Zambia’s telecommunications sector has experienced rapid growth over the past several years due to a liberal regulatory approach and robust competition, with several private sector providers and the legacy telecom parastatal offering both consumer and business grade data and voice service at competitive rates as compared to other markets in the sub region. The Information and Communication Technologies Act Number 15 of 2009 regulates the telecommunication sector in the country, and the Zambia Information and Communications Authority (ZICTA) is the notionally independent regulator for the ICT sector.
eCommerce is a growing market in Zambia. Growth varies by channel, though mobile commerce is by far the top performer. Since reporting the first outbreak cases of COVID-19 in Zambia, the use of mobile commerce has increased rapidly, especially in domestic payments in retail, wholesale, utility, and obligatory payments to government. According to the Zambia Information Communications Technology Agency (ZICTA), the total number of active internet subscriptions increased from 10.3 million at the end of 2020 to 10.4 million by the end of 2021, representing growth of 1.3 percent and an internet penetration rate of 56.7 per 100 inhabitants. The steady increase in subscriptions (up from only 7.9 million in 2018) is attributed to improved data networks, affordable data services and the expansion of networks by operators aggressively competing for customers. Notable industries exploiting the eCommerce space include banks and telecommunication companies.
While currently under review by the new administration that took office in August 2021, the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act came into effect on April 1, 2021, establishing extra-territorial reach for conduct that has an effect in Zambia. The law allows for law enforcement interception of communications without notification of private citizens and allows cyber inspectors to access without prior notice any ICT equipment reasonably believed to have been used in connection with an offense. The act also criminalizes hate speech and/or conduct through any form of communication, including social media. Penalties for hate speech can include a fine of ZMW 150,000, imprisonment up to two years, or both. Provisions in the act related to hate speech are broad and subjective and the courts have not yet established a large body of precedent related to the law. The Data Protection Act also went into effect on April 1, 2021, and now stands as the primary data privacy and protection legislation in Zambia. The Act includes data localization requirements for sensitive data and establishes an Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, who is responsible for regulating controllers and data processors and licensing data auditors. As of July 2022, the Zambian government is actively considering revisions to the Data Protection Act that would loosen data localization requirements but impose stiff fees for access to off-shore data centers.
The Information and Communications Technology Association of Zambia bill was approved by Parliament and enacted in July 2018. The Act establishes the Information and Communications Technology Association of Zambia and stipulates its functions and regulates the registration of information and communications technology professionals and their professional conduct in the sector.
Current Market Trends
Zambia has seen an increase in the use of mobile commerce channels for purchases and other financial transactions via credit and debit Cards, automated teller machine (ATM) bill payments, kiosk payments, and mobile devices.
Mobile platforms are the primary channel for eCommerce due to the coverage provided by mobile data networks. The government is building more communication towers to house base stations, which will enable increased coverage for data access.
Most Zambians are comfortable purchasing electricity tokens, digital TV, paying their water bills, and making cardless transactions like eWallet.
The top countries from where Zambians make online purchases are the United States (eBay, Amazon); United Kingdom (eBay); and China (Alibaba). There is expected to be even greater growth in the region once Amazon is launched in South Africa. Products range from electronics, footwear, clothing, and accessories to motor vehicle spare parts and motor vehicles. Challenges associated with online purchases include those experienced globally, including the receipt of defective, poor-quality merchandise or products sold on the basis of false information. Other challenges include the lack of information from the service provider such as contact details, right to withdrawal, non-receipt of the item purchased, non-standard or unclear terms and conditions, added costs such as customs duty, value added tax, and import declaration fees.
The Zambian government is developing a B2B portal that includes a database of suppliers and buyers and provides electronic tools to enable buyers to submit tender information and receive bids from suppliers. The portal aims to increase trade between local small and medium enterprises and large companies. Other entities are entering the B2B market; for example, the national pension fund (NAPSA) has partnered with several banks to enable payments of pension contributions. Other partnership examples include:
- The Zambia Electricity Supply Company (ZESCO) is interfacing with IT companies for the purchase and payment of electricity tokens;
- Banks have partnered with private companies to provide payment platforms to enable bank accounts to be debited for online transactions;
- Water utility companies, Zambia Revenue Authority, Road Transport and Safety Agency and many others have partnered with system integrators to allow for online bill payment;
- Pay television and other services and products can be paid through mobile banking. SMS Banking ATM and kiosk payments, online website payments, or using credit or debit cards.
Mobile telecommunication operators are providing unstructured supplementary service data and data services targeted to support for key industries.
Short Messaging Services: Banks provided access to accounts for purchases and payments to service providers such as government tax collection and pension agencies, and to electric, water, and cable television, and insurance companies.
eCommerce Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): The Patent and Company Registration Office has a small unit that deals with awareness and compliance but is not involved in enforcement. The unit does not issue official guidelines on what constitutes eCommerce IPR violations or how to file complaints.
Commonly Referenced eCommerce Websites:
- Zambia Revenue Authority - to pay domestic taxes & customs services
- National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA)
- Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA)
- Road Transport and Safety Agency
- Kazang Pay – Kazang is Zambia’s biggest point of sale (POS) terminal network that allows sell of a range of prepaid products and services and accept card payments from a single POS device. The Timpa X POS accepts SASSA, Visa and Mastercard debit and credit cards. Customers can deposit money into their bank accounts using Kazang.
- iShop Zambia and Dot Com Zambia –shopping platforms allowing users to shop online from in-country (Zambia) and from international retailers located in the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa, and China.
The most common payment methods for online eCommerce transactions in Zambia include: mobile money, credit and debit cards, ATM and kiosk payments, websites, and Paybills.co.zm - a payment service that allows customers in Zambia to pay utility bills, pay television subscriptions, and buy air time using VISA or MasterCard.
Digital Marketing: There are very few digital marketing houses in Zambia. Several websites offer free space for advertising on their websites, but often do not guarantee viewing benchmarks. Companies purchase time on big digital screens located at major intersections that viewers see as they walk or drive by. This remains a popular form of advertising in larger cities. Marketing companies that offer advertising opportunities include:
- JCDecaux Africa Advertising
- G. Rutherford Outdoor Advertising
- Zambia Tourism
Major Buying Holidays
The major consumer ‘buying holidays’ and most popular shopping days on eCommerce in Zambia include:
- Black Friday (Adopted from the U.S. event following Thanksgiving)
- Special Tuesday (Weekly discounts offered by providers)
- Special Thursday (Weekly discounts offered by providers)
Social Media: There has been a surge in social media usage, especially in urban areas with ample mobile data coverage. Many Zambians are increasingly using social media to follow news and events, in addition to business networking, socializing, and for voice and video calls. Facebook and YouTube tend to attract a younger audience, and WhatsApp is the most widely used and popular among all age groups. Neither Twitter nor Instagram are widely used in Zambia.