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Amazon finds a way around a West African muddle, Retail News, ET Retail

Amazon finds a way around a West African muddle In a building on West 147th Street in Upper Manhattan, the mail carriers know apartment 1A. Boxes arrive at all hours, ordered from websites around the world. Throw pillows, diapers, car parts, cellphones, high heels and AirPods pile up in the foyer, but none of the items were bought by the person to whom they are addressed: Arame Wade. The true recipients are 3,800 miles away.

Every few weeks, Wade stuffs her luggage with goods and hauls them across the Atlantic to the people who actually made the purchases: customers in Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa, who pay her a fee.

Wade, a former car saleswoman, is part of a thriving low-tech solution to a problem that continues to bedevil high-tech shopping in places where mail delivery is unreliable and street addresses are rare: Getting stuff to the people who ordered it.

The roundabout shipping route is an attempt to solve what is known among logistics professionals as the “last-mile issue”: getting imported online goods into Senegal can be fairly smooth, but the final stretch is where things sometimes go awry.

Informal couriers like Wade, 34, are known in Senegal and other French-speaking countries as GPs. The GPs would often bring hard-to-find goods home from abroad for friends. Today, GPs have formed their own cottage industry, charging fees — as little as $8 a pound for some bulk items; more for things like cellphones or computers — that are typically well below what most online retailers charge for shipping.

“You’re crossing fingers that you get these items home safely, and nothing breaks and nothing gets stolen,” Wade said. Despite a rush to capitalise on growing internet use in Africa and other places with similar infrastructure challenges, scaling e-commerce is not always easy.

Amazon ships goods to Senegal and 128 other countries, where it assumes the risk and responsibility for deliveries, much as it does in the US, according to the company. But the shipping companies that Amazon uses cannot always provide doorstep delivery.

Still, many people in West Africa choose the underground network, simply because they prefer to use someone they know.

Marietou Seck’s house, like many in the Senegalese capital, has no street number. So Seck, 34, a sustainability consultant who orders things online for her two small children, has cultivated a stable of GPs. At checkout, she types in the addresses the couriers provide in their home countries. When they land in Dakar, they call her and arrange to meet.

“You don’t give your stuff to any GP,” Seck said, adding that she asked for references and checked online reviews.

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