Increasing availability and declining costs of broadband access, the steady uptake of mobile devices and the broad array of products available for purchase on the Web appear to be fueling online shopping in sub-Saharan Africa.
With the year-end holidays fast approaching, consumers are increasingly choosing to purchase gifts online both from local and foreign retailers, according to Fatima Sullivan, head of retail at international courier service DHL Express sub-Saharan Africa. Consumers are attracted by the ability to select from a wide range of products at competitive prices without being limited by geographical locations, at any time that is convenient to the, Sullivan said.
"With improved infrastructure, in terms of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and online safety and security, more people are choosing to make use of online shopping over traditional brick and mortar outlets due to the variety of products available to them at just a click of a button," Sullivan said.
The improving Internet infrastructure in the region is a big factor in the rise of online shopping in the region, agrees Edmond Nonie, co-founder and CEO of Sierra-Leone-based GoShop.sl.
"The enabling environment for vibrant e-commerce business is in place -- data is cheaper, smart Internet enabled devices are more affordable and widespread and Internet penetration is increasing in West Africa and Sierra Leone," Nonie said. GoShop is the first mail order firm in Sierra Leone to accept mobile payment for the purchase of goods from the U.K.
Increasing awareness of non-African lifestyles and brands also are contributing to e-commerce, Nonie said. This rising awareness of foreign brands is due at least in part to programming by DStv, the sub-Saharan digital TV service run by MultiChoice, and similar services, he said.
"Populations are seeing lifestyles of the young and trends outside the country and wish to emulate that lifestyle," Nonie noted.
GoShop, launched in October, lets users of mobile devices users complete an order transactions ranging from selection to payment for goods.
GoShop is a novelty in a market like Sierra Leone, where there are about four million mobile phone users with more than half of them under 35. But e-commerce startups have had success in various parts of the sub-Saharan area. DHL's Sullivan points to, for example, the strong growth of local e-commerce startups like Zando in South Africa and Jumia in Nigeria, both affiliates of Africa Internet Holding.
Meanwhile, interest in GoShop indicates that the time may be ripe for other e-commerce startups to appear.
"Since we launched Go Shop on the 14th of October 2013, we have had many early adopters purchasing through us and business is going well," Nonie said. "We're going through the process of encouraging consumers to try our service and it's been quite the learning curve for ourselves and our customers. The numbers are very encouraging and we are optimistic of our success."