Push and pull strategies to encourage e-commerce in Senegal – maybe impact of Covid-19 trumps them both

19 June 2020

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Governments often adopt a “push” strategy when they want their citizens to do something and this is what the Senegalese Government is doing with e-commerce. But e-commerce start-up Jumia has been wrestling with the “pull” of demand for e-commerce services. But Russell Southwood looks at how it may be the impact of Covid-19 that will change behavior in relation to e-commerce.

Those wanting e-commerce in Sub-Saharan Africa to grow face two huge barriers that are linked: trust and payment. The majority of e-commerce in Africa is ordered digitally and paid for with grubby physical notes on the doorstep when goods arrive.

As customers of the new e-commerce platforms have also found, the goods offered by sellers are not always what they seem. If it’s sounds too good to be true, it generally is. For example, one of the most popular items on platforms like Jumia are mobile phones. Those sold at the lowest prices are often refurbished or fakes. E-commerce platforms do not yet seem to have effective rules – known to consumers – that will police dodgy suppliers on their platforms.

To address these kinds of issues, Financial Afrik reports that Senegal’s Minister of Trade and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) this week launched two e-commerce platforms called e-commercesenegal.sn" and "e-KomKom". This initiative is designed to boost the promotion and online sale of all categories of products, especially local ones. Its main objective is also to present the players in the electronic commerce ecosystem with the institutional support system. A mechanism put in place to help Senegalese businesses and households in the practice of electronic commerce.

The e-commercesenegal.sn platform sees itself as a referencing and qualification platform that will allow e-commerce operators to promote their services and and popularize their service with user offers. It will also encourage platforms that offer better quality products and services.

The “e-KomKom” platform allows companies to have an e-commerce presence, internet by creating and administering their shop space with the posting of their company profile, their product catalog, sales and delivery methods, management and monitoring. orders etc. It sounds very similar to the merchant marketplace offered by platforms like Jumia but it may encourage more absolute beginners to experiment with this sales channel.

According to Commodafrica.com on 20 May, Laiterie du Berger saw the sale of its main brand Dolima products drop by 20% but there was growth through in its e-commerce platform Club Kossam. This growth was spurred by Covid-19 night time curfews, the limits imposed on public transport and the closure of open air markets. So in May it was, in addition to its traditional dairy product delivery activity, transporting vegetables, fruit and meat to some 1,300 households in Dakar every week. Since the start of the measures taken by the authorities, it has doubled its monthly sales, reaching FCFA 62 million in April (€ 945,000) compared to a monthly average of FCFA 30 million previously. Demand for vegetables in particular has exploded, LDB founder Bagoré Bathily told Reuters. Twenty-five new employees have been hired. According to the UNCTAD, around sixty e-commerce companies have sprung up in Senegal and are doing well in these times of health crisis.

Jumia also delivers both fresh and cooked foods in Senegal. Co-founder Sacha Poignonnec told Reuters:” "We are seeing an unprecedented demand to join the Jumia platform, especially for recognized brands."

" We believe that these dynamics will help accelerate the switch to online requests "Jumia recently revealed that it has concluded agreements with several major brands such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, Nestlé, Carrefour in Algeria and Twiga in Kenya. But the jury’s out as it reported sales decreases in the key markets of Nigeria and South Africa in March and April but a sharp upturn at the end of April.

Senegalese start-up Comparez – an e-commerce search engine - announced in April that it had enabled users in 9 African countries (including Senegal) to pay on sites like Amazon and Jumia using mobile money.

But Comparez does not appear in either of the top 50 website analtytics so has yet to gain traction. Alexa shows Jumia (22nd position), MyShopify (25) and Amazon (44). SimilarWeb shows Jumia (14) and Coinafrique (a classifieds site at 49th position).