Over Christmas I was in Scotland, and was amused at the media furore about online shopping. ‘ More people shopped online yesterday (Christmas Day) than will venture onto the High Street for the Boxing Day sales.’ Thundered one tabloid, ‘ It spells the end of a decades-old tradition.
But the figures supported the outrage. Scots alone (not a race renowned for parting with its money) logged twelve million Internet hits to spend Sterling Pounds 29 million on Christmas Day.
Never mind spending time in Church, or exchanging gifts with family. This was reprogrammed to permit online shopping. Barclaycard conducted a survey which revealed that while a third of people would wait until the evening, a fifth would shop during lulls in the day’s festivities, but 12% intended to shop in the early morning, or immediately after opening their presents.
Professor Bamfield of the Centre for Retail research was quoted as saying:’ Shopping on Christmas Day has become a new Christmas tradition.’ While other retail experts predicted that retailers who adapted and pushed online and in store sales at the same time would prosper in future years.
Part of the reason I was amused is of course that online shopping is growing apace in Africa. Some of it is very specialized, offering cosmetics or sunglasses (two of the biggest e-commerce sites in Nigeria). But many more are moving rapidly towards the amazon.com model with wide ranges of goods and payment options. In countries like Kenya where mobile money transfer is second nature to everyone, there’s rapid uptake. But even in markets where doubt remains about security of payment, online retailers are offering ‘pay on delivery’ options.
Jumia claims to be Africa’s No 1 online store, with coverage of Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt and Ivory cost. But you can Google hundreds of other offerings right down to individual cake shops.
Africans have always been bargain hunters. Witness the huge industry that we in East Africa call ‘mitumba’ – vast nearly new, factory seconds or unwanted fashion markets spawned in the early days by donations of clothes from wealthy western countries. Nowadays millions of these clothes and shoes circulate the globe as part of the second hand clothing trade (SHCT). Although the SHCT accounts for approximately 0.5% of global trade in clothing, more than 30% of those imports went to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as early as 2005. Figures provided by an Oxfam report indicate that used garments, initially collected and sold by western charities, account for nearly 50% of the clothing sector in SSA.
In most major African cities, these huge markets are carefully and intelligently segmented. So the young bank teller knows that by visiting market x she may well turn up a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes. While students preparing to leave for colder climes like Canada know that market Y will equip them with Timberlands, fleeces and fur-lined parkas.
Imagine the business that online shopping is going to generate in Africa in the next ten years.
Source: The Star, Kenya.

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