By Emmanuel Nwachukwu
As the federal government set to fully reopen the national economy and the subnational economies by respective state governments, the role of online marketplace and entrepreneurs in Nigeria’s economic resurgence post Coronavirus pandemic cannot be understated.
The Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP) recently commissioned by the Federal Government has happily given a further fillip to this view by listing MSMEs and e-commerce operators like Jumia among the real sectors expected to drive national economic recovery.
The NESP’s objectives include: to forestall the collapse of businesses, stem unemployment through job retention for working Nigerians and creation of new jobs, promote manufacturing and local production and use of Made-in-Nigeria goods and services, and conserve foreign exchange.
E-commerce and SMEs are pivotal to economic growth. They create jobs, drive innovation and serve as incubators for large corporations. In China, SMEs reportedly account for 60% of GDP and 80% of employment in cities.
Therefore, as Nigeria strategises post COVID-19 economic rebound, the crucial roles of SMEs and e-commerce and logistics operators like Jumia will come to the fore more prominently.
Underpinning these positive sentiments is the nexus between online marketplace adoption and its ability to foster a vibrant SMEs sector in Nigeria’s quest for an economic turnaround. SMEs growth and sustainability are pivotal to an economic resurgence in view of the new normal that coronavirus continues to foist on people, businesses and governments all over the world.
More importantly, due to other factors such as shifting consumer behaviour, COVID-19 induced continuous disruptions across boards, the need to create jobs and forestall job losses, and engendering a vibrant SMEs industry is non-negotiable for Nigeria.
Incidentally, leading e-commerce and logistics services providers like Jumia are well-positioned to offer the growth impetus required by SMEs to play the role of economic transformation.
With Jumia online marketplace and Jumia Logistics, sellers seeking to recover Coronavirus shock or expand their reach faster have the opportunity to do so by moving their operations online. Among the advantages they stand to get are increased market access and market share, competitiveness, uptake in profits and long-term sustainability that will lead to them being able to create jobs.
Another key fact about the crucial role of the online marketplace and a vibrant SMEs in the nation’s path towards economic recovery is that various studies on digital economy conducted in the wake of a pandemic outbreak, have identified e-commerce systems as the key lifesaver for people, businesses and government during the lockdowns.
The reports further acknowledged that Jumia and other online marketplace platforms significantly impacted business sustainability and compliance with social and physical distancing directives by bridging the end-to-end supply of essentials from sellers to buyers.
Through its innovative offerings including Jumia marketplace, Jumia Logistics including last-mile and ‘contactless delivery’ services, JumiaPay, Jumia Foods and strategic partnership with sellers, Jumia was the lifeline for tens of thousands of Nigerian MSMEs and even large corporations throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.
The studies also predict that online marketplace might become the lifesaver for all time post COVID-19 because we are not yet out of the wood, as the rising cases of second and even third waves of coronavirus infection in countries like China, which initially appeared to have pushed over the disease, are suggesting.
Furthermore, due to the sad reality that no cure has been found yet for coronavirus, it is expected that the government will encourage more SMEs to invest in vital sectors including agriculture to boost local cultivation of raw materials and processing of semi-finished materials, while online channels will enable online sale of the final products.
If COVID-19 infection continues to rise, many Nigerians will continue to take measures to stay free by maintaining social distance and avoiding crowded places like shopping malls, supermarkets, open markets and banks.
Jumia therefore will play the key role of getting more sellers to come to its online marketplace and other digital platforms thereby enabling people unfettered 24/7 access to essentials like groceries, pharmaceuticals and sanitary products and other non-essentials goods.
With full reopening of economic activities, e-commerce will remain a key trend among workers in the service sectors. Many employers still adopt cautious responses to full reopening such as rotational work-from-home rosters for their employees.
Offices that have resumed normal office cycle embargo eat-out for their staff for fear of workplace transmission of coronavirus. Meeting the food needs of such employees is an important role that e-commerce like Jumia and SMEs will continue to play as Nigeria walks the economic recovery path.
Through its network of partnerships with third party sellers in the restaurant and kitchen segments and FMCGs, Jumia demonstrates the resilience of e-commerce and logistics to respond to a humanitarian crisis by ensuring people and frontline health workers received prompt delivery of food and palliatives.
A noteworthy example was its overcoming the hurdles in inter-state movement of agricultural produce from the hinterland to the cities due to lack of understanding of e-commerce as an essential service by security agents, who were enforcing cross-border movement restriction, during the last lockdown.
The impact of this tenacity was that many smallholder farmers were kept active throughout the period of lockdown. With the new farming season at peak, Jumia’s role in empowering agripreneurs to move their produce, especially groceries will be a major activity in the overall national economic recovery agenda. This will also ensure food shortage already being experienced by Nigerians is mitigated.
By promising convenience, improved living standard and cost-efficiency for sellers and buyers, it is certain that Jumia’s support to more SMEs in Nigeria will increase their capacity to thrive, become more competitive online, and play the role of an economic driver for both domestic growth and international trade.
With China, U.S.and South Africa as good examples to reference on the positive impact of e-commerce on SMEs, it’s an understatement to say that online marketplace and small businesses can help bring much-needed economic and social stability to Nigeria.
Emmanuel Nwachukwu, a Business and Communications Strategist writes from Lagos