Four eCommerce Trends That Can Shape Online Retail In Africa

By  |  February 11, 2019

There is hardly any doubt that the retail arm of eCommerce is gaining popularity amongst African consumers. This claim is buoyed by the idea that an increasing number of African consumers are starting to gain confidence in, and even beginning to favour the online route for their shopping needs.

This trend is believed to have been somewhat encouraged by significant growth in the continent’s middle class; a feat that has given rise to an upward surge in spending power and a shift in consumer behaviour and preferences. And with the spread of internet connectivity and the proliferation of mobile devices – most notably, smartphones – across the various parts of the continent, African eCommerce can be said to be on an upward trajectory as the sector has witnessed considerable growth in recent times.

Will these eventually spell the end of brick and mortar retail shops? Well, that remains to be seen. But if anything is certain, then it has to be the idea that there is some truth in the assertion that people are beginning to jump at the thought of shopping online and having items delivered at their convenience, as opposed to having to go through the strain and inconveniences associated with going to a regular store.

As indicated by a 2013 report put together by McKinsey & Company, eCommerce is expected to witness considerable growth over the next few years as it is estimated that the sector will account for up to 10 percent of retail sales in some of the largest economies on the continent by the year 2025. In the report, this estimated growth is also associated with a revenue generation of up to USD 75 Bn.

While these numbers do make for a very attractive prospect, it is important to note that eCommerce is hardly anything like a “set-up-shop-and-watch-the-funds-roll-in-venture.” Suffice it to say that there is more to eCommerce than just serving up products and ordering options online.


Much about eCommerce is hinged on trust, and trust is built on efficient service. A premium is placed on customer satisfaction.


Consumers need to be assured they are getting value for their money at the first time of asking, lest it becomes another “once bitten” story.

Besides the drawbacks associated with infrastructural inadequacies on the continent, eCommerce is somewhat hampered by the apparent lack of trust in the venture on the part of African consumers. That is to say, many individuals in Africa who have the means to partake in eCommerce are held back by a lack of will, borne out of a lack of a lack of trust in the system.

Will I get the exact product I ordered for? Will it be in good condition and of good quality? Will it be delivered to me in time? Will it even be delivered to me at all? Is there a return policy? Can I get my money back if I am not satisfied? These are just a few of the many questions that are on the minds of many African consumers who are well aware of the perks of eCommerce but are discouraged by the uncertainties.

Essentially, venturing into eCommerce and doing these days successfully entails reaching out to a broader clientele and forging lasting relationships with consumers by employing proven marketing strategies. With a view to building thriving online retail businesses that are in tune with the ever-changing consumer preferences, here’s a look at some vogue and proven strategies/trends in eCommerce.


Emphasising The Experience And Not The Product


It’s easy to fixate on products when it comes to eCommerce and understandably so. After all, it is selling products online that makes one an online seller. But these days, with Millennials and Gen Z’s accounting for most of the interest in eCommerce, it might be advisable to fuss less about stocking online stores with a plethora of products and give more attention to highlighting the experience that can be served up by a few.

In other words, people have a greater tendency to care about the experience that can be derived from a particular product than the product itself. And this, perhaps, is why today’s ads are more focused on telling stories about actual people than they are on showcasing brands.

Having said that, it can be surmised that eCommerce businesses of today can be done a solid by taking a cue from marketing strategies which put the experience rather than the product on the front burner. Instead of tricking potential clients with a barrage of products, today’s consumer habits dictate that emphasis should be placed on painting a picture rather than shoving articles in front of people.


Placing A Premium On Quick Deliveries


An eCommerce platform that is famed for its prompt deliveries is the toast of everyone. Nobody wants to have to wait days before they get their hands on that PS4 console, or ever have to explain to their little boy that they will have to dress up as a pineapple for Halloween because some online store couldn’t get the PJ Masks costume they ordered several days ago delivered in time.

This is why the promptness of delivery is important in eCommerce. It has something of a make-or-break effect. If an online retailer is known for its fast deliveries, it’s a no-brainer. If it is lousy with its deliveries, it’s a non-starter. Suffice it to say that the fastest guys get all the good stuff in eCommerce.

To further buttress this point and give further credence to this assertion, it might be important to note that household names like Amazon and Alibaba have shipping centres in strategic locations to ensure that packages are sent out for delivery on the same day they were ordered.

More so, these companies are known to collaborate with local logistics ventures to ensure that they are able to meet up on customer orders in good time. This serves to fast-track their operations, and it is on the backs of such a pedigree that they have gone on to become renowned players in the global eCommerce sector.

Essentially, this implies that carving a niche in today’s online retail scene requires pulling down all the stops and surmounting the hurdles to ensure that there are no delays or time lags in making deliveries to clients, as this marks the completion of eCommerce transactions.


Making Web Platforms More Adaptable To Mobile Devices


Another eCommerce trend that is worthy of note is website mobile adaptability. Emphasis is placed on mobile adaptability because mobile devices are found to see more use than PCs when it comes to internet access. In other words, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are the most common gadgets used for accessing the internet these days. And this is understandable given that they are compact, portable, and easy to use anywhere.

This has informed an eCommerce trend which places importance on making eCommerce websites adaptable to mobile devices as they form the bulk of the media through which online contact is made. A lot of importance is given to this aspect as it is known to also represent one of the criteria for how high a web platform ranks in search engines. Search engine rankings can be thought of as a measure of how much patronage a particular web platform can potentially garner, as it has a bearing on the amount of online traffic.

Away from being just mobile-friendly, today’s eCommerce platforms are also expected to check all the boxes in terms of speed and ease of navigation. Nobody ever wants to have to take too much time viewing the products on an online catalogue or making a payment. Terminating and looking for another less-fussy option often seems easier, and with the stiff competition in the industry, this might mean another potential customer lost. And what’s a business without customers?

An efficiently-designed website with an easy-to-navigate layout, as well as a reliable hosting plan, often make for better prospects when it comes to eCommerce.


Towing The Chatbot Line


News Flash! Chatbots are the newest things in eCommerce, and they are as cool as they are effective. Thriving in today’s eCommerce business entails staying ahead of the pack by having a competitive edge. And chatbots may well provide that edge. These days, chatbots do a good job of handling customer inquiries. This novel innovation also proves useful in sending out marketing materials directly to the personal message inbox of customers.

The technology imparts a certain human feel to business interactions as it arguably serves up a better alternative to sending out emails. Nowadays, chatbots even go one better by taking orders from online shops. Also, by leveraging Artificial Intelligence and other smart technologies, chatbots can be designed such that they can recommend items to customers based on the history of their inquiries and searches.

They are best thought of virtuous salespersons who efficiently play the role of helping customers find items with ease, instead of having them go through the ordeal of rummaging through tons of products and possibly losing interest before they find the right one. Today’s eCommerce customers are big on service efficiency and ease of transactions, and chatbots happen to function satisfactorily along those lines.


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