How COVID-19 impacts my African e-commerce business

African e-commerce Giants Peak Season Of E-Commercejustynafaliszek / Pixabay

Like many of your cities, my town, Kampala, is deserted. As Covid-19 spreads across the planet, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has declared an emergency. He’s banned public gatherings for the next 30 days. Nobody can be in a group of more than five people.

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Restaurants, bars, schools, and universities have closed. For now, the country has about 20 confirmed cases. Our neighbors in the region, such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, have confirmed cases, as well. South Africa reported Wednesday the number of coronavirus cases nearly doubled in the span of just two days there.

Impact Of The Shutdown

The poor are the most impacted by the shutdown. People will now save their money for emergencies, like food and medicine. People are fearful of contracting the disease, and the poverty here makes the reality on the ground a tougher pill to swallow. Many of the small businesses that have shuttered are likely to never re-open.

Africa has taken coronavirus seriously since the first reports out of China in December. We do a lot of business with China per the Belt & Road initiative. Many businessmen travel back and forth between Africa and China in comparison to other countries, such as the United States and Europe.

Also, many people on the continent live in close quarters, can’t afford time off work, and in many cases don’t even have access to clean water. Our resources are constrained. So, we’ve been social distancing and washing our hands since before the government banned gatherings.

The crisis grips Africa amidst a backdrop of rising consumerism. Household consumption could reach $2.5 trillion by 2030 thanks to a younger population, internet penetration, and payment apps. In Africa, we don’t have the convenience of big box stores like in the U.S. While Amazon had to convert people’s behavior from convenience stores in their neighborhood, we don’t face the same problem here.

Embracing African E-Commerce

Just like Africa never had fixed telephone lines, and instead skipped straight to mobile telephones, we’re embracing African e-commerce on a continent with little brick and mortar presence. As people stay at home, we’ve seen a considerable spike in traffic.  Our Google Analytics shows a 110% growth in online shopping engagement on Bazebo in the last 2 weeks.

Africa is home to more than one billion people, and more than 400 million internet users (the second largest internet user population worldwide after China). The distribution of goods and services is a challenge here, but consumers can access goods and services in a more efficient manner on mobile devices and via the internet.

Behind the scenes, foreign exchange rates have fluctuated amidst the turmoil. We source items from the United States, and therefore  pay for goods in US Dollars, while our customers use their local African currencies. In order to manage this, we are engaging with customs to subsidize import duties. They’ve only agreed to speed up the clearing process.

Either way, thanks to e-commerce, people living on the African continent are able to procure goods safely and efficiently, while they stay at home--and it could save lives.

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About the Author

Moses Ihoza
Moses Ihoza is CEO and co-founder of Bazebo, the Uganda-based e-commerce platform selling items from several global brands, serving many users from rural areas outside Uganda's major cities.

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