FEATURE: Why UK lingerie retailers should tap into the African market

Beautifully Undressed is among a string of UK and US retailers that are tapping into the thriving African consumer market through online app MallforAfrica. In a special interview, boutique owner Annabelle Mu’azu speaks to the founder of the virtual shopping mall, Chris Folayan, about the benefits of selling lingerie on the continent.

Economic growth, coupled with a surging population and an emerging shopping culture has led to an increased investor interest in Africa’s retail and consumer sector.

Whereas the focus was traditionally on extractive industries such as oil and mining, a growing consumer class demanding everything from mobile phones to lingerie have prompted many retailers to look with fresh eyes at opportunities in the region.

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According to a report on the African consumer and retailer by KPMG last year, Africa is home to more than one billion people, presenting a massive potential consumer market.

Moreover, population growth remains rapid, and the United Nations Population Division forecasts that the continent’s population will surpass the 1.5 billion mark by 2026.

In addition, Africa’s GDP grew about 3.4% in 2015, a full percentage point above global growth, according to a report published by pwc in March this year on the future of retail and consumer goods sectors in ten Sub-Saharan countries.

The African Development Bank estimates that consumer spending will reach US $2.2 trillion by 2030 (up from $680 billion in 2008), the report said.

Providing a gateway into this attractive market is MallforAfrica, an online platform that buys products from US and UK sites and delivers them direct to consumers.

Since its inception in 2013, the company has taken care of the challenges that prevent retailers from shipping into Africa – providing local payment support, guaranteeing zero fraud to merchants, and handling all customer service, shipping, customs and local marketing.

For consumers, MallforAfrica is a means to purchase items people want, but cannot readily obtain in Africa.

And there’s never been a better time to tap into this demand, with UK exports at a record high following the Brexit vote. In August, the proportion of orders leaving the UK was recorded at almost 27% – the highest percentage for June and July in five years, according to the IMRG MetaPack UK Delivery Index.

British boutique brand Beautifully Undressed was one of the first retailers to take its position on MallforAfrica, selling its own-brand and branded luxury lingerie to African consumers.

In a special report, owner of the online store, Annabelle Mu’azu, interviews MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan about the retail opportunities Africa can offer UK companies and how the lingerie sector is performing on the continent.

Why did you decide to launch an app that buys direct from US and UK sites?
I launched the app because it was the simplest way to integrate directly with merchants. By having an app that allows you to browse retailers’ sites, you get to experience the brand, their stock and inventory, sales and new releases. With the MallforAfrica app, you are shopping directly on the merchant’s site. However, when it comes to payment and delivery, our app allows you to pay with local currency via local banks and you get the assurance of knowing someone is on the ground, ready to help you if you need any assistance.

Which key retailers do you work with in the UK?
We work with everyone from high-end stores like Net-A-Porter and Farfetch to amazing clothing stores like Hawes & Curtis, as well as boutique brands like Beautifully Undressed and makeup brands such as FashionFair. We see ourselves as a mall that is open to brands who want to sell into Africa, without any worries or changes to their site, logistics, shipping processes, and much more.

How often are UK and US online retailers searched for in Africa?
Thousands of times daily. Africans love fashion; they love being current, they love style and they know their brands. This will never change. People in Africa are constantly looking to Europe and the US for new styles and the stores on our platform deliver and cater to the needs of such users.

Why is the UK attracting attention from consumers on the continent?
Well, as they say, it is all about location, location, location. The UK is attractive to Africans because of two main reasons: it is close, and the styles are 100% in line with what most African consumers are looking for. The fits are more tailored, giving the consumer a distinguished British look. Many UK brands are very well known in Africa due to proximity. So when consider all of these reasons, it is easy to see why British retailers are so popular.

How is the lingerie sector performing in Africa?
Very well; we have seen a steady progression in the purchase of lingerie items over the past few years and we expect sales to triple in this category from last year. As we partner with stores like Beautifully Undressed, we know we will keep seeing a steady increase in this apparel category.

Is there a high demand for British lingerie brands in Africa?
Absolutely. We have seen lingerie growth on our platform climb significantly over the last few years. Both the UK and the US brands have done very well.

How are you helping retailers like Beautifully Undressed tap into this market?
We help amazing stores like Beautifully Undressed tap into the African market in the following ways.

1) Shipping and Delivery Guaranteed: We handle Beautifully Undressed payments, shipping, clearing and delivery. This means that Beautifully Undressed does not have to worry about the hassle of shipping abroad, clearing customs and wondering if each transaction is legitimate. We do it all, with an unprecedented zero fraud guarantee.

2) Local Customer Service: We manage all local customer service. So as Beautifully Undressed expands into other African countries via our platform, there is no need to worry about language barriers or the cost of expanding customer service. We do that also.

3) Sales and Exposure: We help manage sales and marketing in each region. Beautifully Undressed doesn’t have to hire a local firm to help with her marketing campaign online and offline. We help with that and have been successful in doing so. From online banner ads focused on the target African market, to offline magazine ads, we are here to help.

4) Payments: When shipping and selling into Africa, everyone is concerned about payments and fraud. We guarantee zero fraud to all our retailers on our platform. With millions of dollars’ worth of transactions each month to over 180 retailers, we guarantee no fraud. So never will Beautifully Undressed get a fraud transaction from our platform.

What are the benefits of being part of MFA for smaller retailers and how can they make their presence more known amongst the bigger brands?
The fact that small retailers get exposure to the hundreds of thousands of people that utilise our platform each month is huge. It helps give the smaller retailers a spot on the mall map for people to find. Smaller stores can make themselves better known by working closely with us and being part of promotions we conduct, marketing media plans and much more. This ranges from radio adverts to global news articles, magazines and mentions. We do all we can to help small retailers get the exposure they normally wouldn’t be able to.

How important is it for luxury brands such as Beautifully Undressed to have on-ground presence to penetrate the market?
Because of what we do, it is not important anymore. We provide that ground support for all the stores on our platform. We sometimes even have seminars to help promote brands in specific categories. When you are on the MallforAfrica platform, and work closely with us like Beautifully Undressed has, there is no reason to have a ground presence. We fill that role, saving smaller brands the cost and time to put boots on the ground.

Why did you choose to work with Beautifully Undressed?
Beautifully Undressed was a no brainer. It has amazing products, great quality at reasonable prices with a passionate CEO and team. Those are the ingredients to a successful business, and the attributes we look for when working with stores. We have been working with Beautifully Undressed for a while now and see nothing but growth. Plus, Beautifully Undressed fills a niche market that I feel had not been tapped into well prior to bringing the brand onboard.

How do you see the future of luxury retail as it relates to the African market?
Luxury retail in Africa is huge. People love brand-name items in the luxury category. I see the future of luxury retail in Africa taking off even more than it has. As the internet becomes faster, cheaper, and more accessible, I see people travelling less and buying more online. With platforms like us, which ensure and guarantee luxury merchants access into emerging markets with zero risk, customs clearing sorted, payments sorted, local languages and support sorted, we are very confident the luxury market will thrive with MallforAfrica at the helm.

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