Why Hasn't eCommerce and mCommerce Still Taken Off In Africa

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Couple Shopping Online
The history of eCommerce and mCommerce can be traced to the early 90s when the Internet became commercially available to the public allowing people to buy and sell online. Since then, numerous businesses the world over have adopted the technology in one business model or another.

mCommerce and eCommerce are essentially the same function with the only distinction being that mCommerce places as emphasis on mobile devices and mobile connectivity.

The adoption of eCommerce and mCommerce as a way to do business has however not been universally adopted globally. Most of the adoption in eCommerce and mCommerce has taken place in the West with Africa seeing very little of the observed adoption rates.

The Marvel Of The Shopping Experience Through Convenience

To be clear, one cannot make the mistake of assuming that eCommerce and mCommerce in Africa has not taken off because it is a fallible concept. In fact, eCommerce and mCommerce present so many advantages to both the seller and the consumer that it is surprising that Africa has not gravitated to it in droves.

Convenience is the single characteristic that most defines eCommerce and mCommerce transactions. What could be better than making your shopping from the convenience of your home or office armed merely with a computer or a mobile device.

To sweeten the deal, the purchase will even find its way to you at your specified address and if the system is sophisticated enough, you can even track the progress of your delivery.

Furthermore, there is saving to go all around wherever eCommerce and mCommerce transactions are taking place. For the seller, eCommerce and mCommerce mean that huge costs involved in inventory management are eliminated as there is no display space required for products. Often the savings are passed on to the customer.

The customer also saves a lot on time and effort as they don't have to physically visit the store and their delivery comes to them. Of course there are also savings in the time and expense that would otherwise be required to visit a brick and mortar store.

The seller also benefits from the numerous opportunities that come with an online store such as the ability to stay open 24 hours a day and be able to sell to customers beyond borders. An online store also provides the store owner with analytics of customer behaviour that provide valuable insights on the business.

The State of eCommerce and mCommerce In Africa

Let’s not get carried away here. eCommerce and mCommerce are not all fabulous. There are disadvantages that come with it such as the glaringly missing human touch or the risk of fraud but it can be generally agreed that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.  That being the case, then why hasn't ecommerce and mCommerce taken off in Africa?

According to Statista dot Com, share of global B2C e-commerce sales in the Middle East and Africa from 2013 to 2018 grew from 2.2% to 2.5%. By comparison share of global B2C e-commerce sales in North America from 2013 to 2018 shrank from 34.9% to 30.6%. Even with the small decline in North America, it is clear that the proportion of eCommerce sales in North America are significantly higher than in Africa and the middle east.

Several factors work in tandem in order to bring about this state of eCommerce and mCommerce in Africa the most notable of which follow.

Connectivity Issues

In order for eCommerce and mCommerce to truly take off, a well connected population is a must. After all, how are you going to shop online if you are not online or if getting online is a major hurdle for you?

Internet penetration is the term used for how ubiquitous the Internet is and Africa fares below average when it comes to this measure. According to Internetworldstats dot Com, Internet penetration for Africa stands at 35.2% which compares to 54.4% and 58.4% for the world average and the rest of the world respectively as of 2017.

Not only does low Internet Penetration limit the use of eCommerce and mCommerce, it also slows its development and propagation. If few people have exposure to a technology, it translates to even fewer being in a position to make use of and develop that technology for the rest of the population.

Security and Trust Issues

Another hurdle for the adoption and common use of eCommerce and mCommerce in Africa is security and trust issues. There is a lot of fraudulent activities that underlie online transactions that people are not easily trusting of the technology.

One factor that compounds this is the limited government regulation that exists in most African countries, a situation that leaves most people in the lurch when confronted with fraud without a lot of options for recourse.

It is also not easy to establish the authenticity of sellers online in Africa when it comes to trusting sellers with credit card information, further increasing the fraud risk.

Proliferation of Payment Methods

In the west, the standard method of payment for online transactions is the credit card and it works well in such places because the credit card as a payment instrument is well established. On the African continent however, the credit card is far from being established as a means of payment.

In most of Africa, cash is King and credit card ownership is sparse with South Africans owning about half of all credit cards on the continent with the runner up countries owning about 10% and most below 2% of all card ownership with a handful of countries taking up percentage points in between. This according to Statista dot com

Most people in the African context are located in rural settings and have no access to credit cards. Even in urban settings, credit card use is limited. However, in some countries such as Kenya, mobile payments have taken off and make payments practical although this method has not been pervasive with most nations on the continent.

Creative approaches such as cash on delivery or mobile payments are some of the innovative methods that are required to serve the African continent but they however also have their challenges.

Limited or Nonexistent Physical Addresses

The conclusion of any online transaction where physical goods are involved is the delivery. There is however a complication for Africa when it comes to this crucial step in the event of delivering a product; the physical address.

Most cities in most African countries do not have a formalised residential address system. What this means is that it is in most cases difficult to pinpoint the final address for a delivery with any reliable accuracy.

Some approaches that have been taken to overcome this obstacle is the use of GPS or some drop-off zones where customers can collect their deliveries in a designated area. Even with these approaches in hand, they do pose challenges for the online seller that have led to eCommerce and mCommerce not taking off as it would otherwise have.

Rising To The Challenge

This blog post has discussed some of the advantages of eCommerce and mCommerce and explored how some challenges have slowed down eCommerce and mCommerce adoption in Africa. 

Challenges are not meant to prevent us from excelling once we realise that identifying them is the first step. In coming up with innovative ways to tackle these challenges lies the opportunity for entrepreneurs of our time to take on eCommerce and mCommerce on the continent.

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