Africa Retail supply chain challenges – issues to consider

The growth in Africa markets have sparked renewed interest in overcoming retail supply chain challenges. Below are a number of issues impacting African retail supply chains:

Lead times – Importing products in Africa remains challenging and lead times could be anything from four to six months. The African continent has the most landlocked countries, further increasing lead times.

Outlet base – The numerous traditional trade outlets (e.g. spaza, dukas or souks) remain the biggest segment of the market and modern trade is still in the very early stages of development.

Fluid outlet base – The outlet base is fluid with new shops opening and closing. Seasonality also plays a part as some shops might stop selling ice cream and cold  beverages during the rainy season.  In addition, not all shops or selling points are permanent structures and some are roving hawkers.

Alternative channels – Beyond the traditional outlets, companies also need to understand alternative channels. For example, in Nigeria, “Table Tops” and the “Go-Slow” channels are important channels.  “Table Tops” are tables, set-up as temporary sales points to sell a limited number of stock keeping units (e.g. mobile phone carts). The “Go-Slow” channel or hawking channel, sells various types of merchandise that is normally easy to carry or transport (e.g. biscuits).

Markets – Markets in Africa plays an important role. In some cases products flow from agents, who sell product directly to wholesalers based in  markets. For example in Lagos (e.g. Idumuta) and Addis Ababa (e.g. Mercato), markets remain a primary purchase channel for a number of product categories.

Moving away from trading – As African markets become more attractive, companies are moving away from trading (e.g. export agent and wholesale) and adopting a more organised Route-to-Market system, employing distributors to directly service the outlet base.

Route-to-Market considerations – Moving goods to a large fragmented outlet base is difficult and costly.  Small groceries often have limited cash flow and  space to stock products. Finding the right model can take time and patience. Outlets are often  situated in high density and congested areas and companies are increasing looking at alternative distribution means, including micro distribution to reach these hard to reach areas.

Poor execution and stock out – What happens in the last 10 meters of retail supply chains is really important. In African markets, customers often experience stock outs because of poor planning and in-store execution. As small groceries have limited space and cash flow, they often require more frequent deliveries, in some cases daily.

Intermediaries – As small groceries have limited cash flow and space, they often require an intermediary, such as wholesaler, to break bulk. The wholesaler is often in close proximity to these outlets and provide a basket of goods, and in some cases credit.

Consumer satisfaction is availability – Retailers that sell undifferentiated products compete on the basis of product availability. Having the right product in the right place, at the right time (and frequency), with the right brand, at the right price, may be what really drives customer satisfaction.

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