Posts Tagged ‘distribution’

Market forces transforming the African retail landscape

Cosmetics giant L’Oreal’s partnership with pan African e-commerce platform Jumia signals a big shift in the way consumer packaged goods companies  address the challenge of reaching the emerging African consumer classes in a cost effective manner. A combination of market forces and on the ground realities points to this solution as a sweetspot for optimal outcomes.

Business challenge for cosmetics

On their website, they acknowledge the complexity of informal distribution networks as a major barrier to cost efficient and optimal reach.

loreal

Source: L’Oreal website

At the same time, they recognize that their largest markets are served by the very same fragmented and informal retail networks that pose such a challenge to their distribution and sales.

Connectivity and Communication

Smartphone penetration is growing exponentially across the African continent, as is the phenomenon of online retail. When you consider the trends, its not difficult to make the informed assumption that the customer segment representing this early majority is urban, affluent and informed. They are also likely to be the most relevant segment for international cosmetic brands.

Getting in on the ground floor

Given these factors, it makes sense for L’Oreal to leapfrog the entire distribution chain, with its diversity and informality, and make straight for their customer’s doorstep.

As e-commerce businesses grow and develop, they are changing the landscape of the retail and distribution environment, offering brands a way to quickly and easily (as well as cheaply) test the waters with their product range before investing in more extensive sales and distribution channels.

These early partnerships are a signal of the way the ambitions of the globally connected African consumers aren’t going to be held back by the limitations of their environment.

Quality of service at the last mile will make or break African e-commerce startups

Photo: Techpoint.ng

Photo Credit: Techpoint.ng

With new e-commerce startups sprouting up everyday, competitive advantage in the urban African context will boil down to their quality of delivery and logistics managment. Given the lack of infrastructure such as home addresses, post codes with embedded information, or  as is the case in India – the last mile of delivery in the form of the village postman – the responsibility for ensuring customer satisfaction lies squarely on the shoulders of the online businesses themselves.

Online stores in more developed operating environments can focus on the aesthetics of their web presence, the design of an order form, or building a loyal community of users. Their business models emphasize the way they will distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace and build brand awareness to gain a critical mass of customers.

But for the slew of  startups in emerging markets such as Nigeria’s or in the Cote d’Ivoire, it will be their distribution strategy and logistics management in the last mile that will differentiate the winners from the losers. Does the business plan have a viable solution for addressing this challenge?

New players are emerging who see this distribution need as an opportunity space, one such is ACE in Nigeria, whose last mile solution has been documented in detail by Techpoint.ng today. Others eyeing this lucrative space include the global courier behemoth DHL, whose forecasts are rubbing their hands with glee. Big or small, their ability to serve their customers’ needs will have impact on the entire value chain, both online and in the real world.

A matter of strategy: In house delivery or third party support?

With so much dependent on the quality of the customer experience at the moment of fulfilment – timely delivery, ease of payment, courteous service, receiving the correct order, etc – the decision to invest in building in house operations, like the well-funded Kongas and Jumias, or to outsource to third parties becomes a critical component of corporate strategy.

  • Which approach will allow you the opportunity to offer the best customer experience for your brand’s needs?
  • What happens when the still nascent market matures enough for potential conflict of interest with competing brands being delivered by the same service?
  • How important is your branding in the real world as compared to the virtual experience?

These are all the questions and more besides that startups will need to ask themselves, before their potential investors ask it of them. Word of mouth travels as fast the smartphones that are fuelling the internet boom and no amount of PR will help with ensuring quality of service that will make customers return for more.

Navigating the African Informal Retail Sector

Nigeria’s consumer market has captured global attention. A significant proportion of this emerging market opportunity is in the FMCG category. Due to historical reasons, 87% of this retail trade happens in the “unorganized” or “informal sector”.  The market is highly fragmented and inefficient.

Yet due to the nature of the informal economy, most of this economic activity has been overlooked or not captured by conventional market analysis and research.

CPG companies wishing to enter this market need a map of the landscape in order to navigate the opportunity successfully or to design the most appropriate and relevant business model for their needs.

Situation Analysis

Nigeria’s informal retail trade can be segmented into three major categories – Tier 1 (approx 5%), Tier 2 (approx 30~35%) and Tier 3 (approx 60~65%) of which Tier 1 is the most formalized with some amount of business processes in place.

The real challenge in addressing the market commercially is the unorganized nature of the bulk of the trade – Tier 3 – who tend to be market women buying and selling goods in open air markets and street corners without any business infrastructure. There is no feedback loop in place for manufacturers and distributors who have little idea on how to plan and estimate their product pipeline.

Yet, the methods and tools available in the formal economy with its information, communication and financial services infrastructure cannot be directly implemented either due to the informal, flexible, unstructured nature of the sector.

There is a gap in knowledge and in understanding of the business practices in the cash based informal economy. In order to bridge this gap, we need to begin by understanding the informal retail business from the ground up. Then we need to figure out how to use smartphone technology to map retail locations and keep a finger on the pulse of consumer demand and product sales flow.

Framework required for optimizing informal retail market research for CPG distribution

  1. Landscape of informal retail in FMCG
    1. Market survey of FMCG  retail distribution space – trends in etail, ecommerce, business models, distribution models, startups and apps.
    2. Insights on demand creation, market development, consumer behaviour – loyalty, relationships, purchasing patterns, choice of location.
  2. Identifying touchpoints for intervention – with and without technology – to improve efficiency of system with respect to: Data gathering, inventory management and forecasting
    1. Identifying attributes by which to segment and cluster retailers – Volume and/or Frequency, location, density, product categories, profitability

The basis of the optimal solution for maximizing distribution of consumer products across the vast, undocumented and fragmented informal retail sector, such as in Nigeria, would be using Pareto’s Law to cluster and identify the retail outlets to be reached for a particular product category’s target audience and thus, crafting the most cost efficient reach strategy.

Using technology to optimize data collection

ITC in India has already implemented the use of GPS in a tablet based inventory management solution which sales officers use in the remotest areas to send real time data on inventory, demand and sales back to the company headquarters using ubiquitous mobile connectivity in the remotest rural area.

NeilsonMobileRetailACM2015With the right list of outlets and channel clusters, manufacturers are better able to offer the right product format and size to meet the particular needs of the consumers who visit those particular outlets.

Crucial details such as store location, type of store, trading days, opening hours, access to power and water, the presence of a storeroom, categories stocked, and a long, long list of other characteristics should be captured during the survey. Simply knowing which stores have refrigeration can transform the business of a Guinness distributor in Nigeria, for example.

Clustering retail outlets by volume of sales as one of the attributes.

neilsonParetoretailACM2015

neilson6retailACM2015

What’s missing?

While reasons for visiting different retail formats were documented what’s missing is the frequency of visits. Also required is a chart capturing purchasing patterns seen most commonly among the majority (the prepaid or kadogo economy) who manage on irregular incomes in informal markets where over 90% of all transactions are conducted in cash money.

Those need to be mapped against buyer behaviour for a true picture of the rhythms of the bazaar, without which the CPG firms will not have a finger on the pulse of the market, just reams of numbers without a contextual framework and foundation. One element, for instance, would be seasonality, the “high season” and “low” which are commonly seen in cash dependent markets.

Also, flexibility in this context does not simply mean variety in packaging and SKU sizes or branding the product container. Flexibility refers to the flow of cash – the time and money – that allows for the management of volatility between outgoing expenses and incoming cash flow. In the retailer’s context, this would be the interplay of credit and cash, inventory and demand and of course, “fast moving goods”.

Lets see how this research initiative proceeds to understand and grapple with that critical characteristic of the operating environment and retail ecosystem that distinguish the African consumer market.

Download the Neilsen Africa Retail Labyrinth report as a PDF. Contact me if you’re curious to know more about the original thinking behind the situation analysis and research plan.

The need for human agency: Is the middleman always a monster?

Mobile phone charging receipt, Kenya  Photo credit: Niti Bhan

The unfair demonisation of the middleman is apparent in this recent article on solar power products for the low income market in Africa. “Putting African ‘power pimps’ out of business” is the headline and the rest of the text goes downhill from there:

It’s hard to imagine the concept of a “power pimp” in Africa unless you have lived there. But it makes sense and cents on a continent that lacks a unified power system. There is basically no electric power in most rural places unless you are enterprising enough to own a battery and generator of some sort –– making you the “pimp” by letting other people charge their cell phones at crazy inflated prices.

It’s a problem that humanitarians worldwide seek to address, but an Israeli solution would do this using a cell phone. The idea of Nova Lumos is to buy solar power by phone on a needs basis, putting the middleman (that pimp) out of business.

Nobody would stay in business for very long in their local communities if they were truly the “power pimps” this company has gleefully labelled them. The day 20 Kenyan shillings, about 25 cents – the standard rate for mobile charging up and down the country – is considered price gouging, rather than a standardized regional service, is one to wake up and question the gross assumptions underlying this sweeping generalization. It is no different from the top down blanket perception of the entire informal sector as “a bad thing” and the demonisation of micro entrepreneurs providing much needed services that fill the vacuum left by inadequate systems.

Its time we took a closer look at the role of the middleman, better termed as the intermediary between an unmet need in the market and the provision of a convenient and affordable service. Agency banking is one such example where enough research has been done to demonstrate the beneficial value of the middleman, not to mention the socent favourite MPesa, which would be crippled without the value addition of their nationwide agent network.

This ignorance of the realities on the ground and perception of the hyper local social networks in the rural economies of the developing world only too easily explain the consistent failures that the social enterprise industry has demonstrated to date with their attempts to enter these emerging markets.

Here is another snippet from the same article describing the product and service in terms that clearly demonstrate that absolutely no competitive analysis or market research has been conducted. A simple online search would show companies like MKopa and Econet wireless way ahead of the game, having completed pilots and launched in their respective markets.

Davidi Vortman, general manager of the company, tells ISRAEL21c that the idea is to sell small mobile solar systems to individuals –– for charging cell phones, lights or small appliances –– paid for in affordable increments using a cell phone.

“The system is small enough for one person to carry and simple enough for a person to put on the roof. Just connect it without any technician; and use a cell phone to operate it through a mobile phone with a simple SMS,” Vortman

Paying in increments by phone could eliminate this barrier. The challenging part will be securing the systems and penetrating the market before other companies jump on the bandwagon. Nova Lumos was founded in 2012 and is now carrying out pilot projects to test the system using several hundred units in Nigeria and Guinea.

What concerns me about these hyperbolic claims and sweeping generalizations is that they inevitably lead to spectacular failures on the part of this sort of enterprise yet the negative impact is primarily borne by the local populace. Not quite the kind of social impact we’re seeking …

Hub and spoke model for new product introductions



Nairobi’s Central Business District – Luthuli Avenue is the heart of the electronics and consumer appliance trade for Kenya. Chinese businessmen can be seen mingling with Somali traders and wholesalers come from all over the country to see “what’s new”. I saw recently introduced solar powered refrigerators (just 60W) on display, direct from China but was not permitted to photograph.

New Product Introductions in Informal Markets


“What’s new?” I asked Peter who runs this mari mari shop in a makeshift market just yards from Nairobi’s famous Kibera, and he proudly showed off the various features of this television set cum DVD player that can run on a small battery if need be. Yours for just $100. Don’t miss the bright pink amplifier on display or the rest of the ‘shiny shiny’ that Peter brings from the wholesalers in the Central Business District.

China made goods flood the informal markets across rural Africa while mainstream media turns itself inside out wondering how they’re doing it, so easily, so cheaply and so well, even as global brands and well meaning social enterprises struggle to get their life changing products to market.

For a sure signal of the emerging global ‘middle class’ and their aspirations, just take a careful look at what entrepreneurs like Peter are stocking for sale. Unsold inventory is a luxury he cannot afford and will work to minimize risk when it comes to new products and innovation. The Chinese manufacturers know this so they offer good on commission to the wholesale shops, leaving stock on display and returning to visit weekly to collect cash and check up on what’s moving fast and what isn’t of interest to customers like Peter.

Warranties? Return policy? Customer service? That’s the tradeoff the informal economy makes in return for affordable luxuries.