Written by Bob Collymore CEO, Safaricom plc
The “digital era” is powered by different factors and actors in which telcos, banks, media, and technology companies are playing different but interdependent roles.
Internet accessibility, penetration of smartphones, social media users (powered by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others), digital communication platforms such as WhatsApp, and payment platforms are all playing an important role in the development of the digital world.
But when it comes to e-commerce, the consumer journey goes beyond online. There is an offline customer experience that is determined by the logistical efficiencies we put in place to ensure that orders are delivered accurately and on time.
To power e-commerce in Africa, it is not just enough to have deep internet penetration and a lot of smartphones, but to have an inter-intra city infrastructure that allows businesses to reach customers everywhere effectively and efficiently.
An understanding of economic and industrial demographics are key to developing our strategies. Usually when we are asked about our competitors, we tend to mention the current online platforms that are in the market.
But the truth is that only 5% of the population (if we consider Kenya only) is an e-commerce consumer.
That means 95% of the market is untapped. Our biggest competitor is the informal retail space. Yes, we can find a lot of inefficiencies in the supply chain of the informal retailers, but the reality is that in African economies where price is an important factor, they are ahead.
Our dream is to democratize e-commerce. We want a consumer in Isiolo Town in Kenya’s north to be able to seamlessly buy a product 750 kilometers away from the coastal city of Mombasa powered by online capabilities and the correct logistics.
That way, we will provide access to market to thousands of merchants who are today restricted by their physical locations and logistical improbabilities. We want a kitenge (African print dress or shirt) producer in Nairobi to be able to sell their products to customers in Dar es Salaam.
That’s how we envision e-commerce transforming lives across Africa.
At Safaricom, we have an important role to play in realising this dream of an Africa that taps from the obvious advantages of e-commerce in powering our economies and moving them to the next level. We have started in Kenya and we are confident that we can spread this dream in many markets across Africa.
We need to be ready to change. We need to step out and try and test the solutions we envisage would be useful to our customers. We need not be afraid of trying and failing as long as we learn in the process.
The development of a great culture and individual staff member development is important in driving the innovation that will be at the heart of driving the e-commerce dream for Africa.
That is why we have adopted an agile way of working which allows our people to make mistakes, learn, fix, execute and grow. It is important that we train, grow and build Africa’s capacity to take on the challenge.
Most companies adopt global best practices gleaned from experiences in other countries and regions. We believe we have to understand our customers first from how they shop, why they buy, when they buy, how they interact with prices and which assortments they prefer. We then strive to tailor our offerings accordingly. That, we believe, is the way to grow in this digital area.
Drawing from this strategy, we intend to facilitate e-commerce in this digital era through Masoko by Safaricom and empower merchants and customers in Kenya across Africa.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNCTAD