Africa: Home to the ultimate consumer experience of the future

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Whether shopping while stuck in traffic, at home, at work, or somewhere in between, Africans will be redefining the consumer experience of the future.

Excerpted from THE NEXT AFRICA: An Emerging Continent Becomes A Global Powerhouse by Jake Bright and Aubrey Hruby. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books

We believe that the consumer experience of the future in developed markets will be more like the one unfolding in contemporary Africa – one that is less segregated, more communal, and offers immediate and personalised shopping options.

Africans are fast gaining a vast range of consumer options, in terms both of products to buy and of places in which to buy them – from the street vendor, in open markets, at the supermarket, from the hybrid grocery truck, or delivered directly after purchase from an online platform. The introduction of food trucks within the last five years in several American cities reflects the emergence of hybrid options — the ones that Africans already know and embrace.

African countries will likely have drone delivery before it is available in the United States or Europe. While lawyers try to sort out the legal framework for commercial drones using municipal airspace over US cities, African companies will push ahead. The incentive, given the infrastructure challenges even in medium-size and megacities, is far greater. Large-scale drone testing and pilot programmes have yet to occur, but are scheduled in the coming year. Kilimall, an online start-up, is in negotiations with regulators on same-day mini-drone delivery in Kenya, and Jonathan Ledgard, an author and former Africa-based journalist turned drone enthusiast, is working to set up the world’s first commercial cargo drone route, which will run through Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda by 2016.

Ledgard explains in his writing how the future technology will fit into the African development picture: “[C]argo drones are a supplementary transport system… They are pointless for last mile delivery of the kind envisaged by Amazon Prime Air… They are about the middle – a medium-sized vehicle shifting medium-sized loads medium distances between middle-sized communities. A donkey in the sky does not do away with a donkey on the ground, any more than it negates the value of a motorbike or a bicycle. But they can improve health and emergency services, connect markets, and grow industry in Africa at a critical moment in its history.” The drones of the future will serve the growing African middle class.

While drone delivery may still be in the pilot phase, the combined effect of proliferating supermarkets, specialty retail, and e-commerce is already dramatically changing the consumer landscape in Africa. Gone will be the days of the text message or Facebook shout-out from African friends – Anyone coming from D.C. to Addis next week? Would be great if you could bring my sister a new iPad. Will pay you back. Gone will be the mountains of luggage being checked in by African families finishing their shopping visits to the United States and Europe. Gone will be the rudimentary package-consolidation service companies and the suitcase traders. Just as they leapfrogged telecom infrastructure, Africans may skip ownership and move directly into the shared economy of Uber, Airbnb, and Spotify. From the rich to the poor, they will have access to a blended-customer experience – able to buy things when they want them, from wherever they are. Whether shopping while stuck in traffic, at home, at work, or somewhere in between, Africans will be redefining the consumer experience of the future.