Africa has a serious problem when it comes to e-commerce. Globally, e-commerce has been a reality for many businesses and of all sizes for over 15 years but in Africa we lag far behind. In many cases the reasons for this range from a lack of adequate credit card penetration, lacking (local) online payment processing gateways, inadequate e-legislation and poor e-literacy.
However, what is very apparent is that the shape and form that e-commerce will take in Africa will be quite different from what has happened globally. For one thing, its increasingly obvious that the rapid and massive uptake of mobile technology on the continent makes it the probable channel for e-commerce. In addition, mobile money, which has been remarkably successful in Kenya via Safaricom’s M-Pesa looks like it will be key for e-commerce to happen. Indeed, just yesterday, both Safaricom and Airtel launched VISA and Mastercard Debit Cards that both enable online transactions using mobile money.
So, here lies the caveat. Even as we move Africa towards an e-commerce society, the bigger question is are we ready for it? Its one thing to buy a book from Amazon.com but quite another to buy local goods and services over the Internet. In fact, even in Kenya where there are only a handful of web sites that let you pay online via mobile money or credit cards, users are usually quite reluctant to transact online due to fraud and security concerns – which ultimately defeats the whole purpose of e-commerce.
This brings me to the point of this blog post. At the end of day, even as we work furiously to make e-commerce a reality in Africa, the truth is at a larger level e-commerce has to go through stages before it is viable on a large scale. Trust has to be achieved, legislation has to be in place, consumers and businesses have to be educated. In its simplest form, having products and services online either on a basic web site or even a Facebook Page is a start. Considering that many individuals and businesses in Africa are NOT able to afford building their own web sites (especially those classified as small or micro enterprises), online marketplaces will serve as the entry point to e-commerce in Africa.
By definition, an online marketplace is simply a web site that brings buyers and sellers together to achieve transactions, either as individuals or businesses. Online marketplaces come in all shapes and sizes – from simple online variants of your classified listings in Newspapers to sophisticated and highly secure online platforms that handle millions of dollars worth of transactions daily (think eBay.com). Ultimately, the bottom-line is that a small hair salon or restaurant marketing their offerings on the Internet through an online marketplace is a compelling proposition.
This brings me to what I have been working on for the past 4 months or so, Dealfish.com. Dealfish is essentially what I have been describing above as online marketplace. I have been busy setting up and managing the East African aspect of what is essentially a Pan-African online marketplace. We are currently fully operational in Kenya and Nigeria, planning to expand gradually over the next few years. In Dealfish, what we are trying to achieve is a long-term solution that helps buyers and sellers of all sizes in Africa achieve trusted transactions online.
Dealfish is a brand of MIH Internet of South Africa, which in turn is owned by Naspers, the fifth largest media business in the world, as of this writing (you may know Naspers as the company behind Multichoice and DSTV). What are we doing at Dealfish is truly groundbreaking stuff. Our online marketplace has been designed to work on mobile phones, as well as computers. In Kenya, we have already achieved market leadership by having the largest number of classifieds listings. In addition, we have hired a team that is ensuring we have the most current listings for jobs, cars, real estate and everything else in between. In a nutshell, we are aiming to revolutionize trade on an Africa-wide level – for businesses and individuals – via the Internet. Its a grand vision! Its one we plan to achieve. Watch this space.