Ivory Coast stallholders turn to digital marketplace
- 11 July 2014
- From the section Business
Ebay and Alibaba may be the world's biggest online marketplaces, but not in Africa.
Few have access to them or have even heard of them. Instead, Kaymu, whose website declares it the "number one marketplace in emerging countries", is rapidly cornering the market.
It is the brainchild of e-commerce group, Africa Internet Holding, backed by Rocket Internet, the incubator founded by the German Samwer brothers famous for making millions by cloning digital businesses.
Launched just two years ago Kaymu now has operations in 25 countries and 15 of them are in Africa.
While there are other e-commerce sites in Ivory Coast - such as Jumia, Africa's answer to Amazon, as well as Wasiri and Sigata - Kaymu is the first person-to-person marketplace open to individuals rather than just shops.
Its Ivory Coast operation launched at the start of this year, and many locals are beginning to cotton on to the potential benefits.
When I meet Fatoumata Guindo she is carefully unwrapping a package containing three ceramic cake moulds. She turns them over in her hands, inspecting them, and then moves on to a second package; more cake moulds in different shapes.
"This is the first time I've ordered anything online," she tells me. "I'm not too into the internet, you see."
Madame Guindo, in her 60s and the wife of the local imam, has just received her first order from Kaymu.
A little sceptical of buying anything at first, she now thinks e-commerce could be the future. "Yes, it's possible. This can happen," she says.
In Abidjan, Ivory Coast's economic capital, Kaymu's country manager Mehdi Ben Abroug takes me to Adjame, the country's biggest market.
From fruit and veg, to jewellery, to washing machines, the tightly packed stalls sell absolutely everything. The smells, colours and sounds are so intense, a few hours of browsing leaves you exhausted.
It is where Kaymu first began to recruit its "sellers".
"These guys in this market have very low margins because they are wholesalers," explains Mr Abroug.
"They go to Dubai, to China and bring back containers and they sell as wholesalers so the margin on the product is really low."
But on Kaymu, he says, they can sell directly to the customer and get a higher margin.
More than 200 market sellers in Adjame now have a presence on the e-commerce marketplace.
It works in the same way as eBay in that anyone can use the site to sell anything, so-called customer-to-customer.
Kaymu helps sellers post pictures of their products on the website, arranges collection and delivery of the goods, and takes 10-20% commission of every item sold.
Take-up of the new site has been faster in Ivory Coast than any other country on the continent.
Africa chief executive Elias Schulze explains that the country's "tradition of private sector vibrancy" and "strong mobile and internet backbone" has been a huge part of the company's success here.
He adds that "the emerging middle class who are largely tech-savvy and hungry for real price and product discovery" are ready to buy online.
Demba Barradji, 26, the manager of Barradji & Fils, a jewellery shop in Adjame, stands behind his counter as the Kaymu rep asks him to sign the forms for today's collection.
"I chose Kaymu for my business to grow," he says. "[Profits] have already increased by around 20-25%. It's a good business for Africa and for Ivory Coast - a business that has a future."
He pours the gold chains and glittery watches he bought in Thailand into the Kaymu pouches ready for delivery.
"To start with I didn't have much confidence in Kaymu because of cyber-criminality," he says. "But now there hasn't been any problems or scams. It's OK."
And would he close up shop and transfer everything online?
"Yes. Why not close my shop, as I will make more money," he says.
Up the road from Mr Barradji's shop, 27-year-old Abdul Affiz Jewar manages his family's cosmetics store, well-known in Adjame for its cheap beauty products.
He also joined Kaymu a few months ago but has not seen the same types of increase in profits. He puts this down to the fact that it is "cheaper for my customers to buy things in the shop".
Delivery costs of about $3 to $4 per item, make it hard for him to be competitive online.
"I can't imagine closing my shop and selling only online because I have lots of clients who I would lose," he concludes.
However, cyber crime is one of the major challenges facing e-commerce in Ivory Coast. The country has one of the worst reputations for cyber criminality on the continent, leaving many people wary of buying online.
"For the moment people are afraid," says Mr Barradji. "But in the long run, in the future… it could be better."
Cyber crime also poses problems for online payment, which is why everything is done cash-in-hand, for now at least.
The drivers call the customers in advance to arrange delivery and then collect payments when they deliver the goods.
But this will not be the case for long, insists Mr Abroug.
"We have huge expectations for mobile money," he says. Kaymu plans to pay vendors via mobile then expand this service to the customers buying online.
For now though, with no upfront payment, it is not unusual for delivery drivers to make wasted trips.
Often customers are not at home when they said they would be, don't have enough money, or have simply changed their minds.
Fewer than 50% of orders placed online end up in a payment.
So until better technology comes to the rescue, e-commerce in Ivory Coast can mean a day scooting around the city on the delivery bike in the tropical West African rains. All for nothing.