Embryonic electronic commerce in Tunisia: 250 sites now offer e-transactions

Internet

Electronic commerce in North Africa in general remains an embryonic activity. Such is the case for Tunisia which has nearly 5,000 web sites but only 250 offer visitors the ability to purchase products and services online. The year 2006 ended with total Internet transactions of TND 14.2 million only or about $11 million. Although it is a seven-fold increase from 2005, the value of Internet transactions in Tunisia is insignificant. The bulk of the transactions generated in the Tunisian cyberspace essentially relates to the enrolment of nearly half million students who have selected online studying during the academic year of 2006/2007.

The weak performance of electronic commerce in Tunisia can be attributed to several factors including a highly regulated environment in a sector that is closely monitored by the Tunisian government, and the limited disposable income among the younger generations who happened to be the most active spenders in mature economies. The banking sector in Tunisia has neglected to offer services such as payment instruments to potential young buyers. Most of the cards issued by banks to teenagers are cards used for withdrawal purposes and not for payment transactions. The number of cards that enable online payments both domestically and internationally is very limited, therefore limiting the growth of Internet sites that can offer to sell products and services.

Even in the highly strategic travel industry, online activity is limited. Very few hotels have their own web sites capable of recording transactions as simple as reservations or information inquiry, let alone prepaying for a stay. According to official statistics, only 16% of reservations for Tunisian hotels made from Europe originate from the Internet. This figure shows how much more growth opportunity there is as the Internet develops in Tunisia.

Yet there are tremendous opportunities for growth going forward. A good example of opportunities was the qualifying match between Tunisia and Morocco for World Cup 2006 when ticket sales over the Internet skyrocketed as a result of high demand. The industry meanwhile is looking for ways to establish new standards that will enable its members to benefit from Internet sales in the future. A new network called Tunicommerce is in the offing, with the goal of incorporating businesses into a single bar code system that would facilitate the supply chain that will power Internet commerce.

The school of electronic commerce, the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce Electronique, is preparing to release a guide that will help businesses create their own electronic commerce infrastructure. The school will also propose changes in the regulation that would simplify commerce over the Internet in Tunisia.

Some 40 companies are currently launching transaction sites that would enable their customers to purchase products or to simply apply for services. Such is the case of the transport agency ATTT (Agence Technique de Transport Terrestre), which has released a web portal that enables individuals to register for a driver’s license examination.

The North Africa Journal