Interview: Pascal Bordeaux

What are the main assets that characterise the retail market in Côte d’Ivoire?

PASCAL BORDEAUX: Côte d’Ivoire has seen an improvement in several macroeconomic indicators in recent years, with GDP increasing at a rate of between 7.5% and 8% annually since 2012. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Côte d’Ivoire was one of the few countries around the world that saw positive GDP growth in 2020. Additionally, of the 26m people living in the country, a large percentage is young, which means a larger workforce and more opportunities for innovation and economic development. Combined with an increasingly stable political environment, these factors have contributed to a buoyant market.

There is also a willingness on the part of the government to create a modern distribution supply chain, both locally and internationally, to diversify the economy. At the same time, retail operators are trying to meet demand from the local population through specific distribution formats such small outlets near city centres and larger venues in the suburbs. It is anticipated that this model will offer products at differentiated prices, and this type of tiered pricing is possible due to low capital expenditure and operating expenses.

The country depends on a well-developed road and transport system for trade. Abidjan’s infrastructure is comparatively strong and is constantly improving. However, this is not the case in the interior. For example, getting to smaller towns and villages still requires extensive travel time. The retail industry needs a robust logistics network in order for it to continue expanding, and this will be dependent upon sustained investment.

How has the pandemic affected household purchasing and consumption patterns?

BORDEAUX: Although the purchasing habits of Ivorian consumers have not changed significantly since the start of the pandemic, there has been a slight decrease in purchases of non-essential goods. This trend is observed mainly among the middle class, which represents a large portion of the population.

Unfortunately, lower-wage earners are more affected by inflation and price increases. Indeed, when people earn less than €150 net per month, the cost of household staples such as rice, sugar and palm oil will impact their budget more acutely than middle-class consumers. As such, it is mainly this segment of the population that has suffered from the financial crisis.

At the same time, the purchasing habits of the middle class have evolved, and they are gradually adopting specific consumption patterns. Many consumers are interested in buying imported products from international brands, and people are paying more attention to product quality.

To what extent can e-commerce benefit consumers and sellers, and what factors are impeding its development in the country?

BORDEAUX: In recent years we have seen increased demand for e-commerce in Côte d’Ivoire. In November 2018 Carrefour Côte d’Ivoire signed a deal with pan-African technology company Jumia to introduce our retail operations on the digital platform, leading to strong financial results. This rising awareness about digital tools can be attributed to a youth demographic that uses electronic devices extensively. Their interest in all things digital bodes well for the future of e-commerce. Although these products are available primarily for the middle class, it is not yet part of the purchasing and consumption habits of low-income consumers. While this presents a challenge, it is also an opportunity to expand the consumer base in the future. Despite these constraints, e-commerce is performing well due to strong interest and high customer satisfaction.