The informal sector plays a pivotal role in sub-Saharan Africa’s economy, and is a significant contributor to both GDP and jobs. It is also the main source of employment for key demographics such as women, who outnumber men in the labour force: a report from the International Labour Organisation found that the informal employment rate in the non-agriculture sector was 63.6% for women in 2019. As such, it is the backbone of future growth and development.

The informal sector is particularly important in Ghana, where the majority of retail products are still sold through informal channels. Customer trust built on strong community links and proximity to customers are among the factors behind the continued dominance of informal commerce, even amid the development of modern retail outlets and e-commerce.

The informal sector faces several challenges, including stockouts, limited access to capital and supply chain inefficiencies. Innovative start-ups have emerged to address these issues, leveraging the prevalence of mobile phones and smartphones to digitalise Ghana’s logistics and supply chains for informal retailers.


Informal shopkeepers in Ghana face myriad challenges that hinder growth and sustainability. Stockouts, where retailers run out of inventory, are a common issue. Limited access to capital impedes their ability to invest in their businesses, while difficulties in receiving goods from suppliers compound challenges. The most significant hurdle, however, lies in the fragmented and disconnected nature of retail supply chains. Various stakeholders, including manufacturers, distributors, subdistributors, logistics providers and retailers,operate in silos, leading to supply chain breakdowns, and difficulties in reaching retailers and customers. This fragmentation hampers market trend monitoring and product performance assessment for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) manufacturers.

Digital Metrics

In 2019 Ghana achieved the highest mobile penetration rate in West Africa, at 55%, surpassing the regional average of 44.8%. Although smartphone ownership was not evenly distributed, with approximately 60% of Ghanaian women owning smartphones compared to 72% of men at the time, increasing mobile phone and smartphone usage, along with growing affordability, has created opportunities for start-ups to tackle the bottlenecks faced by informal retailers. Platforms like Wasoko, Shopa, TradeDepot, MarketForce, Twiga and Boost Ghana have emerged as digital solutions, connecting small shopkeepers with merchandise suppliers through mobile apps and other digital channels. Value-added services are also central to the efficacy of these platforms, as retailers can take advantage of credit lines to access inventory and pay back periodically as they sell to their own customers, and insurance products to mitigate foreseeable risks.

Key Players

Among the start-ups helping to digitalise informal retail is OmniBiz, which entered the business-to-business e-commerce space in 2019. Through various user-friendly digital channels such as WhatsApp retailers are empowered to order goods efficiently absent delivery costs. Furthermore, a suite of services, including last-mile delivery, procurement, working capital, inventory management and smart marketing tools serve as a comprehensive logistics operating system for retailers, regardless of their size. By digitalising the retail infrastructure, retailers in Ghana and their regional counterparts such as Nigeria are connected with hundreds of brands. Approximately 90,000 retailers utilised OmniBiz each day as of late 2023.

Digital technology can further diminish fragmentation and inefficiencies in the FMCG supply chain by providing retailers in the region with the critical business intelligence they require when operating in a largely opaque market. The increased affordability of goods, the ability to place bulk orders and the reduction of stockouts are some of the benefits that accrue to rural, informal and emerging retailers through digital adoption, resulting in faster deliveries and higher revenue.