One of the most important take-homes from this year’s Africa eCommerce Week which kicked off in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, on Monday, is undoubtedly a report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which puts Mauritius in pole position in the area of ‘most-prepared online shopping destinations in Africa.’
The report dubbed; Business-to-Consumer (B2C) eCommerce Index for 2018, places the island nation on the 55th spot in the 151-nation global index which saw countries like the Netherlands, Singapore, and Switzerland take the lead. Mauritius’ respectable position on the global rankings also saw it place better than 43 other African countries who were featured in the report.
It is clearly not classified information that Africa is playing catch up, or perhaps trying to keep up with the rest of the world concerning its preparedness to engage in and reap the rewards of the digital economy. And you needn’t look too far to figure out why that is the case as internet penetration, and access remains a long way off from adequate in many parts of the continent.
However, it is also pretty much public knowledge that the continent is beginning to witness significant progress in the sector in recent times. At the opening day of this year’s Africa eCommerce Week, UNCTAD Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, revealed that key indicators associated with B2C eCommerce suggest that since 2014, Africa has surpassed world growth on three out of four indicators used in the index.
During the presentation of the UNCTAD report, the Secretary-General also offered that there were at least 21 million online shoppers in Africa last year and the number of African online shoppers has posted an 18 percent annual growth since 2014, which betters the current global average of 12 percent. And that sounds a lot like progress.
Now, what comes to mind when you envision Mauritius? Beaches? Speedboats? A destination for holidaymakers and thrill-seekers? Well, you may not be exactly far off, but you’d be utterly mistaken to think there isn’t way more. But in any case, you could be forgiven for not jumping at the idea of fancying an exotic island in the Indian Ocean as a booming eCommerce destination.
As with most other leading African eCommerce destinations, Mauritius is making significant headway regarding internet penetration, and this has translated to a rapid growth of its eCommerce industry. Figures from Internet World Stats even suggest that a good 62 percent of the Mauritian population have access to the internet. And like a ripple effect, this has served to create something of a booming online shopping market in the country.
More than ever before, online services like internet banking has been brought to fore and credit/debit cards are seeing a lot of use from customers, as are mobile payment platforms. These factors can be thought to have laid a solid foundation for eCommerce in the island nation and paved the way for what looks like a promising future.
Online shopping is known to come with some perks with the most popular one being the convenience it affords customers to order for products and services and have them delivered at their doorsteps.
These alluring benefits aren’t lost on the growing Mauritian online shopping community who have hopped on the bandwagon and are holding steady. And it is pretty much the same story for businesses in the country who are now leveraging eCommerce having identified its importance in boosting sales.
But in spite of the significant progress recorded in the country’s eCommerce industry, it will be wrong to conclude it is now an entirely rosy affair as the sector still appears to be hamstrung by some challenges. Now, here are some significant impediments to further eCommerce growth in Mauritius.
Challenges of eCommerce In Mauritius
Small Market Size
Like most islands, Mauritius does cannot precisely lay claim to a vast expanse of land and in terms of population, it posts a rather low figure with only 1.2 million inhabitants. For such a small population, the size of the country’s eCommerce market share can just get so big.
This sole factor is known to be a major albatross to further eCommerce growth in the country as global merchants are not exactly chomping at the bit to erode vital resources for a small prize.
The limited market size in Mauritius is also known to deter global merchants from targeting Mauritius directly. And this has a domino effect in that direct shipping to Mauritius for even global eCommerce giants like Amazon is limited. There are also bottlenecks associated with outrageous customs fees and transport costs even for such instances when shipping is possible. A combination of these difficulties is known to hamper further growth of the country’s online shopping industry.
Limited Internet Infrastructure
While all the talk of significant internet penetration in the country is anything but unfounded, a number of problems still bedevil Mauritius’ internet infrastructure. Low speed and bandwidth of internet connections, as well as the shortage of infrastructure in some more remote locations, remain a nagging problem.
However, unlike the challenge associated with market size, this one appears to have its days numbered as efforts are believed to be underway to upgrading the country’s fibre-broadband system. When completed, this project should see the island nation put paid to its internet problems, get more people online, increase customer base, and afford more people with the means to engage in online shopping. This will secure the future of eCommerce in the country.
Secure Online Payment Options Boosting eCommerce In Mauritius
The introduction of new online payment solutions in recent times has done a solid to the Mauritian eCommerce industry. Online shopping aficionados in Mauritius are now able to make online purchases within the country and beyond using their MCB MasterCard debit cards, and this wasn’t until around February 2016.
Before that, customers had to make do with credit cards which were the only available option before the debit card revolution, and many Mauritians did not have access to it. These days, debit cards are the toast of most Mauritian online shoppers, and their increasing popularity has seen them garner a very significant number of users.
There is also another popular global payment option which is an app called ‘Juice MCB’. This was developed and launched as a result of concerted efforts between the Mauritius Commercial Bank (MCB) and global payments company, Paypal.
On the secure payments front, the State Bank of Mauritius also appears to have tightened things up with it the SBM eSecure platform for password-protected online transactions. This has served to boost payment security.
Other secure payment features can be cited in the implementation of 3D Secure for MasterCard and Visa debit cards. Through the incorporation of such technologies as ‘Verified by Visa’ from Visa, as well as ‘SecureCode’ by MasterCard, the security of online purchases have been boosted and fraud risk reduced to the barest minimum, if not utterly eliminated.
For the country’s eCommerce industry, this has meant increased participation as customers who were previously sceptical of the safety of online transactions have now been filled with confidence to venture comfortably and pay with their cards without any concerns of unauthorised access or use.
For an eCommerce market that is largely still in its nascent stages, it is quite remarkable that Mauritius already boasts a number of local eCommerce platforms that are holding their own quite well.
Theshop.mu is worthy of mention in this regard as the platform is carving a niche for itself in the area of making it possible for customers to conveniently purchase quality homeware, healthy groceries, and many other goods. Theshop.mu also offers next-day delivery anywhere in Mauritius, as well as online payment functionality.
Being that Mauritius is also an ideal tourist destination, it is not difficult to see how one of its most successful eCommerce platforms is a hotel bookings platform; marideal.mu. The platform gives some of the best hotel deals while allowing for both credit card and internet banking online payment options.
Mauritian eCommerce is undoubtedly still hampered by a number of challenges, but the current trend bodes well for the future of the sector. With secure payment options now in the bag and improved internet infrastructure to follow suit soon, the industry can be expected to witness more growth yet in the coming years – so much so that it might just prove one of Africa’s best-kept eCommerce secrets.
Feature image courtesy: fojproject.com