Q & A: E-Commerce Platform MallForAfrica Caters To Africa’s Fashionistas

Written by Veronica Pamoukaghlian

Since it began operations in 2010, e-commerce company MallforAfrica has allowed Nigerians to shop safely online from 100-plus U.S. and U.K. sites, and the company has experienced tremendous growth.

Partnering with retailers including Amazon, BestBuy, and Bloomingdale’s, MallforAfrica claims to offers access to more than 8.5 billion items through 100 online stores. The company recently added a new slate of services to its online platform, which boasts the iTunes app for all of Africa.

Over the course of 2014, the company has grown by about 10 times, expanded delivery areas across Nigeria, added pickup locations, added 40 new retail partners to the platform, introduced door-to-door service, and launched a click-to-pay system for users who don’t have the MallforAfrica app.

AFKInsider interviewed MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan to find what MallforAfrica has in store for Nigeria and the rest of the continent.

AFKInsider: The growth rate of MallforAfrica has been quite remarkable this year. Aside from expanding your network and delivery areas and launching a mobile app, what new services are you offering?

Chris Folayan: We have just launched various services tailored to our target market and to people in the U.S. and the U.K. who want to purchase items for friends and family in Nigeria. Our newly upgraded platform allows people living in the US and UK to take advantage of our technology, infrastructure, and logistics. We are now giving access to deals, sales, easy shopping, and amazing shipping rates so people living abroad can buy items on the MallforAfrica platform and have them sent directly to friends and family in Nigeria.

AFKInsider: Is Africa still widely blacklisted for credit card transactions online, or has it become easier to sign new U.S. and European partners now than it was a year or two ago?

Chris Folayan: Yes, it is less difficult. This is primarily due to the publicity we have had and endorsements by companies such as Macy’s, Net-A-Porter (a high-fashion retailer that operates via a website designed in the style of a magazine) and Kitson (an online celebrity boutique). But there are still some challenges. The knee-jerk reaction from saying the word “Africa” is still almost a sure thing when talking to retailers, as many don’t know about the vast growth happening there. We started the conversation by educating and informing potential partners that six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, and Nigeria is one of them.

While African-issued credit cards are not accepted on many e-commerce platforms and over 90 percent of all e-commerce sites in the U.S. and U.K. do not ship to Africa, MallforAfrica alleviates all headaches for retailers by giving direct access to the African consumer by securing all payments and shipping.

AFKInsider: What is the next step for MallforAfrica?

Chris Folayan: Expansion. We are expanding into Ghana and Kenya very soon and then moving into other countries in Africa.

AFKInsider:  From your current location in California, what is your perspective of Nigeria’s economic outlook?

Chris Folayan: Nigerian economy is simply booming. Nigeria is now the wealthiest country in Africa. The rise of the middle classes is also a huge factor. With all these factors and a healthy GDP projection, I see nothing but amazing things in store for the local economy.

AFKInsider: Can initiatives like Obama’s US-Africa Leaders Summit help companies like yours that are trying to bring Africa up to speed with global e-commerce?

Chris Folayan: Initiatives like Obama’s African Leaders Summit will help significantly. Part of what Obama has promised with the backing of corporate America is to help improve trade, banking and information technology. Also, Obama is looking for new ideas on how America can trade more and do more business in and with Africa. MallforAfrica answers the call of the summit by providing Nigerians and people in other African countries with the ability to shop securely from U.S. websites, with ease and without having their transactions rejected.

AFKInsider:  What are the products Nigerians are buying the most using your service?

Chris Folayan: Most of our customers are interested in luxury clothing and accessories.

AFKInsider: Do tax and customs policies in Nigeria affect your business?

Chris Folayan: Yes, they do. We work closely with the ports and clearing agents to make sure all taxes are paid and we have strict guidelines. The problem lies in the variations of pricing as it constantly changes. But like all Africans, we learn to respect the system and make it work.

AFKInsider: Where do you see MallforAfrica in 5 to 10 years’ time?

Chris Folayan: We are growing and plan on having the largest online mall in the world, tailored for Africa. We see MallforAfrica dominating the entire e-commerce segment there. In a way, we already are. Users on our platform have access to over 100 stores, which gives them access to over 8.5 billion items at their fingertips. All e-commerce stores in Nigeria combined have approximately 500,000 items. That’s less than 1 percent of what we offer.

AFKInsider:  Do you envisage shipping African goods abroad as well?

Chris Folayan: Yes, we do see this happening in the future.

AFKInsider:  How do you feel your company contributes to Nigeria’s economic development?

Chris Folayan: We contribute to the economy every day in so many ways. From hospitals to teachers to small business owners, we have helped provide access to tools, services, and more that affect economic growth.

Here is a perfect example: A lady in the far North used our platform to purchase a sewing machine and was then able to start her own business as a seamstress.

Furthermore, we have purchased computers for training and education of students in different fields and have sourced products for schools like books, workbooks, uniforms, and more.