When Agatha Lenjou planned to start her business selling Swahili sweets last year, she knew she wanted to run it on social commerce platforms.
She wanted to reach many people comfortably, conveniently and cheaply via social media. Aside from trying to get her many followers to buy her products, she knew she could reach other people by sponsoring her pages and using influencers to market the items.
Lenjou sells mabuyu, achari and kashata, Confectionery from the East African coast, on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp as Swahili Bites.
A recent study by Caribou Data and the Partnership for Finance in a Digital Africa found that 92% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya use social commerce for their business.
“I wanted to reach a larger audience,” Lenjou told Quartz. “I just went straight to these platforms.”
Many African entrepreneurs have chosen social commerce
Lenjou, who is based in Nairobi, is one of many African entrepreneurs advocating social commerce, a type of e-commerce that uses online platforms to support social interaction. People buy, sell and advertise products and services and communicate directly with one another via platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp.
Social commerce platforms are in contrast to e-commerce marketplaces like Jumia and Konga.com, which are websites with different products from different vendors presented on the same platform, with transactions being managed and managed by the owner of the website are processed.
A 2019 GeoPoll poll found that Facebook and Instagram ranked ahead of many e-commerce marketplaces on a list of the most used online shopping platforms on the continent.
The high adoption of social media in Africa, made possible by increasing internet connectivity, has led to the emergence of this type of e-commerce on the continent, where content sharing, messaging and payment come together.
Africa’s e-commerce footprint is growing
Africa is one of the fastest growing e-commerce markets in the world. From 2014 to 2018, the number of online shoppers on the continent rose an average of 18% annually, compared to a global average of 12%, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The Covid-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and social restrictions, is giving this growth a boost.
According to a study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and GSMA, an organization representing mobile network operators worldwide, social commerce makes the bulk of e-commerce activity in markets like Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and São Tomé and Príncipe from Central African Republic.
According to the GSMA, social commerce accounted for 5% of e-commerce sales worldwide in 2018 and is expected to more than triple to 17% by last year.
Social commerce is a bridge or middle ground between full e-commerce and informal working people.
Social commerce appeals to entrepreneurs because you don’t have to be very tech-savvy to use the apps, compared to business software and other tools that require more sophisticated digital know-how.
Most of the sales in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are generated through informal channels. Social commerce helps address financial inclusion issues as many SMEs and informal businesses do not have the ability to borrow money to open or grow their businesses, says Stephanie von Friedeburg, senior vice president of operations at International Finance Corporation (IFC).
“Social commerce is a bridge or a stopover between full e-commerce and someone who works informally,” she told Quartz.
A lack of internet access can hinder the growth of social commerce
Mobile technology is a major driver of social commerce in Africa as the cellphone is the primary tool that people in the area use to access the internet and people tend to use mobile money to purchase goods and services in social commerce -Transactions to pay. However, the lack of mobile internet access for large parts of the population poses potential challenges for the scalability of social commerce services, Angela Wamola, director of sub-Saharan Africa at GSMA, told Quartz.
Social commerce, she adds, could offer significant opportunities as mobile money payments increasingly look for super apps where payments and social functions are intertwined.
Selling products on social media platforms alone can have drawbacks, as Lenjou and other people on the continent who do business on Facebook, Inatagram and WhatsApp learned about on October 4th when the platforms went down. The interruption happened at night, so that the next morning Lenjou had more jobs than usual to do that people had done the night before. That surprised her.
Lenjou runs her business alone – does everything including marketing, taking photos of the candy, posting her pictures on social media and processing orders.
And business is flourishing. Social commerce has made it possible for her to sell her products as far as Ghana and the USA.
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