Not commonly prevalent in the news, Rocket Internet’s venture Jumia (formerly known as Africa Internet Group) has managed to stay under the radar while slowly dominating one of the largest developing internet markets in the world.
Only after speaking with a team of Jumia Vendor Success Senior Managers was I able to realize the massive potential of the continent’s top ecommerce player, and how it is not so different from Southeast Asia.
“Like every other region, Africa has its own challenges but the internet users [in Africa] are more than that of the US, UK and actually, both of them combined,” said Gaurav Jain, Head of Vendor Success, Jumia Group. “The number is behind only India and China.”
During a knowledge sharing session held at aCommerce fulfillment center in Bangkok, ecommerceIQ spoke with the Jumia team to understand the unique properties of their ecommerce ecosystem, and uncover why the company was more similar to Go-Jek than the commonly perceived Lazada of Africa.
Africa’s ecommerce behemoth: The sum of all parts
To understand the extent and ambition of Jumia’s business goals in Africa, it’s important to know that Africa is a continent broken up into 54 countries and according to the company, consists of 1.3 billion consumers and 17 million SMEs/merchants.
Jumia, started in 2012, was initially an e-tailer selling only electronics and fashion items when it moved into a marketplace model in 2015. It has since become the largest internet player in Africa and first unicorn leading in six regions: Egypt, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Morocco.
The company not only operates in 23 countries, but has effectively squeezed out the ecommerce players that came before them, namely Kilimall and Konga.
It’s safe to say that Jumia Group is no longer a simple, horizontal marketplace and is responsible for pumping out ventures Rocket Internet is famous for copying and pasting in developing markets: Jumia Food (foodpanda), Jumia House (Lamudi), Jumia Car (Carmudi), Jumia Jobs, Jumia Deals, etc.
But launching online services in a region where ecommerce is only 0.5% of total retail sales is not cheap.
The company posted a Sh14.9 billion ($148 million) loss before tax and other costs in December 2017 compared to Sh11.3 billion the year before.
While it doesn’t paint the entire picture, severe losses was one of multiple factors that spurred the company to create the Jumia One app combining its top services in one place. The app launched in Nigeria earlier in March and allows customers to shop online, order food, buy airline tickets and pay cable and electricity bills.
“People like to shop on the mobile app. They prefer to have ecommerce handy so they can place an order on the go. The Jumia One app is growing, 42% to 56% in terms of mobile share.”
Other factors for launching Jumia One included:
- It makes more sense to invest heavily into a single platform versus managing and marketing multiple brands
- Consumers don’t have enough storage on their mobile phones to download multiple apps as mentioned by a user
- Mobile penetration in Africa is expected to reach 50 percent in leading countries over the next five years – meaning over 300 million smartphones will be added to the market
- The app is another revenue stream as Jumia marketplace merchants can buy advertising space for their products
- It also allows the company to cement themselves as a strong payments player, vital for mass adoption as demonstrated by Alibaba’s Alipay
The company will dabble in micro-financing to merchants given its rich data. A win-win to give merchants more capital to invest in their online businesses and drive more traffic back to its platform.
“We know the patterns, the revenue, the number of orders. We lend out money so they can manage their shops,” comments Gaurav. “It’s a growth opportunity to accelerate their growth as fast as possible.”
“They can use mobile money, not only cash.”
The all-in-one app draws parallel to one of Southeast Asia’s unicorns. Jumia is becoming the superapp in Africa – a Go-Jek for 1.3 billion customers.
What are then the challenges holding back Africa’s enormous potential? The typical it turns out.
Challenges in Africa mirror Southeast Asia’s own struggles
Africa’s obstacles preventing exponential growth of ecommerce are the same that plague Southeast Asia’s internet economy.
- People still want to visit offline stores for the look and feel to buy products
- Lack of trust by both customer and merchants who don’t believe in digital transactions
- Fragmented markets, different languages, customs
- Cash based society
- Underdeveloped infrastructure
- Shortage of digital talent and training/education
“They need to know that ecommerce is not a Ponzi scheme. Trust is a large issue. We show them how their products will sell, we show them the importance of visibility and assortment until they have confidence in us and they grow their business so it’s mutually beneficial,” says Gaurav.
“Sellers with offline shops aren’t used to waiting for payment. Cash flow is a problem with our vendors,” says Damola Ajayi, Head of Vendor Success, Jumia (Nigeria), when asked about his challenges. “We guarantee a 7 day payment cycle from day of shipment and even daily for our gold vendors.”
The company paved the way for other ecommerce players to come in, but currently there is no standout competitor apart from the expansion efforts of Chinese companies and the country’s predisposition for offline retail.
Creating the next 500 millionaires in Africa
What was most impressive about Jumia wasn’t its ‘superapp’ or the sheer size of the African market, it was the dedication and enthusiasm exuberated by each Jumia employee I met.
They understood the massive challenges ahead and were candid about how to tackle them.
Lack of vendor trust, digital skills or education?
- Launch training 2 to 3 times a month to advise on marketing, pricing, and inventory management
- Maintain a ‘fair’ playing field by enabling local businesses to offer COD (cash on delivery), whereas cross-border merchants don’t have this option
- Spend heavily on marketing for its high performing vendors
- Share insightful data with vendors on a weekly basis about top selling products across multiple categories, propose assortment and price forecasts
Lack of talent?
- “The company brought in expats who managed senior roles and groomed locals to move up,” says Damola. “This was necessary for our early growth.”
Lack of cashless adoption?
- Add convenience through JumiaPay allowing payment by debit card or bank accounts
- Offering cash on delivery
“We are able to cover the entire vendor journey,” comments Gaurav. “We offer services at every point the customer needs.”
So how are these band-aid solutions working out? At the knowledge sharing session, top performing Jumia vendors shared their experiences with me:
“If you dedicate yourself to Jumia in top product categories, mobile phones, there is no need for you to go offline. You can grow 70% [in sales] if you know what you’re doing.”
“Target the demands of the market and Jumia helps you focus. They will give you foresight.”
“We started with Jumia since 2013, we were selling a small number of products. During Black Friday, we sold 1,000 phones but for “Mobile Week” in March, we sold 15,000 Xiaomi phones, and broke the record for the Middle East.”
The company, while struggling with the perils of other companies prioritizing high growth over all else, is taking baby steps to expose its merchants to the world’s possibilities.
“We [Jumia] want to enable African customers to enjoy best products from the world at their doorstep,” shares Gaurav.
What can I say? The more the merrier.
Editorial comment: a quote was adjusted April 22 8:51am