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Here’s how small businesses can learn from others who have conquered Africa’s mobile commerce space

ZipZap_USB&Bluetooth mobile paymentsLet’s face it, Africa is a mobile continent, beating every other in terms of the growth in cellphone usage. In fact, a report by telecoms company Amgoo revealed that a mobile phone is often the one and only device that a person living in Africa uses to perform both economic activities and access the internet.

IBM, as quoted in Pathfinder, estimates that “by 2015, total African mobile money transfers are expected to exceed US$200 billion, which is expected to account for approximately 18 percent of the continent’s GDP. And this figure does not include the fringe benefits to productivity that mobile banking incurs, such as eliminated time wasted through excessive travel and queuing.” This has resulted in a rush to innovate in the mobile commerce space. Here’s how small businesses can learn from other success stories and use the growth and innovation in mobile commerce to their advantage.

It’s about tackling pain points with simple mobile solutions


Mobile solutions that have been successful in Africa have had the sole purpose of solving problems and improving the lives of large portions of the population. In addition to the revolutionary M-Pesa mobile commerce platform, which allows those without a bank account to transfer funds via text message, there are others that are empowering a vast number of people by providing access to economic, banking and personal finance information and the means to participate in a range of economic activities. Kenya’s tech entrepreneurs, for example, have solved basic problems with simple solutions. M-Farm is a mobile tool for farmers that enables them to send a text message to an information portal in order to receive a reply detailing the retail price of their produce. M-Farm’s founder, Jamila Abass, says: “(Previously farmers had) no information and no alternative market (except for middlemen that cited a price and bought the produce). We wanted to close that information gap between the farmers and the market.”

Another mobile app, I-Cow enables farmers to track the estrus stages of their cows and allows them to get information on breeding, animal nutrition and milk production efficiency. The takeout from this is that small businesses must offer products and services that simplify people’s lives.


Money should be accessible


Money needs to be accessible in Africa owing to largely poor infrastructure and sometimes limited banking services.  Mobile commerce products should therefore have the capability to store, withdraw, deposit and transfer funds. Small businesses could learn from the developers of products like Reload Mobile Money: this is a mobile wallet in the form of a prepaid reloadable card. It gives people access to instant money transfers, the ability to swipe in-store for purchases, withdraw cash from ATMs or till points and make prepaid airtime and electricity purchases. Reload is bought off the shelf at many shops along with daily essentials like bread and milk.

Your smartphone is your portal to accept payments


The advance in mobile technology means that small businesses use their phones as a payment solution. If there’s load shedding, for instance, businesses can still accept payments. Something like the ZipZap product offers small businesses rich functionality: it is the only mPOS solution that provides a card reader that can be used across all current mobile operating systems (Blackberry, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile and Desktop) and is the only one offering a solution compatible with all the latest Windows devices. It is also bank agnostic.

ZipZap mPOS, coupled with a Nokia Lumia smartphone, enables merchants to accept all card payments, issue e-receipts via SMS or email, and view a detailed transaction history via the free app or the online merchant portal. The combined package is a conduit for enhanced business insight and management through  Lumia’s Microsoft Office suite.