In June 2022, Google announced a new initiative that targeted small businesses in Africa. The initiative was part of the company’s month-long celebration of International Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Business Day. Micro, small and medium-sized businesses, make up a large portion of the global economy, “[accounting] for 90% of businesses, 60 to 70% of employment and 50% of GDP worldwide.” The significant role that micro, small and medium-sized businesses play internationally as the backbone of economies holds true, especially in Africa. Consumers “buy more than 70% of their food, beverages and personal care products” from Africa’s small businesses.
Loyalty to Small Businesses
This loyalty to small businesses has continued despite the insurgence of corporate supermarkets and retail chain stores. Transitioning this loyalty to e-commerce holds incredible promise for economic development throughout the continent. South Africa posted online sales of $1.8 billion in 2020 and countries like Nigeria and Kenya where the retail sector is a major component of GDP posted 30% and 40% growth rates respectively in 2021.
The framework for e-commerce in Africa has been laid out. Internet coverage, access to credit cards and bank accounts and mobile phone usage have all increased substantially in Africa in the last decade. Google has noted this opportunity for growth in Africa, with Google’s country director for West Africa Juliet Ehimuan noting that “E-commerce presents an opportunity for small businesses in Africa to reach new customers and grow.”
However, the online market has remained untapped for many small and medium businesses in Africa. Technical know-how, as well as concerns over cybercrime, has impeded online market penetration by small and medium businesses in Africa, according to a report by World Trade Organization (WTO). Fortunately, Google’s new initiative is helping build online retail presences for Africa’s small businesses, aiming to “…assist small businesses in Africa to gain the expertise to connect online, expand their customer base and scale-up,” according to Ehimuan.
Google is accomplishing this strategy through a three-pronged plan. It includes the Shopping Small Business Summit, an online career certificate course, and the Local Opportunity Finder.
Shopping Small Business Summit
In late June 2022, Google hosted a Shopping Small Business Summit. According to The Guardian, this event was a one-hour virtual training session to help small and medium business owners develop the skills they need to compete in the online marketplace. This training session covered both e-commerce trends as well as digital marketing tools and skills.
Online Career Certificate Course
The second portion of Google’s plan to help build online retail presences for Africa’s small businesses is an online career certificate course, as The Guardian reported. Unlike the Shopping Small Business Summit, this course has limited availability and is not free. However, Google has offered 1,000 scholarships to Africans who wish to participate in the course. This course will cover digital marketing and e-commerce trends in a deeper capacity than the Small Business Summit, and it aims to prepare Africans for entry level-jobs in e-commerce.
Local Opportunity Finder
Google also launched the Local Opportunity Finder in June 2022. The Local Opportunity Finder is a free online tool for small and medium business owners that aims to improve their online presences. This new tool can analyze a Google Business Profile and then give personalized recommendations for improvement. These improvements are geared towards making e-commerce sites more appealing to consumers and overall more consumer-friendly.
Google’s commitment to growing small businesses is helping build online retail presences for Africa’s small businesses. The large African retail sector is dependent on small businesses. However, the continent has lagged behind in terms of digital market space until now. If African businesses can take advantage of Google’s initiatives and work through the impediments holding back e-commerce in the continent, they could scale their businesses up and expand their consumer bases.
– Benjamin Brown