Spotlight on Sub-Saharan Africa: The last billion connections—SSA’s ecommerce potential
Consumers quickly shifted to digital channels – and remained there
A survey by Visa in June 2020 found 59 to 81 percent of consumers in South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya had tried online shopping for the first time for groceries, pharmaceuticals, or food delivery services.6 Most consumers surveyed in these three countries were satisfied by their first online shopping experience and said they would continue shopping online even after the pandemic.
“Interestingly, consumer spending on digital channels in SSA remained elevated even once governments lifted restrictions and people started to venture out and move around more,” said Mohamed Bardastani, Director at Visa Business and Economis Insights, CEMEA. The average share of ecommerce spending as a percentage of total consumer spending in the post-lockdown period was 1.8 times the average share in the pre-lockdown period in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This suggests that consumer habits may have changed permanently by shifting spending to digital channels versus offline channels.
“We also found consumers in Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya have increased their usage of contactless cards, mobile payments, and digital wallets as substitutes for cash, because these payment methods were considered safer and more hygienic,” explains Bardastani.
For the last decade, ecommerce has experienced phenomenal growth rates around the world and isn’t expected to stop any time soon. In fact, ecommerce sales are projected to grow to $7 trillion across the globe by 2024.1 In this article, we explore Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), one of the globe’s smallest ecommerce regions, but one with high growth potential.
Africa has been undergoing a major digital transformation in recent years as more consumers connect to the internet and subscribe to mobile services for the first time. The percentage of the population with internet access in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021 was 43 percent while the percentage of unique mobile subscribers in 2021 was 46 percent.2
However, despite rising technological adoption rates, Africa still lags behind the global average of internet (60 percent) and unique mobile subscribers (67 percent) as of the end of 2021.3
The pandemic only accelerated this trend by highlighting the importance of social and economic connectivity amidst restrictions on mobility and movement in the last year. As a result of lockdowns, millions of people in Africa have had to depend on digital platforms for shopping, work, entertainment, education, and healthcare.
African ecommerce growth in 2020 compared favorably to the increase in online retail sales as a share of total sales in more economically advanced regions, and it was higher than many other emerging markets. Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, and Mauritius led these gains, followed by Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
E-commerce sales by retailers advanced across Africa, as the pandemic led to reduced in person sales: (Q4 2020 vs Q4 2019 change in the card not present (CNP) retail trade as a share of total sales)*
* Sources: Visa Business and Economic Insights analysis of VisaNet