In 2020, e-commerce experienced unprecedented growth. Global e-commerce traffic hit  22 billion visits in June. For many retailers and manufacturers, e-commerce has become a primary method of conducting business. However, Africa trails the rest of the world in e-commerce. Lack of widespread broadband access, cybercrime, underdeveloped postal systems and other  challenges confront businesses trying to sell online. Widespread cybercrime Cybersecurity remains a primary concern for e-commerce in Africa. In 2017, cybercrime cost Africa an estimated 0.20 percent of its annual GDP, according to a report published by the World Trade Organization. Nigeria and Ghana experience some of the highest rates of cybercrime in the world. According to a recent article by Deloitte, Nigeria saw a 20 percent increase in phishing scams in 2020 compared to 2019. An increase in use of digital platforms spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to blame. Since these countries see some of the highest rates of cybercrime in the world, West African consumers generally avoid sharing their personal information over the internet and distrust online shopping. Moreover, many African countries do not have legislation in place to protect consumers from online fraud, which further exacerbates consumer hesitancy toward e-commerce. Underdeveloped postal services Historically, street addresses in Africa were established in populous city centers, and few if any address networks were extended to outlying areas or rural areas. Since the creation of the West African Postal Conference in 2012, the region has moved toward a more integrated postal system across developing countries. However, postal services are slow to incorporate the use of information and communications technology (ICT) into their daily operations, which slows down the efficiency of this process and others. Africa’s land mass is larger than China, Europe, and the United States combined. Africa is home to more than one billion residents, yet the efficiency and reach of its postal systems fall drastically behind those of the rest of the world. Africa had nearly 3,300 outsourced postal offices and 8,300 owner-operated post offices in 2018. In comparison, the Asia-Pacific region had nearly 100,000 outsourced offices and 227,000 owner-operated ones in the same year. Because of underdeveloped postal services, e-commerce can be especially challenging in West Africa. Tracking the flow of goods and reverse logistics is difficult, and some remote areas remain without street addresses. Lacking ICT infrastructure In general, West Africa has severe gaps in ICT infrastructure. The majority of Africa’s developing countries experience barriers in internet usage, such as bandwidth constraints, unreliable connections and frequent power cuts. Building ICT infrastructure is costly and requires skilled workers, and several West African countries are among the poorest in the world. On top of that, the cost of internet access is much higher in West Africa than in other regions. The lack of ICT knowledge and ICT infrastructure results in a digital divide that affects e-commerce. Africa’s digital divide stifles the rise of online communities—a necessary factor for full participation in the second wave of e-commerce.

Solutions to mitigate logistics problems in West Africa

Despite the many challenges in the logistics, retail, and manufacturing sectors, Africa’s future is promising. The establishment of the Economic Community of West African States has led government leaders to take a unified approach to policy changes. These changes are expected to facilitate the harmonization of West African countries and in turn lead to economic growth. In the meantime, SMEs are finding innovative ways to mitigate logistics problems. To reap the most benefits from its untapped markets, many logistics companies have begun to open the gates to mobile commerce (m-commerce) and adopt alternative forms of transport. Regardless of the approach, logistics companies must be flexible and dynamic to foster sustainable growth and optimize their supply chains. The boom in m-commerce Although e-commerce is in its early stages in West Africa, m-commerce is on the rise. Many local SMEs have penetrated new markets with this form of transacting. M-commerce has been widely adapted in West African countries for two reasons: first, the growing youth population has been quick to adapt this technology; and second, mobile data costs less than the costs associated with internet infrastructure and usage. In fact, m-commerce may be the key for retailing and identifying consumer demands. According to the 2019 Mobile Economy West Africa report, 70 percent of total telecommunications connections will be via smartphone by 2025, up from 38 percent in 2018. The report also finds that the mobile industry will contribute an estimated $68 billion to GDP in 2023, which is nearly 10 percent of the total estimated GDP. SMEs should invest in mobile formats for marketing their products and cultivating new customers. Furthermore, the use of GPS and tracing technologies may help curb the challenges associated with the postal systems in West African countries. Alternative forms of transport Despite West Africa’s fragmented road networks, African SMEs are outfitting their own supply chains with non-traditional forms of transportation. Many local businesses have invested in motorcycles, referred to locally as boda bodas, to deliver goods domestically. Motorcycles are better suited to handle different terrain and navigate traffic jams than delivery trucks. The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted the use of drones to deliver vaccines to remote areas of West Africa. Applying this technology to the supply chain can benefit SMEs greatly. With drone technology, SMEs can avoid exorbitant fees for shipping freight by air while increasing flexibility in order fulfillment. Drones may even play a role in sourcing materials for production in the future.