E-commerce comes to Somalia

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Somalia might not seem a good bet for e-commerce. It’s one of the world’s poorest countries and has been at war for a quarter century. There’s no functioning postal service and less than two percent of the population is connected to the internet.

Safiya Ahmed, a finance officer at Golden University, a private college in Mogadishu, loves shopping online, because it saves time otherwise spent on the city’s hectic streets. She shows off a blender in her office ordered over the web.
“I do not get time to go shopping in person,” she said.
“You do not get everything from online retailers because they are new. But they are developing so we hope to find everything online soon.”

Parts of the country are still plagued by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants, but a degree of stability in the capital in recent years has attracted investment from locals and Somalis living abroad.

Ahmed ordered her blender from Soomar, a company set up two years ago and now ringing up sales of more than 25,000 items a month, offering a range of goods from fresh fish to electronics and office supplies.

Customers pay with accounts on their mobile phones, a convenience which the company’s boss, Mohamed Mohamud, said is key to his success to date.
“Many online businesses have come up in the last two years but Soomar is the only online business that offers mobile payments,” Mohamud said.

Items ordered online — from the $1,114 Apple MacBook Air to the $6 chicken salad — are delivered by motorbike or car, a final leg of the journey Mohamud acknowledges can be tricky in a country where maps are sketchy and roads in ruins.
“The infrastructure of main cities and most roads were wrecked in the war and our delivery cars and motorbikes struggle,” Mohamud said. “We waste time to get the right directions to a client’s home and we spend money calling clients by mobile to find them.”