1. General Overview
In Tunisia, payment on e-commerce sites is organized by a secure payment server managed by Tunisian e-banking company Tunisie Monetique. Tunisian credit cards are not approved for transactions in currencies other than the dinar and therefore cannot be used for purchases made on foreign commercial internet sites. Debit and credit cards can be used for domestic internet payment for services, but cash on delivery remains the most common payment option.
Other than bank cards, an electronic payment system called the e-dinar is offered by the Tunisian postal service. Customers establish an account and replenish it by purchasing credit at a post office. Many public services in Tunisia can be paid using e-dinars. Restrictions on international payments due to Tunisia’s foreign exchange regulations as well as the non-convertibility of the dinar prevent Tunisian residents from making transactions on international e-commerce sites such as eBay, Amazon, and AliExpress. The exception is one possesses a “digital technology charge card” issued by the GoT and made available through the Start-Up Act.
Top Products or Services Sold Online
In 2021, high-tech products, electronics, and household appliances were the most popular product purchases online followed by clothes, fashion accessories, and beauty products. Over 98% of e-commerce transactions were carried out in the largest cities of Tunis, Sfax, Sousse, and Gabes.
Total Value of Overall/Sector Online sales
E-commerce has shown strong growth, stimulated by changes in consumption habits during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Ministry of Commerce, 9.9 million online transactions with a total value of $190 million were recorded in 2021, representing a 55% increase in volume and 66% increase in value, compared to 2020. But e-commerce represented just 0.16% of trade in goods and services in 2021, according to the National Institute of consumption (INC). The number of merchant sites affiliated with payment platforms reached 1,436 in 2021.
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) B2C eCommerce index for 2020, Tunisia ranks 77 of 152 countries, first in the Arab Maghreb Union, third in Africa, and ninth among Arab countries.
The general lack of credit cards and online payment systems has resulted in Tunisia’s e-commerce markets remaining largely local, with online orders paid for with cash on delivery. Tunisians prefer to pay as goods are delivered due to concerns about quality of goods, reliability of delivery, and lack of a regulatory infrastructure to demand refunds if the goods are not as promised. Most Tunisian banks offer account holders bank-affiliated credit and debit cards that can be used on domestic websites only. General purpose e-commerce retail sites like Amazon do not exist in Tunisia, except for JUMIA, an online platform connecting merchants and buyers in 11 African countries. However, individual retailers and service providers offer their own online checkout systems tailored to Tunisian credit and debit cards.
2. Legal & Regulatory
Until recently, Tunisian law had mandated that only certified financial institutions with banking licenses were allowed to manage financial transactions. Consequently, electronic payment platforms required participation from at least one Tunisian bank, with payments only between existing Tunisian bank accounts. Central Bank circular 2018-16, issued on December 31, 2018, allowed new e-payment providers to enter the market.
In May 2019, the Ministry of Finance introduced a set of new digital services to facilitate the payment of bills, taxes, and other charges by citizens and businesses. These digital services, launched by the Ministry of Finance, are part of the national strategy to reduce the use of cash and increase electronic payments.
An August 2000 e-commerce law requires that e-commerce companies operating in Tunisia must be of Tunisian nationality, have their headquarters in Tunisia, and not exercise any other professional activity.
3. Consumer Behavior
According to data from the Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy, more than 80% of Tunisia’s online transactions are conducted on a cash-on-delivery basis. This arrangement has helped e-commerce grow significantly and encouraged companies to provide home delivery. Tunisia’s e-commerce services are generally limited to the domestic market and often centered in Tunis and other large urban areas. The COVID-19 pandemic and related social-distancing measures created a surge in demand for online shopping businesses such as Founa, lemarché.tn, and JUMIA.
According to a 2019 web analytics study on Tunisian e-commerce sites, 46.2% of e-commerce traffic was generated from organic searches, more than 40% of online shoppers are men between the ages of 25 and 34, and 63% of online purchases is made from mobile devices.
Most Tunisian banks allow account holders to use bank-affiliated credit and debit cards to make domestic online purchases denominated in dinars. The Tunisian dinar is a non-convertible currency, so online purchases in foreign currency are not allowed, and few Tunisians make cross-border purchases via e-commerce. In recognition of this limitation, the Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy launched a Digital Technology Charge Card in May 2015 for Tunisians with college degrees, which allows these cardholders to make online purchases of software, mobile applications, web services, and publications in support of entrepreneurial activities. Individual users are limited to 1,000 dinars (about $330) in annual purchases. The program has been expanded to include Tunisian IT companies, which are allotted up to 10,000 dinars (about $3,300) annually to purchase online services, including server hosting and freelance programming services. In September 2018, Parliament passed the Start-Up Act, which permits qualified companies to purchase up to 100,000 Tunisian dinars’ ($33,000) worth of foreign goods in foreign currency using the “digital technology charge card.”
4. Intellectual Property Rights
Tunisia’s National Institute for Standardization and Industrial Property recognizes and enforces foreign patents registered in Tunisia, including those dedicated to eCommerce. Tunisian law affords foreign businesses treatment equal to that afforded Tunisian nationals. Tunisia has also updated its legislation to meet the requirement of the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). For the “.TN” country-specific top-level domain name, the Tunisian Internet Authority responds to complaints of cybersquatting from trademark owners and will transfer domain registrations to complainants upon demonstration that the accused website is used to pass off counterfeit goods.
5. Digital Marketing & social media
Tunisia’s Digital Technology Charge Card program, launched by the Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy in May 2015, allows users to purchase digital marketing services online. Business contacts note that this program has allowed them to purchase targeted “key word” advertising services directly from companies such as Google and Facebook. The program remains limited, however, as participating marketing companies within Tunisia quickly exceed their yearly allowances of 1,000 dinars (about $330) per individual or 10,000 dinars (about $3,300) per IT company. Permission to exceed this amount requires a formal request to the Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy and final approval from the Tunisian Central Bank, which is rare.
Tunisia’s social media climate is open, voluminous, and lively. Facebook enjoys a dominant market position, with most Tunisian businesses and individuals maintaining an active online presence through the free platform to promote products and services and communicate with customers rather than hosting their own websites. According to statements from the Meta Insights platform (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger), the number of social media users in Tunisia totaled 8,642,700 in 2021, and 72.75% of Tunisians actively use websites each month. The most popular platforms for Tunisians are Facebook and YouTube. Twitter is popular amongst the intelligentsia and closely followed by political figures and media. In March 2017, Facebook and Google reached a deal with leading Tunisian Internet provider TOPNET to host content on Tunisian servers, which will allow the companies to serve the growing content demands of Tunisia’s internet users more quickly. WhatsApp and Instagram are also popular social media outlets. As e-commerce grows, advertising on social media has increased.
There are no significant consumer “buying holidays” for eCommerce in Tunisia. During the month of Ramadan, Tunisian consumption increases by 25% across all consumer categories. Black Friday was also introduced in 2018 and is becoming a major buying day.
6. Local service providers overview
Mobile phone network providers Ooredoo, Orange, and Tunisie Telecom have created online accounts through which users can purchase data and phone services using domestic bank accounts and pre-paid mobile cards. Funds can also be moved from one user’s account to another within the same network. In April 2018, The Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy announced the gradual start of mobile money-transfer services by telecom operators among bank and postal accounts.
As a result of social-distancing measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, the Ministry of Finance issued “digital wallets” linked to individuals’ national identity numbers that allow every Tunisian to receive money and make digital payments.