Africa’s Mobile Consumer – big data, analytics, and trends

As mobile phone penetration improves in Africa, its mobile economy is expected to reach new heights. At this year’s Africa Tech Summit in Kigali experts on “Africa’s Mobile Consumer – big data, analytics, and trends” panel discussed the future of consumers that will shape this digital revolution.

An Overview

Africa’s mobile economy is experiencing rapid growth. According to GSMA’s “Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa ”, by the end of 2018, there was an increase in over 20million mobile subscribers. By 2025, the total Sub-Saharan mobile subscriber base will reach a whopping 600million. Compounding on this increase in mobile subscribers will be improved 4G connections, to a rate of 23% more by the year 2025.

As Africa’s mobile economy becomes more robust, so will its consumer base. In a study conducted by Geopoll on e-commerce and Africa’s youth, “58% of Nigerian respondents indicated making an online purchase in the past month”, with diverse purchasing profiles ranging from “alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic beverages, home décor, hygiene, and automotive parts”. 

In East Africa, Kenya and Uganda reported a smaller, yet a significant number of online shoppers. Uganda displayed the lowest overall rate of online shoppers, with around 57% of respondents reporting that they had never shopped online before. 

Across all six surveyed countries (Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda), the most popular commodity purchased was electrics, with Kenyans making around 64% percent of their purchases in the electronics category.  Clothing was a close second with Tanzania and Ghana reporting the most purchases. 


How Businesses Are Leveraging the Mobile Consumer

If you’re going to crash a party at least be decent,” said Mbali Ndandani, Africa Digital Lead from Unilever. 

What Ndandani was hinting at was a need for businesses involved in the mobile economy to offer benefits to their consumers. In Africa’s mobile economy, where consumers can be price sensitive, this is an especially important lesson. 

Facebook, on of the African continents most popular social media platforms (recording 139 million users in 2018), has been able to attract users in-part due to its capacity to facilitate and curate connections, but also because of “free basics” plans offered to mobile users in around 21 African countries. 

In a similar move, Unilever began offering loans to small businesses for products purchased under Unilever’s distributors in Kenya. In exchange, the company was able to gather information on shop owners’ purchasing history. In this case, Unilever benefited from an increased motivation for store owners to purchase their products and a massive collection of big data. 

The future of lending decisions is going to be based on data, so we have to move away from the old model of knowing your customer…sometimes we don’t know them but the data show that they can be trusted. It’s the ability to analyze the data that we are collecting and linking to the customer’s behavior which is the reason for our success.”  Joshua Oigara, KCB’s chief executive, told Financial Times about the move.

Mobile Money to Fuel the Mobile Economy 

Mobile money is a core factor in the proliferation of Africa’s mobile economy. According to GSMA “mobile money, in particular, has become a key enabler of e-commerce, by facilitating online payments amid low bank card penetration and the risks associated with cash-on-delivery”. 

Safaricom’s MPESA is an often referenced example of how mobile money has revolutionized Kenya’s mobile economy. In Kenya, MPESA is used almost ubiquitously among consumers and businesses. In order to utilize the service, users are required to have an active Safaricom account. Though Safaricom’s data and plans tend to be more expensive than their competitors, mobile users will still maintain Safaricom accounts at the minimum rate required to maintain the account in order to use MPESA services. 

The money transfer service is also used by small business owners with large followings on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook to pay for products. Sellers advertise products through personal networks and receive payment for products via MPESA. 

In addition to adding ease of use to financial transactions, Safaricom’s MPESA is also able to garner vital data on the Kenyan economy and Kenyan consumers. The company has been able to leverage its access to data so much so that it now offers loans on demand to consumers based on their financial transactions and balance, a process that was formerly timely and difficult. 

Trends for the Future of Africa’s Mobile Economy

As Africa’s digital economy takes off it is important to be forward-looking regarding the trends that will come to govern the space. 

Mall for Africa and Link Commerce founder Chris Folyan says that “ease and speed” will be an emergent trend for the future. While Africa’s mobile space used to be typified by basic use phones, an influx of cheap feature phones from companies like Huawei and Transsion have made better models more financially accessible. In the years to come, feature phones will become more prevalent in Africa’s mobile space. Those participating in the mobile economy will need to be ready and armed with attractive and fast “mobile-friendly” sites to accommodate changing consumer expectations.

Panelists also indicated a need for the future of Africa’s mobile economy to “solve real-world problems”. BRCK a mobile platform that provides connectivity to the unconnected by offering reliable, free internet in exchange for users watching ads and agent hosting. Africa is home to some of the highest data costs in the world, providing free and reduced access to internet breaks down a significant barrier to connectivity for millions in Kenya, BRCK’s home base.

Last, panelist Irene Warui indicated that as the mobile economy in Africa progresses, user/brand loyalty will lower significantly. In a world where users have increased access to similar products across multiple platforms, it will be important for those in the mobile economy to provide an “extra something” to encourage buyer/user retention. 

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