Online shopping: Is it worth the hype? 

Tuesday July 27 2021
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By Timothy Kalyegira

In recent months, there has been some speculation that eCommerce or online shopping might have started showing signs of entering the mainstream in Uganda.

Brands such as Jumia Uganda, Jiji Uganda and America’s Amazon appearing among or near the top 10 most visited websites or downloaded applications (or apps) in Uganda partly explain this new thinking.

Some, however, are not so sure. Their view being that appearances are deceptive. Searches online or visits to websites, they argue, might show a degree of interest in online shopping, but it could also be for other reasons such as comparing prices.

And, they add, visits to online stores don’t always translate into actual purchases.

So, which is the truth?

To investigate the status of eCommerce in Uganda, we would have to start with the data patterns online since they give us an overview of the degree of public interest.

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Most visited websites

Let’s begin with traditional websites.

In the one-month tracking data, June 12 to July 12, 2021, the following were the most visited websites in Uganda:

1. Google

2. YouTube

3. Zoom

4. Wikipedia

5. Netflix

6. Daily Monitor

7. Uganda Revenue Authority

8. Yahoo.com

9. Jumia

10. Amazon

The online shopping site Jiji Uganda ranked at No. 11.

Top applications

Next, we investigate the applications for smartphone and computer tablets.

Apple’s App Store had the following ranking of downloaded apps for July 10, 2021:

1. TikTok

2.  YouTube

3. Facebook

4.  SnapChat

5.  Instagram

6.  Zoom

7.  Facebook Messenger

8.  Telegram Messenger

9.  Gmail

10.  Google Chrome

Most downloaded apps

As of July 14, 2021, the following were the top 10 most downloaded apps in Uganda in the Google Play Store:

1.  Clean Master Ultra

2.  Zoom

3.  UC credit

4.  Facebook Lite

5.  TikTok Lite

6.  StarTimes ON

7.  Memory cleaner

8.  TikTok

9.  Jiji Uganda

10.  WhatsApp

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Mobile devices

As of June 2021, the share in Uganda of mobile devices (smartphones), tablets) and desktop computers (laptops and desktops) was:

Mobile – 60.03%

Desktop – 38.55%

Tablet – 1.42%

Top smartphone brands

Of the smartphone brands, these were the rankings in June 2021 by market share:

1.  Tecno – 27.47%

2.  Unknown – 22.52%

3.  Samsung – 16.16%

4.  Huawei – 8.66%

5.  iPhone – 7.79%

6.  Infinix – 6.99%

7.  Itel – 4.37%

Smartphones are the clear majority of devices by which people in Uganda access the Internet and the overwhelming majority of smartphones in Uganda use the Android operating system.

Therefore, data from Android-based smartphones gives a more accurate picture of Internet activity in Uganda than any other measure.

Only Jiji of the best-known eCommerce services in Uganda appears among the top 10 apps in Google’s Play Store.

In Apple’s App Store, not one online shopping app appears among the top 10 most-downloaded apps.

Most-visited websites

Even among the top 10, most-visited websites, only Jumia and Apple appear among the top 10, both at nine and 10, with Jiji at No. 11.

The most important measure, however, is not the ranking but the level of interest.

Most interest and intent around the world over the last 15 years in Uganda tends to start with a Google search.

The volumes of keyword searches on Google will give us an accurate idea of how much online shopping occupies Ugandans’ minds.

Over the past 12 months from mid-July 2020 to mid-July 2021, out of a maximum possible 100 per cent, this was the activity in search in Uganda:

1.  Facebook – 72%

2.  Google – 51%

3. YouTube – 37%

4. WhatsApp – 29%

5. Daily Monitor – 22%

6.  Jumia – 11%

7. Instagram – 9%

8.  Uganda Revenue Authority – 6%

9. Netflix – 6%

10. Google Play Store – 5%

The American video-streaming service Netflix appears among the 10 most-searched for terms on Google, not so much because thousands of Ugandans subscribe to it but because it is one of the best places today to find about movie or television drama series premieres.

Finally, according to a report published by the data company Statista on July 9, 2021, it is estimated that eCommerce’s share of total global retail sales worldwide in 2024 will be 21.8 per cent.

Given the rapid adoption of the Internet and smartphones around the world over the past decade and the many more new Internet users yet to appear over the next three years, 21.8 per cent is a surprisingly low share.

If less than a quarter of global retail in 2024 will be eCommerce, the current figure in 2021 is still much lower.

The figure in a country such as Uganda with its low Internet penetration, negligible use of credit cards, and generally low disposable incomes is much lower.

According to Statista, the average global online shopper conversion rate – the ratio of visits to websites or opening of apps to actual purchases – is 2.17 per cent.

According to Statista, the average of actual purchases is about Shs12,500.

The huge global online shopping companies such as Amazon, eBay and China’s Taobao make their money from hundreds of millions of shoppers making small individual purchases.

Without large numbers of online shoppers, eCommerce is a challenge in small countries like Uganda.

One good way of establishing the actual online shopping transactions in Uganda would be to ask Jumia Uganda and Jiji Uganda for their sales data, although they are unlikely to disclose it.

In summary, then, it is important not to overstate the growing penetration of online shopping in Uganda.

Uganda lags behind the Western world by about 18 years.

For example, DVDs began outselling the 1980s VHS cassette tapes in the United States in 2003.

The online streaming of movies overtook DVD sales in the West in 2016.

In Uganda, though, pirated films on DVDs still do brisk business in Kampala and are the way most of the public view films at home or in wooden film halls.

Given the less than 25 per cent share in retail of eCommerce globally by 2024, we must estimate another 25 years at the earliest for online shopping to become anything like a significant force in Uganda’s economy. The significantly low share of online shopping not only in Uganda but worldwide underscores the still-crucial role of the traditional supermarket and neighbourhood shop in commerce.

When the business community in Uganda laments the heavy losses they are incurring from the Covid-19 lockdowns, that outcry is real.


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