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Why we invested: Jemla is empowering small-scale retailers to build profitable and resilient businesses

Jul 31, 2023 | Why We Invested

by Jacob Winiecki and Carmen Merab

Although small scale retailers are at the heart of the African economy, few have access to resources or markets. Jemla is giving retailers the opportunity to improve margins and decrease effort by providing them with the fast-moving consumer goods(FMCG) inventory they need to run their businesses quickly and at affordable prices. Retailers place orders via an app or through a Jemla agent, and have inventory delivered for free within 24 hours without having to leave their shops. 

There are more than 2.5 million small-scale retailers in Africa, contributing $2.6 trillion to the continent’s GDP and providing 80% of jobs. In Ethiopia, Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) are the second largest employment-generating sector, after agriculture. Ethiopia is a country that heavily relies on small businesses, especially informal retailers. These retailers, commonly known in Ethiopia as “souqs”, operate in various sectors of the economy, including clothing, electronics, and groceries. 

Despite the major market opportunity and the important role they play in local economies, small-scale retailers face many challenges that hinder the growth and profitability of their businesses: Small-scale retailers rely on highly inefficient and fragmented restocking systems through a complex network of distributors, agents, independent vehicle operators, and retail outlets – all of whom demand a margin. Shop owners don’t have the buying power to access lower prices, have access to a limited range of products, and have to pay high fees to load and unload their products upon delivery. Many small-scale retailers in Africa are unregistered and informal, and as such are unable to access credit from formal sources, as well as value-added services that are available to registered and licensed retailers, such as mobile money agencies and bill payment services. This makes growth particularly difficult as retailers tend to have capital tied up in inventory that’s purchased just in time and constrains their ability to expand their offerings to include digital financial services. 

To address these challenges, Jemla, a B2B digital commerce company has introduced innovative solutions to provide informal retailers in Addis Ababa with a dependable and cost-effective supply chain and distribution network customized to their requirements. 

Jemla builds relationships with suppliers to offer retailers better prices. They procure in bulk directly from local and international FMCG suppliers, securing products at a price point retailers couldn’t obtain on their own, and pass along a majority of these savings. By connecting informal retailers directly with manufacturers and importers, JEMLA can help to streamline supply chain costs and ensure that products reach their intended targets in a timely and cost-effective manner.

The company leverages tech to make the solution work. The company’s platform includes a mobile application for field agents to register retailers and take orders in the field, and a soon-to-be-launched mobile app designed for retailers to order directly from Jemla. This is particularly important in Ethiopia, where many retailers may not have access to a desktop computer or reliable internet connection. Jemla customers can also access a product catalog through a Telegram channel, offering convenience for those customers who are regular users of smartphone applications. A centralized call center takes and supports fulfillment of orders, and provides remote customer support. Jemla is also customizing these tools for the unique needs of the Ethiopian market: making these technologies available in the Amharic language and building offline capabilities to their tools for areas with connectivity challenges. 

Jemla is working to broaden its offerings by integrating digital financial services, such as utility payments and airtime purchases, into its platform, allowing retailers to sell digital financial services (DFS) and generate additional revenue while increasing financial inclusion among underserved communities. By bridging the gaps around access to a reliable supply chain, working capital, and digital tools, Jemla is supporting the growth and livelihoods of informal retailers while enabling FMCG manufacturers and importers to reach a larger market.

Jemla currently has 10,000+ registered retailers in Addis Ababa, with more than 200 becoming regular customers. In addition to launching operations in new areas of Addis Ababa, the company is exploring expansion into other cities in Ethiopia. We also see opportunities for Jemla to provide valuable insights to both retailers and manufacturers through their data-driven approach that can help businesses optimize their operations and drive growth.

Over the next few months, Jemla and the Jobtech team will work together to build and bring to market additional digital tools to increase efficiencies in the informal retail market, looking closely at how the productivity and cost savings Jemla unlocks for retailers can enable them to achieve more reliable and improved income, and in some cases hire part-time workers. Additionally, the teams will collaborate on end-user research to better understand the financial needs of informal retailers, such as purchasing stock on credit terms, working capital, and asset finance. 


The Jobtech Alliance is an ecosystem-building initiative around inclusive jobtech in Africa launched in late 2021. We’re interested in digital platforms which connect people to work opportunities that build livelihoods – this includes gigmatching platforms, job matching, e-commerce marketplaces, and more. The Jobtech Alliance helps jobtech platforms to grow and create more jobs.


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