Is ecommerce worth the investment for Uganda businesses?



In 2004 during my first degree in computer science, at Makerere University, I happen to have offered a course on e-commerce during which my lecturer offered a wealth of knowledge about this subject. Many undergraduate and graduate students in computing over the last decade have had similar training but e-commerce realization has long been a mystery for Uganda and other African economies. This has largely been due to infrastructure challenges (Internet was still seen as luxury by some back then) and majorly poor banking penetration among other factors.

First track to 2012, many banks are offering VISA debit cards with ability to conduct online payments whereas some few banks are even offering credit cards.  Even as this is good progress, the rise of mobile money is phenomenal and the rising penetration of mobile internet and smartphones is a big catalyst. The talk about e-commerce now will hence be largely focused on mCommerce.

Electronic commerce (Ecommerce) refers to the buying and selling of products or services over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks. Mobile Commerce (Mcommerce) is any transaction, involving the transfer of ownership or rights to use goods and services, which is initiated and/or completed by using mobile access to computer-mediated networks with the help of an electronic device.

In Uganda, it is estimated that 5 million people are using the internet as of 2012 whereas over 15 million have access to mobile phones of which an increasing number is embracing mobile money.  Payment intermediary services such as Yo Payments from Uganda(, JPesa( PesaPal from Kenya come with  API which enables integration with websites(mobile web/apps).  These developments mean that there is a growing big market and the broken e-commerce payments system is being fixed.  The next natural process should be for businesses to realize the opportunity there is and to get started on embracing e-commerce and more particularly mCommerce.

Businesses in Uganda now need to rethink their distribution models and figure out how they integrate e-commerce/mCommerce in their sales and distribution models.   This will require businesses to set up websites with keen consideration for mobile web and apps.  The good news is that the cost of websites has gone down. Though this does not mean that good e-commerce websites come on the cheap, they are much more affordable compared to how it was several years back. There is still shortage of skills in the mobile space hence it may still be a little expensive to develop mobile applications but the opportunity that comes with tapping into this market will offset what may seemingly be  a big cost to join the e-commerce/mCommerce scope.  

As we hope to see more Ugandan and African business embrace mCommerce, for consultation in this space and for services to get your business online, HiPipo Digital Agency arm will be glad to work with you to push your business to the next level online.  Contact US Today.