How to affordably start an e-Commerce business in Africa!

How to affordably start an e-Commerce business in Africa!

I’ve always been an advocate for digital transformation, mainly because I’m a minimalist who believes in easier ways of doing life. That being said, I strongly believe in e-commerce as an avid online shopper myself. Unfortunately, it needed a pandemic for more entrepreneurs to start considering digital transformation. I always take any opportunity to educate and inform anyone willing to ask on how to initiate an e-commerce business.

So, in a series of 3 blog posts, I’ll put out information to help budding African entrepreneurs kickstart their online ventures with the most minimal of resources. I believe that the majority of the budget of any business should not be spent on the technology, but rather customer development and marketing (a blog for another day). Technology is just a facilitator!

Why e-Commerce?

Personally, I get pretty tired of watching small business owners struggle with overheads like rent and salaries. Online businesses remove a lot of oversight and hustle that comes with a conventional business. For instance, rent costs, salaries, storage costs, transportation/commute costs to one’s store. For context, with an online store, your technology is technically your storefront, and your monthly ‘subscriptions’ or ‘server costs’ are ideally your rent. And that’s way cheaper than starting any physical shop in any high traffic downtown area, or buying bulk stock and inventory (with some online models you don’t need to own the stock or even have a store). Furthermore, online businesses allow for additional business models that allow flexibility and increased income. For example, online advertisements, anonymized data research and affiliate marketing.

 The Smart Phone Revolution

Incidentally, smartphone consumption within the middle class in Africa has grown almost exponentially, with 3 in 5 holding a smartphone. Not forgetting the number of Africans actively on multiple social media platforms. Consequently, that means that information is more readily available and convenience is catching on as the average corporate man no longer has time to go downtown or to the market as frequently (and would rather Netflix and chill). My next blog will actually explore the different potentially lucrative ideas that different daring entrepreneurs can attempt to build (sadly we have a copycat mentality in Africa upon the success of an idea, but that will change soon)


I don’t aim to sell dreams, but rather opportunities to grow a business organically whilst making a profit. Its why I highlight the gravity of the 3Cs care, consistency and communication when moving into any business. I believe in starting business and understanding all factors that’s why I mentioned that the ‘potential loss’ one can incur in an online business is far less than that of starting a physical shop and gambling. The cheapest online business might require $1000 average to start, yet some of us hold phones worth that amount or go for holidays and spend more! So, if you pick the right niche, and put the smart work in, you’ll be unbeatable!!! Focusing on ‘needs’ not ‘wants’, or focusing on a particular demographic goes a long way. Its why I’m an advocate for smart digital marketing, traffic sensitivity and advise many people on email marketing pros!

While online retail is a booming business, I’ve seen some ecommerce businesses struggle to get traction. So, I put together this blog to ensure you have a smooth start in your ecommerce journey. Kindly use the information here to help open up your mind, get your finances in order, market and sell your product, and to consider getting your store started.

Researching and Choosing a Model

In all honesty, growing any online business is an intentional effort and investment. Treat it as such. So, before you decide on what to sell online, you need to understand the different business models and niches available. For instance, if you’re looking to turn a profit without touching your product or investing heavily at the start, then dropshipping is a smart choice. However, the dropshipping in African hasn’t matured enough. Otherwise, if you like the idea of having your own warehouse full of your catalogue, then you’re investing more upfront and working with a wholesaling or warehousing model. This model can also work from your living room or garage. Then there are subscriptions, where you carefully organise a set of products or a single product to be delivered at regular intervals to your customers.

Focus is key

In this case, I suggest it is important to focus on a niche. You can’t all over the place unless you have an endless pit of venture capital money. In all fairness, it hurts me when budding entrepreneurs email me their eCommerce site, and it’s filled with hundreds of products, dozens of categories, with no real focus. This model, unfortunately, works for big hitters like Amazon and alibaba.comAlibaba, so unless you have a massive budget, I’d suggest you focus!!! Having a niche increases your chances of profitability. However, don’t go picking an overly crowded niche and try skipping anything dominated by major brands. My next blog will give you guys a couple of ideas of untouched niches. Remember, the more specific you are, the less competition you are likely to face. Additionally, focus on a niche that has potential to do well in social media too!

Identity, Personas and Product Selection

Next step. Ask yourself this imperative question, ‘what is my identity?’. This will inform so many aspects of your value proposition and allow you to thrive in online spaces longer. So, who are you? What does the store represent? Who are your ideal customers? For all intents and purposes, you need to project a consistent brand image (a journey that starts with your brand name, identity and logo). Are you an organic facial product company? Do you hope to sell digital or physical products?

For brand identity, the name of your site and the legal name of your business don’t necessarily need to be identical, but keeping them consistent has its benefits. Especially if you already had a presence on social media in some capacity. Though it’s important to be thoughtful, don’t pick a brand name at the last minute. Furthermore, pick a worthy domain, not too long though. Fear not great extensions already exist besides the conventional .com, for instance, .shop, .car, .store etc. Don’t forget, a good logo also goes a long way, and multiple engines offer decent logo generators such as Adobe Spark and Canva. Though I suggest you invest a small amount in getting a unique logo that mirrors your identity comprehensively.

Online Marketing and Traffic

If you have no interest in discovering some basics of digital marketing, then maybe this isn’t the gig for you. The best eCommerce sites invest heavily in online and digital marketing. However, you don’t need to invest a lot, just smartly.  If you’re mindful of leveraging social media and keywords, then you’ll be just fine. You’ll need to consider and think about driving traffic to your site. Getting visitors to subscribe to marketing newsletters, or to listen to your podcasts. The idea is getting visitors and prospects ready for conversion, sooner or later.

Email Marketing

However, don’t get so caught up in digital marketing. Your mission is to sell products, not drive traffic. So smart use of Facebook Ads and mail engines like MailChimp once a week can do the trick for you. Incidentally, to sell products, you have to think beyond your site and look for expansion areas. No matter what and how you decide to sell, the first step is to create an email list. Regardless of your beliefs, email marketing is still essential for driving conversions long term. So, it’s possible to complement any mail campaign with giveaways, coupons, thank you emails, and upsells to turn visitors into shoppers. Additionally, you can smartly place an opt-in freebie on your website, launch a social media campaign to gain subscribers or host a giveaway where the entry ‘fee’ is your customer’s email address. Remember the long game is to get emails which can be actionable later.

Who doesn’t love the occasional incentive?

Furthermore, freebies, discounts and giveaways have the added benefit of increasing your brand presence and product visibility. Having Black Friday sells or Monday Madness discounts can play in your favour in the long run. However, email marketing is where the meat is, it’s all about improving your sales funnel as building an email list gives you a group of warm leads to work with later, making the sales process much easier and faster. Call it lead nurturing! Unfortunately, all that ties back to content! Providing consumers with coupons and content via email helps to keep your brand on their mind, boost sales, and establish credibility. And credibility works in your favour long term. So, keep your emails interesting and catchy. You could leverage your customers’ input often, including reviews. Remember, no sales interaction is about the first sale; focus on the next one always.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization(SEO) can seem scary and tricky for most. However, fear not! SEO typically entails with appearing on major search engines, or on Google’s 1st page. Honestly, it’s a long game and can seem like a tall order. It could take you over a year to appear as number one on Google for specific keywords. Not forgetting the large content requisites and consistency required. Though to ease things, it’s beyond Google and aspects such as local SEO can have brilliant effects for your marketing strategy.

Back to your e-commerce shop, well as you get into this sphere, do carefully note that four  key elements are required to improve the SEO for your e-commerce store:

  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • ALT tags
  • A page’s body content

Meta titles and Meta descriptions

Since search engines like Google and Bing ‘crawl’ websites in microseconds to give users the best information possible, then clearly how content is formatted does matter. So, to get your products found in the search engines, it’s important to optimize meta titles and meta descriptions to include main keywords for each page. Don’t be fooled though, don’t try manipulation tactics such as duplicate content. Duplicate content could result in penalties from Google. On a positive note, to avoid penalizing small business owners who might have the same product descriptions on different pages, auto-generated canonical tags are typically added to the pages of various content management systems such as Payever, Magento, Yclas and Shopify.

Site Analytics

After all that effort, how do you measure your return on investment? How do you know you’re making progress? How do you assess how and where traffic flows? Are your product pages targeted to your persona? Are you losing would-be customers in the same place? Well, analytics help assess so many elements of your website. For instance, if you’re driving traffic to your store but nothing is selling, how do you fix the leaks in your sales funnel by carefully optimizing each page and taking a close look at your product listings. Multiple tools exist for this purpose, to help you monitor and optimize every step of the sales process. For instance, installation of a Facebook Pixel, a piece of code that helps you record valuable data that you can use to better target your ads and reach customers who’ve already shown interest in your products.

How do I get started?

With all that’s said above, how do you start in the most affordable fashion? I believe technology exists to help businesses turn a profit and streamline their business processes. So, my philosophy is, start the cheapest way possible and expand later as you learn lessons from customers too. So, when dealing with my clients I focus on helping them find the best way to adopt technology and learn from it as they strive for profitability in the long run. I believe that approach will allow for profitability in the long run and sustainability.

You can start your online shop with less than $600!!!

That said, I typically strive to help clients start online shops with less than $600, so they can focus on selling and streamlining their business models. There is a myth that digital transformation is super expensive, however, to debunk the myth, its not true. You don’t have to build from scratch and several content management systems do exist to allow you to thrive. Multiple options are versatile and feature-rich platform whilst offering e-commerce businesses a full suite of services to build and run a successful online store. Furthermore, majority of them employ a subscription model starting from $25 per month. Which is way cheaper than the rent you’d need to pay for a brick and motor store. Additionally, platforms such as Exchange, allow individuals to purchase already existing shopping stores in different niches from under $100  to over $10,000, depending on profitability and other factors. (Actually, visiting Exchange can give you ideas of what products sell, and what to try out in your country, though my next blog should help trigger your mind)

So, if you’re up to take this journey into the e-commerce domain, I’d be glad to help and hold your hand through the rough terrain. Do hit me up on +256-773-04-97-90 or [email protected] for any inquires.










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