eBay opens U.S. platform to Africa with MallforAfrica.com partnership

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Jake Bright is a writer, author and advisor with a focus on global business, politics, and technology.

From 2017 to 2020, he was a contributing writer and advisor at TechCrunch where he published on Africa, mobility and politics. Bright helped spearhead consistent Africa coverage and co-produce the first Startup Battlefield competitions in Africa and Africa focused programming on the Disrupt San Francisco mainstage.

Bright’s first book, The Next Africa (Macmillan 2015), forecast the rise of Africa’s venture backed startup scene. Prior to this he worked in international finance and as a speechwriter in Washington, DC. Bright continues to contribute occasional guest pieces at TechCrunch.

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Americans can now buy African goods on eBay through the company’s partnership with MallforAfrica.com.

Starting this week, products from select vendors in six African countries are available on eBay’s U.S. shopping site. The collaboration starts in style, with opening merchandise categories of fashion, art, jewelry, and clothing.

For the new program, MallforAfrica selects the sellers and handles payments on its proprietary platform. DHL is the shipping partner. Online shoppers can browse the entire collection on eBay’s Mall for Africa Store.

The new online channel expands an existing relationship between the two e-commerce companies. In  2016, they launched the eBay Powered by MallforAfrica platform allowing U.S. vendors to sell in Africa.

“A year ago our focus was about how we could work with a partner to overcome shipping, payment, and trade barriers to offer eBay’s selection in Africa,” Sylvie de Wever, eBay’s General Manager of Latin America and US exports, told TechCrunch.

“If you think about our purpose, which is connecting millions of buyers and sellers around the world and creating economic opportunity, it makes sense to open up the American market to sellers in Africa,” she said.

To start, the program taps goods from merchants in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, and Burundi, according to de Wever. “We’ll be adding more sellers and more countries,” she said.

On the selection of African vendors, “The main criteria are that the products be made in Africa and quality―making sure it’s a quality product that we can ship within the categories selected,” said MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan.

To ensure both, MallforAfrica created a new association, the Africa Made Product Standards (AMPS), to verify made in Africa status and merchandise standards. Initial vendors include African art and craft site Qeturah and accessory brand Eclectic Chique.

Both MallforAfrica’s Folayan and eBay’s de Wever underscored the partnership to sell select African products on eBay is not charity. “This is very much about expanding the reach of African sellers, enabling their platforms, and allowing them to earn and compete globally,” said de Wever.

Folayan sees value for the continent in connecting African sellers to the global digital market. “We’re going to help Africans get on the e-commerce roadmap and make sure people see there are amazing products coming out of Africa,” he said.

“The end result is not just artisans getting known, it’s about giving them a platform expand their businesses, to make money, to send their kids to school, to impact their families,” he added.

MallforAfrica was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering African markets. With a unique payment and delivery system, it serves as a digital broker and logistics manager between U.S. retailers and African consumers. The venture has backing from UK private equity firm Helios Investment Partners and alliances with companies such as clothier Hawes and Curtis and department store Macy’s.

While digital sales revenue in Africa is expected to exceed $75 billion by 2025, there’s no reliable estimate of the potential marketplace for online African goods in the U.S., according to Chris Folayan.

Still, he’s optimistic. “We know this will be a pretty big market,” he said, noting demand at two levels. “There’s this wave of interest in African centric designs in mainstream fashion. You’ve seen brands such as Chanel and Dolce Gabbana elevate that. Then you have Africans in the U.S. who want to reconnect with their heritage.”

In addition to being one of the most educated demographics in America, Africans have become one of the fastest growing immigrant populations, according to data from Pew and the U.S. Census Bureau.

eBay’s new partnership has another interesting tech angle: the ability of e-commerce to leapfrog government trade policy.

The last major legislation expanding trade between the U.S. and Africa dates back to 2000. E-commerce partnerships don’t wait for congressional approval.

“We’ve seen people all over the world want to trade, regardless of regulation” said eBay’s Sylvie de Wever.

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