Quick Reminder: African Ecommerce is A Thing

My mind usually drifts towards Asia when thinking about foreign-born ecommerce companies, but it’s important to remember that innovation — and eventually competition — can come from anywhere.

An NYT piece I read introduced me to MallforAfrica, a Nigeria-based ecom that’s dealing with the issues that keep most other ecommerce companies out of Africa.

MallforAfrica.com is making ecommerce viable in Nigeria and bringing US goods to African markets by adapting their pricing and purchasing to the dual realities of high demand for US goods and high potential for fraud.

Some Lessons in Ecommerce from MallforAfrica

MallforAfrica’s customers place and pay for their orders through the company’s web or mobile app.

I know US ecommerce companies that have just started getting serious about mobile. The fact that a company in Nigeria is already doing this isn’t surprising, but it is gratifying.

Customers can opt for home delivery, but Mr. Folayan says most choose to pick up their products at MallforAfrica’s Nigerian depots, which resemble UPS Stores.

Both Amazon and Google have been testing self-service delivery locations for a while, and Walmart has realized that their stores can be part of the ecommerce fulfillment experience. But imagine trying to build a delivery infrastructure that is trustworthy and cost effective with a tiny, tiny budget. Leveraging someone else’s business infrastructure becomes your best option.

The company now sells products from more than 120 online retailers, including Amazon, Barneys, Bloomingdale’s and J. Crew. Among the most popular vendors are Children’s Place, Macy’s and an online retailer called Perfume Junkie, according to Mr. Folayan. This year, they began shipping to customers in Kenya and Ghana as well. They hope to expand further in Africa and, eventually, to other continents.

Basically, people in Lagos are getting the same gear and toys that I’m getting. This is globalization at its finest.

To thwart fraudulent credit card charges, MallforAfrica
issues its own debit cards. Customers load funds on the cards before they start
shopping.

I love this and wonder when Walmart will start doing it. M4A needed a way to reduce fraud while keeping their customer base broad. Providing their own debit card makes perfect sense. Not quite a head-smacking moment, but definitely something to keep in mind for anyone selling in countries with weaker banking infrastructure or high amounts of fraud.

Ecommerce is Evolving in Our Blind Spots

I’d wager that most American or European ecom execs can’t name a single African ecommerce firm, but I think that will change. 10 years ago, we didn’t care about Alibaba or Rakuten, but now they are companies to watch for innovation in products and logistics. 10 years from now, I expect companies like MallforAfrica and Jumia will be names to know.

I take for granted that Amazon and others will deliver almost anything in 2 days and that I can find anything I want. This has been true in the US for so long now that we’ve become jaded. But much of the world is still figuring out to how bring products to their own shores. As the new crop of region-adapted stores emerge, we’re going to see a shift in business practices, buying power and product selection.

MallforAfrica is a regional play —steeped in Nigerian realities — that makes perfect sense, and also offers lessons for other emerging markets. We’d all be wise to start keeping an eye on African ecommerce sites and other regions’ entrants.

Featured image courtesy of dw.de

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