Nigeria’s online retailers – Sep 20th 2014
Fear of the virus boosts e-commerce in Africa’s most-populous nation
WHAT if Ebola spread beyond the smaller west African states, where the outbreak is concentrated, and took hold in Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous country? International epidemiologists tremble at the thought. Ordinary Nigerians worry, too—so much so that the country has seen a boom in online shopping, as some people avoid going out into crowded markets and shopping malls.
Access to the internet and e-services is growing fast in Nigeria, a country of 173m people, more than 10m in Lagos alone. Online retailers must contend with poor roads, especially in rural areas, and suspicion of online payments (they accept cash on delivery). Ebola is giving an unexpected push to nascent e-commerce, after the country suffered its first case in July, when Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian civil servant, died in Lagos. At least six others have perished since.
Jumia, the biggest e-commerce site, says orders have tripled since the outbreak. It has seen a big increase in demand for sanitation products—such as hand-wash, bleach and other cleaning agents—which have supplanted mobile phones as the bestselling products. Other online retailers, among them Konga and Kaymu, also report a large increase in sales of cleaning supplies.
E-commerce firms say they have a big contribution to make to preventing the spread of Ebola, not only by stocking and delivering hygiene products but also by promoting health-and-safety standards among staff and educating customers. “E-commerce allows business to be done to a large scale by a limited number of people who can be held to a controlled regime, to limit the spread of communicable diseases,” says Sim Shagaya, chief executive of Konga.
Nigerian websites have also sprung up to help educate the public, such as www.ebolafacts.com, which registered over 2m visits in its first month. It warns readers against unproven remedies such as relying on prayer, drinking salt water and eating bitter kola, a folk remedy for colds and an aphrodisiac. Seyi Taylor, of Big Cabal Media, which launched the site in July, says that the internet can spread information faster than diseases like Ebola can be transmitted.