MallforAfrica and DHL are giving African merchants a global stage. This week the online retailer and delivery giant launch MarketPlaceAfrica.com: an e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.
The site will prioritize fashion items—clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear, and personal care—and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made in Africa status and merchandise quality.
“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” said Folayan.
Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.
In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.
MallforAfrica’s payment and delivery system serves as a digital broker and logistics manager for U.S. retailers, who partner with MFA to sell their goods online to African consumers.
The venture has backing from UK private equity firm Helios Investment Partners and alliances with companies such as consumer electronics chain Best Buy and department store Macy’s.
In 2016 MallforAfrica partnered with eBay to launch the eBay Powered by MallforAfrica platform allowing U.S. vendors to sell in Africa. In 2017 eBay opened its U.S. platform to select sales from African vendors through MallforAfrica’s website.
Africa’s e-commerce space—expected to exceed $75 billion in revenue by 2025—has been one of the continent’s most active, with a number of well-funded startups focused on mastering mega-market Nigeria before expanding outward.
E-commerce minted the continent’s first unicorn in 2016, when Rocket Internet backed Jumia achieved a $1BN valuation after a $326M funding round that included Goldman Sachs.
Africa’s digital retail race produced one of the continent’s notable tech exits when Ringier acquired Nigerian startup DealDey in 2016.
E-commerce shops in Africa have also struggled to reach profitability—though after years of losses Jumia’s apparently getting closer. And digital retail on the continent has seen some big fails, namely the folding of South Africa’s Khalahari.com in 2015 and the distressed acquisition of Konga.com earlier this year.
MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan said his company does not release financial performance figures, but noted it now ships to 17 countries, averages a ton a day of goods shipped to Africa, and plans to grow by 3-4 times this year over 2017.
With MarketPlace Africa, Folayan sees an opportunity to open the sales channels both ways. “Our MallforAfrica platform is really about helping people in Africa buy products from places like the U.S., this is the return ticket for Africa’s products,” he said.