Social commerce sites forge new e-commerce path in Africa

Several pioneering social commerce sites are making inroads in Africa, in the process paving the way for other entrants in developing markets on the continent.

Social commerce sites use social media tools and buyer recommendations to give buyers and sellers alike more confidence in e-commerce.

One company on the vanguard of the trend in Africa is MoboFree, an online listing site using the social commerce approach in Nigeria and Uganda. The site acts as a social network but also helps users to list products for sale.

The site has 4 million registered users, with 2 million being active across Africa. The site says it has recorded big gains in the number of registered users in both Nigeria and Uganda in the last 12 months.

The key to growth has been a focus on users, more than products, said MoboFree CEO Cristobal Alonso.

"We focused on developing a platform which solves major pains of African customers and eliminates online trading risks, makes buying and selling very social and in the same time much more safe, convenient and even fun," Alonso said.

For security, an operations team keeps an eye out for scam posts, but is "also [monitored] by almost 4 million members who are sharing experiences, reporting violations and are making MoboFree one of the safest places to trade," Alonso said.

He added that buyers and sellers can check each other's profiles, common friends, photos and other information before going to a physical meeting with cash. "No more risky 'blind dates,' " he said.

MoboFree is not the only company that is leveraging the social commerce concept in the continent. YuuZoo, a social commerce platform, partnered with United Arab Emirates based telecom service provider Etisalat to launch services in Nigeria last year.

Nigerian e-commerce generates US$500 million in sales per year, more online revenue than any other country in Africa. YuuZoo hopes to capture the 20 million subscribers on Etisalat's network and expand the use base for social commerce. Etisalat will help host the platform in Nigeria, and also use it to market their own services. 

Etisalat Nigeria CEO Matthew Willsher was optimistic on the new approach to e-commerce that YuuZoo is bringing to Africa.

YuuZoo combines social networking, e-commerce and gaming in a mobile-optimized and localized site, adding "a hugely attractive dimension to what we can offer the more than 170 million consumers in Africa's largest market," according to a comment in email sent by YuuZoo corporate communications and attributed to Willsher. YuuZoo is expected to create new opportunities for Etisalat that the traditional social media model does not offer, according to the email.

The growth of mobile and Internet access, coupled with mobile money payment services that are popular in Africa, are also likely to help fuel the increase of social commerce on the continent.

Vince Matinde

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