Africa’s rural e-commerce opportunity: Jumia’s experience in Côte d’Ivoire

A new report by online retailer Jumia suggests a significant market opportunity for e-commerce in Africa’s rural areas.

In Côte d’Ivoire, Jumia has effectively extended its reach beyond Abidjan, the nation’s commercial hub, into rural and more remote areas to cater to populations significantly underserved by retail. Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer, has 47.5% of its population living in rural areas and 45% of the labour force engaged in agriculture, according to 2021 World Bank data. This makes outlying locations in the country a meaningful part of the addressable market.

To mitigate delivery costs in upcountry areas, Jumia has set up an expansive network of over 180 pick-up stations, spread across more than 100 towns and villages. These stations are predominantly operated by Jumia’s third-party logistics partners.

In an effort to attract rural consumers, Jumia has developed a network of over 17,000 independent sales consultants. These consultants are paid to educate consumers about Jumia and to place orders on its e-commerce platform on behalf of family members, friends, and neighbours. For every order placed, they earn a commission.

The shopping process for Jumia’s rural consumers is as follows:

  • The customer identifies the item they desire with the assistance of a sales agent.
  • The agent places the order on the customer’s behalf using their Jumia account.
  • Customer services then contacts the customer to confirm the order.
  • The customer receives a notification about the location and date for picking up the item.
  • The customer has a seven-day window to return the item if it fails to meet their expectations.

According to Jumia, the most popular purchases among rural consumers are home appliances, constituting 16% of sales, followed by phones at 11%, men’s clothing at 10%, men’s shoes at 9%, and TVs, audio, and video products at 8%. The average age of rural shoppers on Jumia’s platform is 34.

Jumia states that despite the spread of modern retail outlets to rural locations, product diversity remains limited in these areas.

Another e-commerce player that has successfully tapped into the rural customer market is Copia, which operates as a virtual supermarket that targets lower to middle-income consumers in Kenya. The company uses a network of over 50,000 third-party agents; small business owners who act as points of contact for the company. Customers visit these local businesses, view a physical Copia product catalogue, and place their orders. The business owners act as the liaison between Copia and the customers, providing product information, taking orders, and managing pick-ups. They earn a commission on each sale. This model aims to increase product accessibility for rural consumers by leveraging existing local businesses as distribution points. Read more: An e-commerce model tailored for low- and middle-income consumers in Kenya