The digitisation of the global economy has fundamentally changed how we do business. While multinational enterprises are innovating their worldwide operations, small businesses are faced with a unique set of challenges — as well as a wealth of opportunities — when it comes to adopting digital platforms and business models.
As industries are being digitised, optimising business processes is becoming critical to realising efficiencies and creating competitive advantages as consumer behaviour shifts towards digitally enabled platforms. It can be more difficult for small businesses to plan for sudden changes caused by global market trends, industry disruptions, and tech innovations. However, they do hold some key advantages over larger enterprises, including prompt decision making, organisational flexibility, and small initial investments.
Despite limitations in financial resources and economies of scale, small businesses in Africa can innovate and stay ahead when it comes to digital trends.
Benefits of taking small businesses online
Technology can improve growth and productivity for small businesses, as well as customer experience. Incorporating features like online ordering, making appointments, and live chat can make interactions quick, easy, and convenient. And customers are more loyal to the companies that make things easier for them.
Having a website with these functionalities will often require changes in business processes, such as co-ordinating online and physical inventories for retail purposes. This will prove to be more profitable and sustainable in the long term to meet growing digital demands.
Since the global pandemic, consumers want safer ways to do their shopping. Thus, the adoption of digital payments has been on the rise. In the US, digital options are increasingly influencing where and how consumers shop — especially when it comes to touchless payments and ecommerce stores that offer great customer experiences. This holds true for Africa too, and new forms of alternative credit options like “buy now, pay later” are also increasing sales and customer loyalty.
Kenyan point of sale financing platforms, such as Overhere and Aspira, make payments more efficient, inexpensive, and accessible to customers than ever before. M-Pesa, one of the world's most successful mobile money transfer services, has boosted Kenya’s economic development. Estimates showing that 48 per cent of Kenya’s GDP was processed via M-Pesa in 2019.
Small businesses can use digital tech to do more than just communicate with and serve their online customers: They can also find other businesses and create partnerships through business-to-business e-commerce. Diversification of suppliers can help businesses source better as well as mitigate out-of-stock risks during periods of high demand like the festive season.
Digital skills will become more important
From customer data platforms and chatbots to Facebook for Business and Google Ads, innovative digital platforms and services are now available that small businesses can use to grow. With new tools being introduced at a rapid pace, there is a need for businesses to educate their employees. Some basic digital skills every employee should have include device setup; the effective use of digital communication, social media, and collaboration platforms; cybersecurity; information searching and organisation; backups or cloud data storage; and using online HR and learning resources.
Staff members can collaborate easily, get more done in less time, and use fewer resources. Digital familiarity also creates a more innovative environment. Providing regular opportunities for staff to learn and develop their technical skills is essential for creating and improving talent.
Connectivity and its role in an increasingly digital business environment
As the digital economy grows, so does the need for fast, reliable, and affordable connectivity for companies and customers. According to the World Bank in the Foresight Africa report, giving Africans universal and affordable Internet coverage could increase GDP by two per cent per year. The report also states that fast Internet increases the probability of employment by between 6.9 per cent and 13.2 per cent as it improves productivity, boosts exports, and increases the number of companies that enter the economy. This should put digital infrastructure on the very top of our government’s list of priorities.
By embracing new digital platforms, supporting digital education, and building better digital infrastructure, we can uplift Africa to a world-class economy.
Francis Wainaina is the Senior Product Manager, SEACOM East Africa