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 2 percent of the population is connected to the internet.
But Safiya Ahmed, a finance officer at Golden University, a private college in the capital Mogadishu, loves shopping online, because it saves time she would otherwise have to spend out on the city’s hectic streets. She shows off a blender in her office that she 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 every day, 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 begun to attract investment from locals and Somalis living abroad.
Ahmed ordered her blender from Soomar, a company set up two years ago which now rings up sales of more than 25,000 items a month, offering an eclectic range of goods from fresh fish to electronics and office supplies.
Customers can pay with accounts on their mobile phones, a convenience which the company’s boss, Mohamed Mohamud, said is the key to his success so far.
“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 that Mohamud acknowledges can be tricky in a country where maps are sketchy and roads in ruins.
“The infrastructure of the main cities of Somalia and most of the roads were wrecked in the war, and our delivery cars and motorbikes struggle to get to a place,” Mohamud said. “We waste a lot of time to get the right directions to a client’s home and we spend money calling clients by mobile to find them.”