Innovations in Platform-Led Upskilling: Jumia Kenya invests heavily in training and retraining their vendors
One of the influencing factors behind our platform-led upskilling project came out of our 2018 research into how micro-entrepreneurs in Kenya use platforms in their daily business. In the course of our research we heard about many self-employed Kenyans learning new skills via the very platforms they rely on for their livelihoods. For instance, Robert, a Jumia merchant, told us how Jumia actively trained him on how to become a successful vendor.
Even though Robert isn’t an employee of Jumia, the relationship he has with the platform is more intertwined than simply anonymous sales. We met with Jumia to learn more about how it trains vendors, what it trains vendors in, and the challenges it has faced along the way.
“From the moment I knew about Jumia, I went to their offices, I was trained on how to use the website, and through that training I am able to make sales . . . and track orders.”
-Robert, Jumia Merchant
While a range of online training modules are available for Jumia Kenya vendors, the platform has found high-touch channels to be the most effective for upskilling. They encourage vendors to attend classroom onboarding sessions, as opposed to online alternatives, by offering incentives for attendance such as discounts on the Jumia store. While offline training lays the foundation, online material can be used as refresher training, or to access complex training on the more nuanced applications of the Jumia vendor portal. Vendors benefit from these multiple touchpoints but—we were told—struggle to take advantage of the online options without first going through the initial face-to-face training.
Jumia is constantly striving to make its training more scalable and personalized. One way it does this is by using AI to anticipate, identify, and personalize training interventions. Unlike attending a face-to-face onboarding session, or navigating online training materials, this approach to upskilling happens in the moment, when users might not even realize they are receiving training. See below for two examples:
The “Content Score” in the Seller Center automatically measures the quality of a product’s content listing and, in doing so, provides advice on how to improve a listing.
Source: Jumia Kenya Vendors Hub
The Sellers Coach guides vendors on how to improve their online businesses through subtle hints designed to help them accelerate sales and increase the quality of goods on offer. The tool, customized to vendors’ individual businesses and integrated into the Seller Center portal, provides actionable recommendations on topics ranging from pricing to stock control.
Jumia invests heavily in training because they have to
Platforms depend on high volumes of transactions, which necessitate a large user base of sellers equipped with the skills to fulfill sales. If the skills are not present, the business will fail, and so the onus is increasingly on the platform to step in and deliver them.
“Training is a necessary investment and key to platform growth. Sellers who are successful have gone through training.”
—Sam Chappatte, CEO of Jumia Kenya
But providing vendors with enough quality training, especially face-to-face training, is a challenge for Jumia. While training is key to providing “sustainable income for merchants” and in turn increasing Jumia’s sales, the costs it incurs—especially the in-classroom training expenses of renting training facilities and training trainers—is a burden. In a bid to increase the reach of their in-person training, Jumia has recently moved its vendor training facility to a larger unit in Nairobi’s Central Business District enabling them to run five trainings per day rather than one. They would like to be able to expand their classroom training outside of Nairobi to enable vendors in second tier cities to sell across the platform as well, but resource constraints are currently preventing this expansion.
Many new vendors lack a basic understanding of e-commerce
Through classroom training, online videos, and in-workflow training moments, Jumia is constantly at work upskilling and re-skilling its vendors with an offering that includes a mix of skills—from digital sales and marketing to digital and financial literacy.
A big part of their training focuses on building an understanding of what selling on Jumia means, that is, in essence, how online business differs from the offline world. We attended one of their face-to-face vendor onboarding sessions in Nairobi where the first question the trainer put to the class was “What is e-commerce, and how does it differ from your offline business?” There appeared to be a very basic understanding of what this new digital work opportunity entailed.
”A big part of the training is demystifying what e-commerce is. There are lots of assumptions that it is easy to transition an offline business into the online world. Training is aimed at clarification and building understanding." —Valentine Wambui, Jumia Kenya’s Head of Vendor Relationship Management
A lack of understanding of digital sales and marketing is evidently a challenge for the training team.
“Despite high mobile phone and internet penetration, there is a serious lack of awareness of e-commerce. Education is still an issue.” —Pauline Masese, Jumia Kenya’s Head of PR
While Jumia trains merchants in “platform proficiency”—enabling them to access and use the platform itself—the additional, generalizable skills they transfer to users are of particular interest to us in this research project. Training in these generalizable skills, from financial and digital literacies to vocation-specific activities, are what we call transformational upskilling.
Transformational upskilling results in the transfer of skills that are portable and useful both on and off the platform and that therefore not only benefit platforms and their users but also increase the overall level of human capital in a workforce. We’re particularly interested in how platforms, such as Jumia, are increasingly involved in the overall education landscape in the markets in which they operate, the opportunities and challenges this presents, and the implications this has for livelihoods in a digital Africa.