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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

eBay and the Developing World

I just got through a discussion in a seminar at eBay Live called “Global Artisans on eBay: Impacting the World’s Poor” led by Robert Chatwani from eBay. I say discussion, because I talked a little about Africa and the difficulties for the artisans there getting their products listed on eBay. eBay can leverage their size and create high-profile relationships/partnerships to really make something happen.

KijijieBay seems to have a real interest in getting involved in developing countries. One of the initiatives that came out last year, more in answer to Craigslist than anything else, was Kijiji. They also are trying to source ideas from those in the community for ways that they can make change happen. That’s good news.

Education
One of the other gentlemen mentioned a good idea. How about leveraging organizations like the Peace Corps to use as education. Use them to teach people how to get their items on eBay, how to fulfill orders, how to price items, etc… It’s a good idea. Finding the right partner might be difficult though.

Another thought, could eBay institute a Fair Trade mark? Some way for buyers on eBay knowing that the money is actually going back to the artisan, not just the middle man with a large mark up.

My Idea: Accessibility
eBay Africa?People can get online fairly cheaply in Africa, and in a lot of places now, yet it’s still expensive to the individual relative to the amount of money they actually make. So, even if you get people educated, how do they get their items listed and how do they monitor and fulfill on that item when you have to be online so much?

Would it make sense for eBay to sponsor free kiosks in rural areas of Africa to let them list and monitor items for themselves? Sure, they still will have some fees to pay, but it’s now much more accessible. To make it work there would need to be individuals stationed with these kiosks that would handle the listing for people who aren’t really computer literate, or maybe literate at all.

So, winding up. Leverage partnerships to educate. Leverage relationships to get PR. Use eBay’s size to sponsor kiosks and police the environment on eBay. Am I talking about a “drop off shop” for Africa? Maybe. It would take some more thinking, but if eBay supports it, it could definitely get off the ground.

15 Comments

  1. It would be great to be able to use Ebay from Kenya. I have spoken with many, especially curio craftsmen, that could benefit from selling on Ebay. The kiosk idea is good, and could be developed in a number of ways. Actually I might look into this for some friends, and see if it could help their work.

  2. Erik,
    Excellent idea. As Johnny says above, the curio craftware guys will derive a lot of benefit with this global tool so the market could soar if the kiosk idea became a reality. I am certain that E-Bay could stump up some free support provided sufficient interest was there as well as enough pressure is exerted!

  3. I don’t think it’s a matter of getting things online and/or a market for goods from Africa, but rather findind proper and reliable ways of shipping sold items from A to B from/to/within the African continent.

    And you don’t have to reach as far as Africa: some years ago, the CEO of Amazon Germany was none other than the same guy who previously worked for DHL/Deutsche Post. Now go figure what kind of cheap shippment rates he managed to secure for Amazon. Dito with Ebay – I think they should come up with an interesting logistics solution for the continent instead of just providing the market plattform. This, I think, would be harder to realize than the installation of Ebay kiosks (though the idea is cool).

    I can well imagine this thing in your head where it goes “Ebay+mobile phones networks+zangu.com= coooool” :-))

  4. JKE, you’re right on. Fulfllment on orders is a huge hurdle, especially with international shipping. However, I do believe that since the buyer would be paying that portion, not the seller in Africa, that it could be overcome. I’m also pretty sure that if Kenya could master the shipping of horticultural items in a timely way, that shipping of eBay merchandise could be streamlined as well.

    Again, there would be a need for eBay, along with their shipping partners, to make that possible by leveraging their size and governmental relationships.

  5. Nice idea, but I want to look at this from another dimension. Since eBay now owns PayPal, wouldn’t it be nice that PayPal is usable in some more African countries?

    I know there are hurdles to be crossed, but as they say, “There is no problem without a solution”. They should find ways to make PayPal accessible in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania etc.

    Merchants need it!

  6. Actually Oluniyi, I talked to one of the VP’s of PayPal at the conference as well. I mentioned that there are some great opportunities in Africa due to the fact that computers are expensive, but that most people have mobile phones. It seems that PayPal Mobile would be a perfect application for Africa.

    What I’ve found is that eBay is very comfortable in the US, and the developed world, but has a hard time getting their minds around what is useful, effective, and profitable in the developing world. So, while I think it would be great for them to support use in more African countries, I have my doubts as to when that will be implemented.

  7. I think it is a well thought of suggestions from all contributors here especially from the initiator of the Blog. Africa is ready for E-bay trading platform and the sooner they use the power they have to expand into African countries the better it would be for them.

    Google is coming on fast with their auction and I am sure they would be interested in the huge potential trading partnership of Africa. I am a keen E-bay user and would give up my time and expertise to serve Africa if E-bay want to leverage the opportunities there is in Africa.

    The logistics of delivery within the African countries can be resolved with a few financial investments from interested business owners of African origin who are prepared to invest in E-bay because of it’s successes in USA and Europe.

    Should E-bay require further information or interested in doing more research into “removing obstacles of E-bay trading in Africa” to contact me for more information on info@healthandwealthevents.com

  8. In South Africa we have quite a few online auction services,none hugely successful, here is what eBay needs to do to work here.

    1) Make it easier to send and recieve money, we cant even use PayPal properly!

    2) Become a household name over and above established services.

    3) Establish trust in the collective unconsious, most people here are still scared to trade online.

    4) Provide escrow services.

    5) Maybe look at having kiosk facilities for the unconnected (still a big issue)

    6) As Hash has mentioned, go mobile.

  9. Good points Conrad. PayPal really needs to think international if they hope to become a big player.

    Trust is absolutely huge for eBay, even here in the US. They were able to build trust in using their feedback system initially, but still have issues with people taking advantage of the system. That’s bound to happen in an open market where you’re just providing the platform, not the goods.

    Overall, eBay needs to localize their strategies depending on the market. Some things work great in the US, but not in Korea. Likewise, the answer for Africa might be a great deal different than anything they’ve done in the past.

  10. I am a recent user of eBay and whilst I have got the hang of it now it wasn’t as easy to set up, from a sellers POV as I would have hoped. I’m an Engineering grad with IT knowledge so that wasn’t my stumbling block! I think its very easy to sell things on eBay but I think you have to have a reasonable appreciation of running a business to actually make money from it. Its very easy to forget to account for the various PayPal and EBay fees when selling and end up with very little margin!! Thankfully being an accountant I managed to work outa strategy for selling items that appears to work. However, I think even with my limited bandwidth of 256kbps in the UK I struggle with uploading photographs quickly. I would suggest that to make eBay work in Africa you’d have to make it quicker and easier to upload items for sale or find better ways of saving WIP so that people don’t lose their sales work part way through due to powercuts. I also believe like a number of the other posters that the shipping issue and security of financial payments are not there in many of the West African countries (don’t know about rest of Africa) to enable this to fly there yet. It is a massive shame as they desperately need it. Lets hope one of us finds the solution and gets it to work asap.

  11. I used to work for ebay as an engineer. i know a few kenyans that worked there, including the guy that gave the name and built kijiji.com.
    The ebay platform has all this functions built in their system for all countries in the world i.e currency conversion, payment methods, shipping etc. All that has to happen, is for them to identify a working model and boom they’ll turn on the feature..
    A good example is India’s alibaba, they had a good model working, high volume, ebay liked it, bought it, integrated them quite easily.

    eBay not being a technology co like google oy yahoo but an MBA haven, will not take the effort to build africa into it’s model till they’re convinced business will be good, rather worth the hassle..

    i’d suggest putting your efforts in building a home grown functionality that make sense for Africa, locally and abroad.. if you can have a farmer sell their stock by the click of their cell phone , whoopy you got som goin on..

  12. I have been ebay trading for 6 months selling instruments , masks, art etc. The main stumbling block would be a method of payment as Paypal does not affiliate to any West african banks as far as i know. If someone comes up with a workable solution to allow Artisans to accept payment here in an african bank account , the potential for international trade on ebay is collosal. I am also involved in a rural internet project and would love to hear from anyone who can offer any information on a solution!

  13. I have read all the points above and think that the shipping issue can be dealt with quite easily, as can the connectivity. It is the payment issue that will hold things back.

    I am trying to set up an online auction site for Kenya. There are already Worldwide shippers that can be used, the internet speed, cost, and availibilty will improve this year when the fibre-optics land in Mombasa (although nothing happens quickly).

    Payment is the big problem. The vast majority of Kenyans are unbanked. Even if a bank account is available the payment options are limited. Sending money is not easy even as most banks only provide ‘point of sale’ debit cards. It is difficult, but possible, to SEND money via online payment systems, it is impossible to receive. The only option for digitised payment here in Kenya is Safaricom Mpesa (and other more recently introduced systems by rival networks), but users are unwilling to send money to a stranger for goods they have not seen. For fee payments I have established Mpesa payments to a ‘corporate’ version called Pay Bill. It is an offline payment method that requires admin to manually edit accounts. It is still Mpesa but recognisably ‘authentic’ by merit of the lack of dialling code. There is talk of Safaricom allowing payments from the Kenyan diaspora via mobile phone, which would be useful. I am aware of some work being done to integrate Mpesa with OS Commerce to accept payments live. It is not straight-forward.

    Ebay could do a lot of good for Africa, beginning by allowing send/receive Paypal accounts. They will not do so until not only are there profits to be had, but the profits are big enough to make it worth there while. I’m afraid I am a little cynical about them making the effort and continue to believe that an independent, African solution is the best bet. I am not sure whether my url will display so I am ending with a plug

    Kenya Online Auction

  14. I forgot to tick notify me…

  15. Maybe the best way to go about it is to start by having localized shops for the locals in those countries to trade among themselves. Find people with who can earn the right to run those shop by demostrating their ability to do that with the needed capital and the local landscape knowledge (politacal, geography, financial systems and the like).

    Ebay should build platforms that can help them do that and then if a local or an international is interested in an item outside their local shop they then can follow those trust based layed down procedures.

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