Micro-retailers that adopted digital solutions have been more resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Fourth Micro-Retail Stakeholder Forum, hosted virtually by international nonprofit TechnoServe on December 9, representatives from across the private sector and civil society highlighted the importance of new technology and cooperation to help shopkeepers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and recover from the crisis.
“Many micro-retailers depended on customers coming to their shops, but after COVID-19, they were forced to look into new ways to engage with their customers as these buyers were no longer streaming in. Micro-retailers that used digital solutions to reach out to their customers were able to maintain them during this crisis,” said Alice Waweru, the entrepreneurship portfolio lead at TechnoServe.
These insights echo the results of a survey carried out by TechnoServe between May and August of this year, which found that micro-retailers who adopted digital strategies recorded a 52 per cent increase in sales, enabling them weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
The forum emerged from the Smart Duka initiative, a program that seeks to support micro-retailers and improve shops’ financial returns and growth. Since 2015, TechnoServe has worked with over 10,000 shops located in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire to improve their business management skills and provide links to finance and markets.
In the keynote address, Sitoyo Lopokoiyit, chief financial services officer for Safaricom, remarked, “With regard to COVID, we’ve had quite profound changes in how merchants as well as businesses have migrated to digital,” and described how the M-PESA platform has supported virtual payments and financial services during the pandemic.
“We know that digital technology has a profound impact on the way individuals and businesses access finance…And of course, we see that digital technology is moving the needle on that ever-present challenge around the formalization of small businesses,” added panelist Rudo Mutambiranwa, regional head of corporate social responsibility for Moody’s.
Many of the panelists added that cooperation was essential for ensuring that the adoption of digital tools benefits micro-retailers. “Digital is a vital component, but it’s not a silver bullet at all. It needs an ecosystem and partnership,” said Adrian Ackeret, CFO at the elea Foundation for Ethics in Globalization.
“We wanted to work with organizations that were already on the ground and had the ability to mobilize quickly…and that’s how we came into contact with TechnoServe,” said Daniel Hailu, the Mastercard Foundation’s regional head for Eastern and Southern Africa, about the organization’s response to COVID-19. “What we’ve seen over the last two or three months are indications that yes, there’s a real demand and need for the solution that we’re offering through TechnoServe.”
Several of the panelists noted that partnership is particularly important for helping women and young people, who are disproportionately impacted by the crisis. “It’s a demographic that is vulnerable and doesn’t have the resilience to survey the crisis,” said Hailu. “In the programming that we’re partnering with TechnoServe on, over 60% of the beneficiaries are women, and that’s really important to us,” said Mutambiranwa.
In its survey, TechnoServe found that 93 percent of micro-retailers were optimistic about the recovery, and the assembled stakeholders shared that perspective. “We will come out of COVID, we are quite sure of that. We will continue to make capital available to our clients and partners. We think the way forward is through smart partnerships,” said Martin Mugambi, CEO of Citibank Kenya.
Other speakers included Wayne Hennessy-Barrett, CEO of 4G Capital; Angela Nzioki, CEO, Sokowatch Kenya; Anuj Tanna, the MD, Shujaaz Inc; and Karen Adie, director of merchant Services, Trade Depot Nigeria, who discussed various strategies that micro-retailers in Africa can employ to ensure their businesses remain sustainable during the pandemic, with a focus on digital training, access to finance, access to markets, and policy gaps in enhancing digital inclusion.