Zambian E-Commerce Sees a Steady Growth Despite the Pandemic

E-commerce firms in Zambia have been on a steady rise despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With several of them switching to digital means to conduct business; the pandemic or poor internet connectivity in several regions never became a hindrance for them. AfriDelivery, a food delivery service with big dreams of becoming a business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce platform, recorded 100% growth in annual terms in 2020.

Afshon Wallace, the company’s founder, and CEO said it grew on two fronts – in business partners and customers – during the pandemic.

“We managed to keep delivering, from shops, restaurants, supermarkets, and pharmacies while also finding more businesses to partner with. It’s been a powerful period for us, even though the growth was related to the pandemic.” 

Afshon Wallace, AfriDelivery founder and CEO

Another company, Voyagers Zambia – a travel agency and part of a group that offers travel, safari, insurance brokerage, and car rental services – developed an online platform to distribute travel products efficiently, in the face of the collapsing travel industry. The company’s director, Grant Gatchell, said tourism relief measures were limited for travel agencies, forcing the group to pivot towards car rental and transport including new products and services.

“In a way the pandemic made us reassess our offering and expand it.”

Grant Gatchell, Voyagers Zambia’s Director

Despite the opportunities, the pandemic also brought many challenges and unforeseen costs for e-commerce firms. Operational costs also increased due to measures taken to protect staff.

For Afri-Delivery, exchange rate fluctuations exacerbated the situation by driving up the price of imported motorbikes, the primary delivery vehicle in Zambia, Mr. Wallace said.

These entrepreneurs however said that they receive limited government support and lack appropriate forums to exchange meaningfully with policymakers, as confirmed by a recent UNCTAD survey on COVID-19 and e-commerce.

“The pandemic has compelled businesses to accelerate digital transformation processes and reinvent their business models. However, stronger government action and close public-private cooperation are needed to improve Zambia’s e-commerce readiness.”

Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology, and logistics director

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