E-commerce is increasingly hailed as a field of investment with great potential, and a China-Africa e-commerce platform has been serving customers on the continent for over four years. Kilimall, born in Nairobi, Kenya in 2014, now has over 5 million users. With an initial emphasis on electronics, Kilimall now offers a wide range of product categories including household appliances, apparels and beauty. The name, Kilimall, comes from Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, enunciating the founder’s ambition for it to become the top e-commerce platform on the continent.
Reception at Kilimall’s headquarter. The background is made by 54 blocks of wood. Source: rednet.cn
The founder of Kilimall is Yang Tao, a Chinese native from the inner province of Hunan, who got the idea of opening an e-commerce platform from his first-hand experience of consumption in Africa. In a recent interview, Yang Tao recalled:
“In Africa, there were two shopping choices: supermarkets and local markets frequented by residents. However, we usually could not find what we needed in local markets, and prices in supermarkets were extremely high – three to ten times of retail prices in China.” A projector screen costs 270 RMB in China, whereas his colleague in Uganda bought one second-hand for over 3000 RMB. Not only were the prices exorbitant, but choices were also limited. Yang Tao mentioned that he once went into a supermarket in Lagos, Nigeria to buy umbrellas but found only one choice.
With a lack of offline shopping options in Africa, Yang Tao thought of e-commerce as the perfect solution for providing different product choices with affordable prices. “In the traditional ways of trading in Africa, there are many middlemen in the supply chain, and margins increase each time the product switches hands. This makes the price in Kenya almost three times more expensive than in developed economies. I think that technology and internet can change this and reduce the costs.” Yang Tao explains, “The more remote and the more economically disadvantaged an area is, the more advantageous e-commerce becomes, because it can bypass the construction of traditional supermarkets and warehouses.” Africa also has a young population and therefore a large internet user base. The median age in Africa is around 18 years, compared to 37 in China and 28 in India. The continent also counts 400 million internet users, ranked second in the world just behind China, motivating e-commerce great promise for growth.
However, even with encouraging prospects, an e-commerce platform in Africa has to start from scratch.
After overcoming great difficulties in finding suppliers, developing payment systems and building logistics networks, Kilimall now has its own eco-system comprised of the Kilimall transaction system, the Lipapay payment system and the Kiliexpress logistics system. Its business is also supported by connections to Chinese and local suppliers, local warehouses, a mature customer service, as well as marketing networks on social media. Kilimall now has over 1000 service stations in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria that enable delivery by motorcycles and cars to reach remote areas without supermarkets, and its cross-border delivery covers the whole African continent.
Kilimall’s website front page
Yang Tao’s ultimate vision is to improve the living quality of people by rendering high-quality, diverse products available at affordable price. He still remembers the satisfaction of one of his first customers, an old lady, who resolved to buy a four-piece suit despite her limited income. It is experiences like this that made him even more dedicated to his idea. Now on the Kilimall site, users can find non-stick frying pans at 450 Kenyan shilling each (around $4.43), blenders at Ksh 1,935 (around $19.05), electronic toothbrushes at Ksh 299 (around $2.94) and much more. “Near 10 million products are listed on Kilimall, and among them, 80%-90% cannot be found elsewhere in Africa. We also offer a price level that is 30% lower than other shopping platforms,” Yang Tao claims.
In 2016, Kilimall launched a new service that enables Kenyans to buy products from various markets across the world on the internet. The Kilimall Global Shopping service takes orders from shoppers for best-in-class products, sources them from pre-qualified merchants globally and then delivers directly to customers in Kenya.
The customer-base of Kilimall has become so substantial that visitors from abroad can easily notice that Kilimall’s mobile phone application is widely used by local people. Their plan is to spread across the African continent by the end of 2022, first steps being with entries into six new countries including South Africa, Ghana and Tanzania in the near future. Yang Tao says his ultimate dream is to see an Africa where people have access to over 10 million products through the Kilimall mobile app regardless of whether they are in the grassland of Maasai Mara, or by the shore of the Lake Victoria, or under the starred sky in Namibia.
Ruoyu Chen, NYU Business and Political Economy
China-Africa Stories Contributor
Written from sources:
https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/1flcRRpflw58D_eaes3EDgWechat public account of 观潮的螃蟹