Ecommerce for rural Africa – The Copia Global way

Copia Global is a B2C ecommerce startup — enabling people in rural and peri-urban areas to purchase products online, without the need to travel to larger towns to make their purchases. Customers buy products through a mobile app, by USSD, calling a customer care team; or they can visit one of the company’s agents, view a printed catalogue, and receive assistance with placing their order.

Goods are delivered to agents at no extra cost within two to four days. The startup has a network of more than 12,000 agents that include general dealers, dukas or neighbourhood stores. Products on offer range from foodstuff, personal care, home care, agricultural inputs, electronics, solar products and construction material.

The company operates in 15 African countries and was founded in 2013 by US social entrepreneurs Tracey Turner and Jonathan Lewis, and has been particularly successful in Central and Eastern Kenya, where it started operations.

Aggregates orders

The startup noted in an interview with Bloomberg, that they can deliver a package at one-sixth the cost of other best-in-class ecommerce businesses in the world. Rather than providing a one-on-one delivery system, they aggregate multiple orders and deliver items to pick-up points or agents for collection. The platform allows Copia to provide products to customers without formal addresses and limited internet connectivity.

Ecommerce in Africa

In the Kenyan market, several players are vying for consumer’s attention. Ecommerce platform Jumia Kenya and Twiga Foods recently signed a partnership agreement that will enable shoppers on the platform to buy fresh produce and processed foods. Nairobi-based Sokowatch, a business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce company targeting dukas or neighbourhood stores — is another company that has been making inroads in the traditional trade market and is servicing more 16,000 customers in East Africa.

Data by the United Nations reveals that ecommerce in the continent has grown by 18 percent annually since 2014 — and 21 million people shopped online in 2017 according to the report. But ecommerce accounts for only 2 percent of the world’s total and Africa still lags behind other parts of the world.

Half of ecommerce shoppers are concentrated in just three countries: Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. South African shoppers spend an average of $109 on online consumer goods purchases — the most among African countries. Despite taking top honours on the continent — South Africa’s spending is still nearly $400 lower than the global average, according to a Hootsuite report. Ecommerce sales have been hobbled by lower disposable income, infrastructure challenges, lower digital literacy and a dominant cash society that struggles with online payments.

Video: Copia Global

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