E-Commerce in Africa is a graveyard for many startups with technically sound approaches but flimsy business plans and even flimsier execution.
This field in particular presents a host of problems covering a wide range of fields from the lack of a cheap, efficient postal delivery system in the region, to the lack of an efficient online payment system.
This however has not stopped many startups from throwing their hats into the ring and bringing forth a multitude of applications all seeking to gain a foothold in online trade. And not startups alone, Google entered the fray a couple of years ago with Google Trader, a marketplace that aimed to connect buyer to seller at no fee to either of them.
Many have tried and the graves are many on the path. This though has not stopped many others from trying, OLX and Souq for example are some of the more recent companies to foray into this industry.
And yet for all of them amid press conferences and venture capital funding is a sad disappointing disconnect between their vision and what the people need, or perhaps more importantly what they want or what service they would pay money for. Granted they present very good systems and OLX in particular has shown impressive growth but most of these systems are missing something.
The strongest case in this region for an online trading platform has been the used car market where buyers browse cars available from japan and other markets before paying for and importing them. Another compelling manifestation of online trade in some form has been the communities on social networking site Facebook where sellers post what they’re selling and buyers get in touch with them.
This we believe is where the future lies, tapping into that community and activity and finding a way for people to do this on an even bigger scale. Facebook for all it’s technical witchcraft cannot allow for searches into posts which means people must browse the often lengthy stream in search of what they want.
This form can be improved upon, seller ratings, featured products, discounts from big name stores with featured listings, the possibilities are many. The difference between this and the other Ebay clones currently on market is that with over 1000 daily return users, these communities are what E-Commerce in the region is right now, an online street market where buyers and sellers meet and haggle over prices. This is not a bad thing, we should not seek to innovate people out of this into a more structured market place and have them sending money online when there is no present need for them to do so.
Perhaps a time may come when this process needs to evolve but the focus right now should be to use technology to support and encourage this expression of trade online the way the people want it to be, and for us (Coin Media and OutofIdeas ) it is. This week marks the beginning of a what we hope will be a long term partnership with Trade Links Africa, one of the first and currently biggest and most active of these market places. Together with them we will embark on an exciting journey to imagine what this marketplace can be and empower the community there to buy more, talk more, haggle more in the sounds and expression of what an African market has always been, a community.
It really has always been about the people, nothing tops that. See you at the market.