Future of African e-commerce bright as “right ingredients” coming together

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Startups are building out the infrastructure necessary to support a thriving e-commerce ecosystem in Africa, with adoption expected to surge in line with the continent’s high population growth, according to Tesh Mbaabu, co-founder and CEO of Kenyan retail-tech venture MarketForce.

Founded in 2018, MarketForce facilitates trade between informal retailers and consumer brands via its digital marketplace.  Disrupt Africa has partnered MarketForce and Omnibiz to release a four-part podcast series on the African e-commerce and retail-tech space – “A digital future for African retail” – with episode four, focusing on the future of the space, now available.

Speaking on the podcast, Mbaabu said backbone advances, particularly in the areas of fintech and logistics, are all coming together and will facilitate a “great future” for African e-commerce, particularly when paired with the high growth in youth population – a demographic keen to try out a new way of doing business.

“The future is really exciting, because the fundamentals are being built, the infrastructure is being built by a variety of startups – fintech, logistics, HR which is great for talent development, – all these things are coming together and are the right ingredients for a great future in e-commerce,” Mbaabu said.

“Debit card payments, mobile money payments being digitised and consumers having access to this, the right infrastructure in logistics, especially addressing – which is critical to e-commerce delivery, […] means we’re going to see a surge in e-commerce adoption in the coming years.”

Notable about the African ecosystem is the prevalence of social e-commerce, Mbaabu says, and means that e-commerce on the continent won’t take a globally typical trajectory.

“We’re seeing a surge in social e-commerce because many are realising that e-commerce is not happening typically like you would expect […] There’s a lot of purchasing happening in places where people spend most of their time, so think about Instagram and Facebook, and based on their behaviours on those platforms they’re being fed the right content and a lot of e-commerce is happening on those platforms. So that’s an area I predict a lot of activity will happen.”

So for startups operating in the market, Mbaabu advises they think carefully about how to model their business for sustained growth, and how to approach geographic expansion. 

“How do we grow? This is a conversation that we have around M&A, consolidation, should we buy or should we build? And the reason we really lean on M&A and have completed three acquisitions to date is because we believe that if you bring in and accelerate the pace at which you introduce high value products for your merchants, or bring in team members who are entrepreneurs especially localised in different geographies, and understand the pain points and are able to speak the language of both buyers and sellers in the space, all these factors lead to higher chances of success.”

To hear more on the future of African e-commerce and retail-tech, tune in to episode four of “A digital future for African retail”.  Available now on all major podcasting platforms.

Listen on Soundcloud

Listen on Apple Podcasts 

Listen on Spotify

About Disrupt Africa

Disrupt Africa is the one-stop-shop for all news, information and commentary pertaining to the continent’s tech startup – and investment – ecosystem. With journalists roaming the continent to find, meet, and interview the most innovative and disruptive tech startups, Disrupt Africa is a true showcase of Africa’s most promising businesses and business ideas. Its research arm releases in-depth reports on various aspects of the African tech startup ecosystem, and Disrupt Podcast is one of the leading Africa-focused business podcasts on the continent.

About MarketForce

MarketForce is a US and Kenya-based technology company, building the operating system for retail distribution in Africa. MarketForce provides an all-inclusive B2B Commerce and Fintech platform (dubbed “RejaReja” – Swahili for ‘retail’) that empowers neighbourhood merchants in Africa to source, order and pay for inventory digitally and conveniently, access financing, collect digital payments and make extra money by reselling digital financial services such as airtime, electricity tokens and bill payments. Launched in 2018, MarketForce is a fast-growing YC-backed company currently operational in 5 markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, with over 200,000 merchants and 100 consumer brands trading on the platform.

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