Nigerian informal retailers turn tech-savvy to stock up amid pandemic

By Nneka Chile and Abraham Achirga
LAGOS / ABUJA (Reuters) - When the coronavirus outbreak forced stores to close in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, kiosk shop owner Funmilayo Akinola weighed her safety against the need to make a living.
After deciding she couldn't afford to stop working, she faced the challenge of replenishing her inventory as the pandemic made it difficult for informal traders to purchase wholesale goods due to security measures disrupting supply chains.
The answer lay in a logistics company that offers an online marketplace that connects manufacturers and retailers.
The Lagos-based Trade Depot delivered goods that she had purchased through the company's app.
"(Without a trading depot) I would have just locked my shop because my husband won't allow me to go to the market to look for goods," Akinola said.
She now uses her phone to order goods that are delivered by delivery truck or tuk tuks to her narrow kiosk in the hectic Lagos district of Mushin. There she sits surrounded by stacked goods, ranging from drinks to canned goods to detergents.
Demand was particularly high during Lagos' month-long lockdown that ended in early May, Akinola said.
Onyekachi Izukanne, chief executive officer of Trade Depot, said the company, which operates in six of Nigeria's 36 states and was founded in 2017, saw gross sales increase 300% from September to September compared to the same period last year.
Ikenna Nwosu, a logistics consultant, said the pandemic sparked a wider process of "digitization" that was forcing people to shop online. This has opened up new supply chain networks and created employment opportunities as companies hire more workers to distribute goods, he said.
"It creates new sources of income. That just scratches the surface of digitization," he said.
(Reporting by Nneka Chile in Lagos and Abraham Achirga in Abuja; writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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