Uganda’s retail sector is volatile and has remarkably played an important role in boosting the economy, contributing an average of 18% to our country’s GDP in the last decade. Additionally, it employs 16% of the country’s labor force making it the country’s largest employer. It is hugely composed of micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) and is the stronghold of Uganda’s economy employing more than 2.5 million people and yet it is still vulnerable. This emphasizes the need to re-define and re-shape Uganda’s retail industry.
The Innovation Village officially launched its Future of Retail thought leadership report recently. This is a comprehensive study of the retail sector that focused on how Uganda’s retail industry was deeply affected by covid-19 and lockdown measures, the trends redefining the sector, the opportunities available for our retail ecosystem and how we can ensure sustainable economic growth and business resilience.
Africa is one of the fastest growing continents as far as urbanization and entrepreneurship and young people are the force driving this change in our continent. Additionally, Uganda was recognized for being the most entrepreneurial country and yet it still relies strongly on imports. According to Bank of Uganda statistics, Uganda currently suffers a trade deficit with imports standing at $8.28b in 2018/19 financial year compared to $3.96b worth of exports. We have an opportunity to flip these numbers by promoting Import substitution to achieve better economic performance. Import substitution presents an opportunity to advance local business activities through promoting local production and consumption which in turn gives support to Uganda’s local retail businesses
Speaking at the Future of Retail report launch, Olga Kiconco, the Lead Strategy and Consultancy at The Innovation Village emphasized, “We need to emphasize inward and local production to promote import substitution. Our own people have the capability to produce quality products if an ecosystem is put in place to support entrepreneurs right from acquiring and sharpening skills to the marketplace.
MoTIV is a great example of this ecosystem and its ability to support and contribute to the Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) narrative. BUBU is a government policy geared towards promoting use of locally manufactured goods and the use of local skills and personnel. MoTIV a home for makers, artisans and creatives is promoting and presenting an opportunity for works in textile, culinary skills, wood and metal work and a media Lab. MoTIV provides youth with access to state of the art machinery to support production and quality while at the same time providing a marketplace and access to these products in turn supporting are very own.
Before COVID-19, the retail sector was steadily growing because of the increasing consumer and purchasing power which all indicated positive economic growth. Currently, we keep waking up to different aromas of innovations because young people are always brewing new solutions all over the world which facilitates the ever changing digital landscape.. Because of this, many retailers are adopting the use of digital channels to make sales amidst the ongoing pandemic and in turn consumer behaviour has increasingly gravitated towards online. However, as much as the industry is suffering disruption and a quick shift in consumer behaviour, Uganda’s retail space still remains quite traditional so we must find ways to encourage inclusivity in shifting and embracing digital transformation.
Speaking at the Future of Retail report launch, Bart Cornille, International Development Expert at Enabel noted, “Netflix, Uber, Amazon and Uber have re-imagined their business models because of the digital transformation and it is indeed the way to go. Retailers need to re-imagine how they can embrace digital transformation in order to position themselves better.”
However as players in the retail industry try to adapt to digital technology, they must have a positive attitude to trying new things, pay attention to consumer protection guidelines, online branding which includes authenticating goods and service delivery and benchmark on testimonials which can help you gain trust from consumers. If you own a retail shop and you have seen or heard so many people imply that the future of retail is online, you are right to be concerned about what this means for your business. Additionally, the future is uncertain therefore putting all your eggs in one basket may not be the safest option but rather position ourselves to building resilient, flexible and attractive retail businesses by adapting to digital transformation.
Striking a balance is very crucial as we seek to keep up with trends and encouraging collaboration among entities including government, the digital space and organizations to create inclusivity for those left behind in the digital transformation journey is very crucial in defining the Future of Retail.
“To every entrepreneur, do not stop! Do not start if you do not have the tolerance for pain. If you start, do not stop for yourself, do not stop for your family and most importantly do not stop for your country.” CK Japheth, Team Lead at The Innovation Village.