Côte d’Ivoire’s burgeoning middle class and economic growth has supported the steady development of the retail sector in recent years. According to the World Bank, the share of Ivorians living on less than $1.90 per day fell from 34% in 2011 to 28% in 2015, the most recent year for which this information is available. In the wake of economic progress and improved political stability, the country has seen the expansion of shopping malls and supermarkets. Moreover, the rising number of internet users, which reached 12m in 2018, has fuelled opportunities in e-commerce. While Côte d’Ivoire, like the rest of the world, is experiencing a decline in non-essential retail sales as a result of the global spread of Covid-19, the foundation for long-term growth in the sector is strong.
According to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the retail sector’s turnover index grew by 4.1% in 2019 as sales across most segments rose. Sales of personal goods increased by 13% and fuel sales grew 7.8%, in connection with greater demand for diesel and premium fuels. Similarly, the turnover index of pharmaceutical and cosmetic goods rose by 9.1%. This positive retail growth was attenuated by a decrease in the sale of food (-2.2%) and household products (-9%). Overall, the turnover index for non-fuel retail sales grew by 1.3%. Notably, inflation remained low in 2019. The harmonised consumer price index rose by about 0.8% in 2019 as a result of an increase in the prices of food products (1.3%) and non-food products (0.6%).
Structure & Oversight
The retail sector’s main regulatory authority is the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Although the sector remains dominated by informal businesses, a small number of larger retailers have carved out opportunities primarily targeting middle- and high-income households.
According to estimates from France’s state-run agency Business France, informal businesses account for approximately 75% of retail activity in Côte d’ Ivoire. However, large retailers such as Abidjan-based Prosuma, the country’s largest local retailer in terms of revenue; specialist distributor CFAO Retail, in partnership with French retailer and supermarket chain Carrefour; and mass distribution and wholesaler Compagnie de Distribution de Côte d’Ivoire also operate hundreds of shops throughout the country.
The commercial offerings available at malls have continued to expand. For example, Cosmos Yopougon – Abidjan’s eighth mall and the country’s first mixed retail and leisure complex – inaugurated a 1200-sq-metre video game hall in July 2019. The hall, the largest of its kind in West Africa, is designed to host e-sport competitions and educational activities for students and entrepreneurs. A portion of the hall hosts sessions introducing students to concepts related computing, robotics and video game development. At the third annual Africa Property Investment awards, which took place in South Africa in November 2019, Cosmos Yopougon was awarded the second prize for best shopping centre development in Africa.
Competition has intensified among Côte d’Ivoire’s leading supermarket operators. CFAO Retail opened the country’s first Supeco store in January 2020, diversifying the pan-African retailer’s offering. Supeco is a discount brand, created in 2009 by Carrefour. Located in the Niangon district of Abidjan, the new 750-sq-metre Supeco store offers some 2000 food items and personal goods. Supeco Niangon is one of five Carrefour supermarkets slated to open primarily in Abidjan. Carrefour first entered Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with CFAO Retail in 2015. The French retailer’s main competitor is Prosuma, which is widely considered to be Côte d’Ivoire’s most popular supermarket chain. Prosuma operates 153 shops across various retail chains in the country.
In addition, efforts are under way to combat informality within the retail sector. In December 2019 local media reported that the French Development Agency would provide €90m for the construction of modern markets in the Abidjan suburb of Yopougon and the city of Bouaké, located in the country’s interior.
Following years of investment and new entrants to the market, Côte d’Ivoire’s e-commerce sector has begun to consolidate. Nigeria-based start-up Jumia has continued to establish itself as the country’s leading e-commerce service provider as a number of its competitors close shop. Rival e-commerce start-ups Afrimarket and Yaatoo ceased operations in September 2019, leaving Jumia to continue its expansion without its main competitors in the Ivorian market.
Jumia became the first African start-up to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange following its initial public offering in April 2019, when the company raised approximately $200m and was valued at $1.1bn. In addition, it has identified Côte d’Ivoire as one of its four largest markets alongside Nigeria, Morocco and Kenya, and in 2019 West Africa represented Jumia’s largest market, generating around 43% of revenue.
In September 2019 Prosuma decided to halt operations of its e-commerce platform Yaatoo, which was launched in July 2016. Prior to closing, Yaatoo was one of Côte d’Ivoire’s top e-commerce service providers and featured 12,000 items for sale. Yaatoo had diversified its product offerings, lowered prices and worked to ensure two-hour delivery times in Abidjan – all efforts that placed it in direct competition with Jumia.
Similarly, in September 2019 the Paris-based start-up Afrimarket filed for insolvency proceedings with the Paris Commercial Court, where the company was registered in March 2013. Afrimarket’s turnover reached approximately €30m in 2018 and by 2019 the company served 500,000 customers throughout West Africa. However, Afrimarket faced cash flow problems after seeking and failing to raise a further €20m. Investors reportedly shied away from committing additional funds to the company amid concerns that Jumia’s growing position within Côte d’Ivoire’s e-commerce market threatened the viability of competitors.
The closures of Yaatoo and Afrimarket point to the difficulties faced by e-commerce operators in the country. Limitations associated with logistics infrastructure and other challenges can result in elevated costs that make it difficult for online retailers to remain in business without access to ample financing.
Côte d’Ivoire’s underlying economic and demographic trends bode well for the retail sector’s continued development in the medium and long term. However, as in most of the world, the retail sector is likely to be particularly impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic that began in early 2020. To contain the pandemic, global health authorities have recommended social distancing and limiting time spent in public areas – precautions that have already reduced non-essential retail spending worldwide. At the same time, the measures needed to address the pandemic have created opportunities for e-commerce operators as consumers seek to abide by social distancing rules. Nevertheless, as of May 2020 the scale of the pandemic’s long-term impact on Côte d’Ivoire’s retail sector remained unclear.