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By Anurika Azubuike

When Nigerian authorities locked down cities across the country in late February to curb the spread of COVID-19, Blessing Chibueze feared the small store she runs would quickly run out of stock.

Chibueze, a mother of one, sells dairy products, toiletries, and other items from her outlet in the Oshodi area of Lagos. She is one of millions of women in Nigeria who run small retail businesses to help provide for their families.

With a lockdown in place, and cases of COVID-19 rising quickly in Nigeria, Chibueze knew she couldn’t travel to the markets where she sources much of her stock. In any case, during the lockdown, most of those markets were closed, and other sources of supply were also unavailable.

It was a tough situation, but the solution turned out to be right at Chibueze’s fingertips.

TradeDepot, a rising star in Nigeria’s growing digital economy, was there to bridge the supply chain gap and help Chibueze keep her shelves stocked and customers happy even during a challenge as severe as COVID-19.

“They made it much easier for me to stock my store without leaving my location,” Chibueze says. “They would supply me at least once a week, and sometimes two or three times in a week. There was no need for me to go to the market and their prices are good.”

Millions of women in Nigeria run small retail businesses to help provide for their families. IFC and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) investment in TradeDepot will incentivize the company to build stronger women-led SME retailer and distributor networks. Photo Credit: TradeDepot

TradeDepot is an end-to-end distribution platform, founded to simplify and digitize micro retail distribution. Today, it supplies tens of thousands of small-scale retailers in Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana with hundreds of products, from detergents to spices and toothpastes.

By leveraging technology to make products more easily available to retailers and at lower prices, TradeDepot helps small retailers boost sales and improve their livelihoods. Instead of having to navigate a fragmented network of distributors and wholesalers, small traders can connect directly to leading consumer goods companies via TradeDepot’s ShopTopUp app on their phones.

“Essential household items were in high demand, but it was difficult for small retailers and distributors to get those items during the lockdown,” said Onyekachi Izukanne, Co-Founder and CEO of TradeDepot. The company partnered with the Lagos State Government and became part of the State’s emergency food response strategy, distributing essential products to designated markets during the nationwide lockdown. “We played the role of an anchor, helping over 40,000 micro retailers to stay in business during the lockdown while ensuring that consumers have access to the goods they need.”

Micro and small-scale retailers, many of whom depend on daily wages, comprise the bulk of Nigeria’s expansive informal sector.  With 90 percent of Nigeria’s retail sector being informal, and with the country’s population of almost 200 million growing rapidly, neighborhood stores like Chibueze’s are vital in urban and rural areas alike.  

And many of such retailers—along with much of Nigeria’s wider economy—are turning to digital solutions for growth and to overcome the country’s longstanding supply and distribution challenges. They are also finding that improving their digital knowledge and skills help them better run and manage their businesses.

Nigeria has the largest mobile market in Sub-Saharan Africa supported by strong mobile broadband infrastructure and improved international connectivity. With increased access to technology, Nigeria is uniquely positioned to reap the benefits of the digital economy. Wider adoption of tech solutions within retail distribution will help create better functioning supply chains and fuel economic growth.

The company was supported earlier this year through an investment from IFC and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), which helps women entrepreneurs in emerging markets access financing, training, and markets. Financing from We-Fi will incentivize the company to build stronger women-led SME retailer and distributor networks.

By leveraging technology, instead of having to navigate a fragmented network of distributors and wholesalers, small traders can connect directly to leading consumer goods companies via TradeDepot’s ShopTopUp app on their phones. Photo Credit: TradeDepot

TradeDepot has fulfilled orders despite the serious challenges brought by COVID-19, which forced the temporary closure of some of Nigeria’s suppliers and bank branches. Working with mobile money operators has enabled retailers to do contactless payments and operate safely, for example. 

The company is also exploring other opportunities to support its network of retailers, such as providing access credit and micro-insurance solutions.

“Our ambition is to engage with many more retailers, building out more supply chains and operating within more markets,” said Izukanne.

For IFC, supporting companies like TradeDepot means helping Nigeria grow its economy and create a stronger digital future, one retail shop at a time.

“Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and one with the potential to grow even further as it embraces digital technology and diversifies from its traditional sources of extractives-led revenue,” said IFC Nigeria Country Manager, Eme Essien Lore. “The vast number of micro and small retailers in the country are a formidable economic force of their own and supporting their growth is vital to job creation and poverty reduction in the country.”


Published July 2020