Reliance on business partners in Africa and rising African e-commerce activity fuels express cargo delivery between the continent and rest of the world.
Rapid economic growth in Africa in recent years has created challenges and opportunities alike for businesses seeking to assist in the continent’s continued expansion.
Now, the swift emergence of an increasingly affluent African middle class -- combined with the importance many groups in the US, Asia and Europe have placed on partners in Africa -- is driving a fast-growing activity for cargo companies: express service to and from Africa for businesses and consumers.
“Demand is growing for door-to-door service that guarantees rapid delivery and real-time tracking at a reasonable, all-in price,” says Oliver Soler, director of African and overseas services for Bolloré Logistics in Paris, which has added express deliveries to its range of traditional freight forwarding activities.
The launching of Bolloré’s dedicated system and staff specialized in rapid delivery of smaller parcels was motivated in large part by the rising demand for that service in Africa.
“What makes the activity different in Africa than elsewhere is that final African destinations may be far from urban centers,” Soler says. “So you need a complete range of transport solutions and lots of local experience to make sure packages are continually moving to their destination.”
Those exigencies play to the Bolloré Group’s strength in Africa, where its staff of 26,000 people and array of local partners can provide ground transport options covering rail, trucks, smaller vans and even motorbike delivery. Express service can choose from the fastest options in that mix.
Other potential complications in the flourishing African express activity include delays during transiting or customs clearance, which in some cases can run anywhere from three to 10 days. It’s therefore vital that service providers have the experience to keep packages constantly moving, and know effective solutions when delays do arise.
Bolloré’s express service offers daily flights to 25 African destinations, and delivery within 48 hours for normal business and individual customer use in the main cities.
It has also introduced the urgent shipment offer, “Speed to Africa,” providing specialized courier transport for businesses in emergency situations. Examples of that include mechanical parts being rushed to factories or oil platforms to fix industrial breakdowns, and medicines dispatched to hospitals ahead of critical procedures.
Despite its unrivaled presence on the continent, Bolloré still faces express competition in Africa from the sector’s global giants. But Soler notes the activity is not a zero-sum game, with all competitors periodically soliciting one another as partners.
“So while we at times call on competitors to provide service where our network is thinner, they often request our services from our African network, which no one else can match,” he explains.
One significant example of that, Soler says, was a company asking Bolloré to ensure delivery of 24 tons of supplies for a UN mission in Gambia. The order had been booked as express freight, but the size of the cargo surpassed the contracting company’s infrastructure, which like most actors in the activity limits packages to 30 kilograms.
In processing the shipment, Bolloré’s express unit turned to the group’s larger cargo operations, and could fulfill the huge delivery in express conditions.
Though most African express is currently B2B or between individuals, the rapid rise of e-commerce by the continent’s consumers is rapidly fueling B2C deliveries. As that develops, e-commerce leaders like Cdiscount will find it more affordable to move supply platforms from Europe to Africa for storage and dispatching of goods.
“That will produce some decline in Europe-Africa express volumes,” Soler notes. “But it will spark even greater intra-African demand for express.”