Despite the increase in the number of online businesses in Zimbabwe eCommerce is not really growing. This is according to the latest United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Business to Customer (B2C) Ecommerce Index. As for 2020, Zimbabwe scored 30.05 which placed us at number 118 out of 152 countries. (Interestingly, Africa, as a whole, scored 30). The preceding year we were placed at number 116 so we dropped 2 spots down. In this article, I will look at interesting insights from the report and why eCommerce is not popping as it should in Zimbabwe. First off, a look at what the index really explores.

The UNCTAD B2C E-commerce Index

In short, the index measures and assesses the extent of how equipped and ready a country is in facilitating online shopping. The index value is arrived at by looking at 4 core areas that constitute the online shopping ecosystem. These are:

  • Share of individuals using the internet
  • Share of individuals with an account
  • Secure internet servers
  • Universal Postal Union (UPU) reliability

Reasons For The Drop To 118th Position

Whilst it is good to note that Zimbabwe scored considerably well on the share of individuals with an account (55), we scored poorly on the other 3 areas. Let us take a look:

Share of individuals using the internet (31)

Secure internet servers (36)

Universal Postal Union (UPU) reliability (0)

Evidently, the share of individuals using the internet not only dropped but it disturbingly low. We cannot really score big for as long as the number of people using the internet is low. Anyways, I will discuss this later on in the article, for now, let us look at some interesting global insights from the index for 2020.

Some Global Insights Worth Noting

Africa, as a continent, scored 30 whereas Developed Economies scored 86. That is a huge gap and compromises any progress towards inclusive eCommerce benefits for all. South Africa was at number 73 (compared to Zimbabwe at 118) – again that is a huge gap between us. I had to mention that given that SA is our top trading partner. It was just 11 African nations that got into the top 100.

In case you are wondering, the country that clinched the top spot globally is Switzerland. Here is how Switzerland scored:

Share of individuals using the internet (97)

Share of individuals with an account (98)

Secure internet servers (92)

Universal Postal Union (UPU) reliability (97)

2020 Index Value – 95.9

It is also worth noting that the top 10 globally are comprised of 8 European countries. China took position 12 whereas the US took position 55. It is quite interesting given how Alibaba and Amazon, the most notable global eCommerce platforms are from these countries respectively.

What Can We Learn From Switzerland?

Given how it clinched the top spot we can draw some lessons from it. Clearly, they scored remarkably high on all 4 core areas. Internet penetration of 97 per cent is no joke – this means that 97 per cent of the population uses the internet. In terms of banking coverage, Switzerland is ranked number 11 in the world. This is concerning the density of bank branches.  Also note that of those aged at least 15 years, 98 per cent of them have a bank account; that is amazing! The other metric that plays favourably to the Swiss is their high linguistic affinity.

Typically the Swiss, on average, have an appreciation of French, Italian, and German languages. This means they can shop online from stores in those demographics. On a global scale, Switzerland is ranked number 7 when it comes to postal reliability. It is reported that 99.9 per cent of households receive home deliveries. About 95 per cent of priority packages get delivered within just 1 working day. As for other packages, 96 per cent of them get delivered within 2 working days. Check this out – anyone in Switzerland is within a 20-minute walk or public transport ride to the nearest postal office, remarkable!

Back To Zimbabwe

Already we have established that internet penetration is one of the major factors impeding eCommerce growth. 31 per cent of the population using the internet is quite low. It is also reported that only 12 per cent of those internet users do online shopping. That means only 3.8 per cent of the population do online shopping – we have a long way to go! You also have to consider that we scored 0 on postal reliability. This could also be one of the reasons why people are generally not keen on buying things online in Zimbabwe.

About 55 per cent of the population have somewhat better bank accounts. However, that is seriously compromised when you factor in the foreign currency account (FCA) aspect. Most of the online shopping platforms would need one to have an FCA. Many people do not have FCAs. So that is another huge blow to any meaningful progress in the growth of eCommerce in Zimbabwe.

On the issue of internet penetration, there is something that I usually mention. Whenever you want to roll out something that will dominate Zimbabwe as a nation, do not lose sight of the population demographics. Over 60 per cent of the Zimbabwean population is rural. The population is roughly 15 million people; this means that at least 9 million people are rural. The vast majority of those do not use the internet for a wide range of reason some of which are internet infrastructure-related.

Then there is the issue of secure servers; more has to be done. I have often remarked on how most Zimbabwean websites are not even secure websites. Overall, there is still so much work to be done if we are to make headway in eCommerce. A multi-sectoral approach will be needed because there are numerous variables at play. Regardless, it can be done, gradually.