broad, which increases the appeal of the site to a wide online audience.
Bank Deposit/Online banking and Cash on Delivery are presented as methods of payment.
The site’s value proposition includes secure online payment, convenient shopping, nationwide delivery and guaranteed products.
Jumia offers a delivery service of one-to-five working days, between office hours – although the organisers do stipulate a weekend special delivery option for added convenience.
Consumer orientation is important and the site caters for the brand-conscious African marketplace, as well as online visitors that require 24/7 online service – a key component of service delivery within the ecommerce space.
There is direct affiliation to other high growth areas of Africa, including Egypt, Morocco and Kenya.
The site does not dwell too much on background information and the look & feel is all about commerce and trade.
South African-based Zawadi is an African wholesaler, gift supplier and exporter established in 1996. It focuses on African art, gifts and collectibles, as well as ostrich leather jewellery.
The site is clear and precise and easy to navigate, which are hallmarks of a strong ecommerce venture.
There is a wealth of information available to first time browsers, so orientation will not be an issue.
As is the case with physical stores, it is the variety and availability of product that brings the customer back.
It is targeted at an extensive online community and ships to South Africa and neighbouring countries.
Kenya’s Kiosk is another lifestyle-focused site. It is owned and operated by Kenya Interactive Online Shopping Kiosk Limited., and marketed as “Kenya’s first online retail destination.”
Kiosk.co.ke was established in 2005 and went live in 2010, with the promise of delivery within 24hrs.
There is a direct reference to the local retail community and the site serves as a central area through which these retailers can engage with consumers and customers.
Although still growing, the site features all the necessary information and links that make an ecommerce – including links to social media and a membership facility.
* Image via Shutterstock
Chris Tredger, Online Editor