Amidst its inability to raise additional funding, Kenyan B2B e-commerce, MarketForce reportedly exited from three of its five markets. “Marketforce has downscaled operations in other markets and is now just operational in Kenya and Uganda,” according to co-founder and CEO Tesh Mbaabu, announced.
The startup has also halted its expansion into Ethiopia and Ghana.
Mbaabu explains that they've had to reduce their operations due to narrow profit margins in demanding markets such as Nigeria, where servicing costs are high and competition is intense. Exiting Nigeria, Rwanda, and Tanzania, the B2B e-commerce startup will refocus its efforts on its Kenyan and Ugandan operations.
In Kenya, its headquarters, MarketForce plans to launch its social commerce platform, Chpter, allowing merchants to convert social media conversations into increased sales. “We are figuring out more profitable and high-margin segments and that is why we decided to move into social commerce,” said Mbaabu.
In Africa, almost 400 million people use social media, and many buy things online for the first time through these platforms. This has made social commerce popular on the continent. In 2022, the social commerce market in Africa and the Middle East was worth about $9 billion, and it is expected to grow by about 55.2% every year from 2022 to 2028.
“Social commerce is a bridge or a halfway point between full e-commerce and someone working informally,” according to Stephanie von Friedeburg, senior vice president for operations at the International Finance Corporation. “Social commerce helps address financial inclusion issues since many SMEs and informal businesses do not have the capacity to borrow money to open stores or grow their businesses.”
Around 92% of small and medium enterprises in Kenya utilise social commerce as a fundamental part of their business operations. In contrast, just 27% opt for formal platforms like Jumia or Upwork. As MarketForce expands into the Kenyan social commerce market, it will face competition from established players like Tushop and Elloe AI.
Last year when Tushop raised $3 million in pre-seed funding, the Kenyan social-commerce startup disclosed that it is a pioneering social commerce platform within the Kenyan landscape, actively engaging in the direct procurement of a wide range of goods, including fresh produce, directly from producers and subsequently delivering them to shoppers.
MarketForce once provided a comparable service with its super app RejaReja, enabling informal retailers (mom-and-pop stores) to directly order fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) from distributors and manufacturers. However, as part of their ongoing downscaling efforts, RejaReja has been discontinued in Kenya and is now exclusively available in Uganda.
“After we decided to move towards a path to profitability, Uganda has been our best-performing market. We have exclusive distributor contracts with four major manufacturers, and margins are better, enabling us to run a gross profitable operation there; that is why we will keep it active,” says Mbaabu.
The limited availability of internet access could potentially hinder the growth of startups in the social commerce sector, according to experts. Moreover, there are inherent disadvantages in exclusively using social media platforms for product sales, as demonstrated during the extensive outages affecting X, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
However, social commerce is a fast-changing industry in Africa, with a lot of room to grow in the future. As more businesses use digital solutions and people get more comfortable shopping online, social commerce is expected to keep growing and coming up with new ideas.