How e-commerce platform is making forays in rural areas


A Copia agent delivers home goods to a customer in Kikuyu, Kiambu County. PHOTO | NMG

A mobile shopping-model platform, Copia has reported increased efficiency and growth buoyed by disruption of supply chain by the coronavirus pandemic.

The e-commerce retail platform allows people in rural and peri-urban areas to place and collect orders of products including foodstuff, personal care and hygiene, agricultural inputs, household items, electronics, solar products and construction materials without travelling to large shopping centres.

With over three years in operation, Copia Kenya has built a network of over 11,500 agents and processed over four million customer orders with delivery of the products made within two to four days to the agent's premises for the customer to collect.

The firm has recorded over 650,000 unique customers across 15 counties.

And as the global pandemic ironically help emphasize the role of logistics and delivery companies in the supply chain, Copia Kenya CEO Tim Steel said people are increasingly appreciating the service model and has as a result the business has more than doubled over the period.

“With the current Covid-19 situation, we have seen exponential growth as customers have realised the strength of our value proposition. This has resulted in a 50 percent increase in our delivery fleet to fulfill customers’ orders,” Mr Steel said.

Copia’s model is inclined to focus on low- and middle-income customers, who Mr Steel says have been underserved, without formal addresses and limited internet. The platform allows people living in the city to make orders on behalf of those in villages.

“We have structured model to fit our customers, save time and money through good margins attained from the best price we get from the manufacturers. And as a result there are no delivery costs or charges for orders and this help them to see value of ordering with Copia,” he added.

Customers make purchases by visiting a Copia agent in their local area, usually less than one kilometre away, to help navigate the Coipa App or paper catalogue, and order via the agent, by USSD, calling customer care team or via Copia Online.

All orders are taken using the customer’s mobile phone number as their unique identifier.

“So we know our customers as individuals, we communicate directly to them and we know what they spend,” Mr Steel said.

Due to increased competition, several logistic majors have been reshaping their operating models for resilience in the growing market with players extending region covered, products and services offered from food, groceries to even products such as alcoholic beverages and pharmaceuticals.

For instance, e-commerce platform Jumia Kenya and Twiga Foods recently signed a partnership agreement that will enable shoppers on the platform to buy fresh produce as well as processed foods distributed by the farm produce aggregator.

With the pandemic, delivery companies such as Uber Eats and Glovo have also reported a spike in demand at the platforms which may push the companies to expand their reach.

According to Steel the business is embracing the growth experienced over the past few months.

“We have been agile and flexible with our supply chain and logistics operations. The state of the art distribution and fulfilment centre continues to operate at a better efficiency level,” he added.

To date, Copia Global has raised Sh2.63 billion ($26 million) in a Series B equity round led by a global direct private equity impact investing platform, LGT Lightstone, with participation from Goodwell Investments, Perivoli Innovations, Endeavor Catalyst and ELEA.

Kenya was pilot country in African region with plans of expansion to East Africa.

“We are in discussions with potential investors as they have seen e-commerce becoming an attractive in business growing quickly with no restrictions on how we can operate together as we are seeing over 96 percent performance in success delivery,” he said.