iGaming in Africa: Leveraging the Power of Omni-channel

Entering emerging markets such as Africa can be a complex process, especially when one considers the diverse range of consumer and market trends present on the continent. Choosing the right region to suit your product, and ensuring that its content is localised, is critical for market launch success.

Uplatform have a wealth of experience in doing just this.

We caught up with their Head of Marketing Maria Bashkevich to tap into her knowledge of developing leading gaming products for various African markets.

In this interview, we explore the key aspects of this burgeoning market that must be considered in order to secure sustainable growth, while fully engaging the African iGaming consumer.

What impact did the Pandemic have on the African iGaming market and what do you think it means for the future?

“Well, as everywhere else, there was a big impact. Firstly, there was a cancellation of major sporting events (and it is one of the most popular verticals in the market); secondly, most African countries decisively put lockdowns in place and imposed curfews (and the African market is mostly retail) and third, there were huge economic consequences with people losing their jobs.

“In the beginning, it looked very hopeless, and the overall view was a pessimistic one.  We saw an understandable decrease due to the market specifics. The industry attempted to adapt quickly by moving offline to online, diversifying portfolios with esports, virtual sports, bingo, slots, and a few changes in regulations, etc. But as time passed, we witnessed the reawakening of the industry. 

“As for the future, I think it will push changes in the market – the understanding of the importance of diversification and an online presence. We’ll see for how long the pandemic forced changes will last, but I hope it will speed up the evolution and development of the iGaming sector.”

What are the most popular gaming verticals in Africa and what do you see as the biggest drivers of growth?

“The African market is well-known for its strong sports betting and lottery verticals. Acknowledging this, we, as a sportsbook provider, are constantly striving to improve our betting offering to ensure our clients benefit to the fullest.  Right now, for example, we have more than 1,500 football matches for pre-live betting — both top and lower-tier leagues.

“If we’re talking about trends, I’d say we can see the slow transition to online or the growth of hybrid betting enterprises. We see how countries are slowly but surely opening up to online and mobile payments. Taking into account the existing trend of population growth, the growth of the young generation and increasing mobile penetration, I’d say that in the next decade we’ll see significant growth in online betting in the region.

“It doesn’t mean that betting shops (known locally as ‘betshops’), which are an important part of the social and cultural life of many towns, will disappear. They are still very popular in the region and it will remain like that. But from what I see, with existing trends, more and more operators are moving to Omni-channel solutions to have both an offline and online presence.”

Africa is a very diverse region with multiple consumer and market trends. How can new entrants ensure their product is as localised as possible?

“I totally agree with you that the African market is more complex and diverse than it’s generally assumed.

“Many operators mistakenly believe that a single strategy will work throughout the continent, so they plan to enter several countries at once, without preparing their project for the specifics of each country. There are common trends in the popularity of sports, leagues, features and devices, but behaviour of players, their solvency, level of trust and psychology changes from country to country — not to mention the difference in language, culture, religion and peculiarities in regulation and taxes. 

“To be sure that the product is localised to its full potential, operators should first do all their homework and research. Then they should choose a reliable partner who has proven experience with operating clients in those markets and has a tailored solution for that market. It is also extremely important to have integrated popular payment solutions, especially mobile payments. It also needs to cover popular leagues, have solid solutions for agents, localised languages, proper Omni-channel solutions, etc. The success of the process depends largely on the operator and their strategy. But a tailored solution will simplify the process and reduce the financial and time costs.”

Africa is predominantly a retail-led market. How easy is it to convert hardcore retail players to online? What key tools can be used?

“As I mentioned above, ‘betshops’ have their specific cultural and social meaning and place in the lives of different social groups. There are different reasons why they still prefer physical bet slips and physical betting. It might be social reasons, tech reasons, trust issues or just traditions. 

“Depending on the country, the village, and the reasons for preferences, I think the answer to your question will differ. Obviously, it’s not a simple process. However, I do believe with an Omni-channel solution, a good marketing strategy, and the right sort of education there is a chance of converting SOME players. Once again, it isn’t a swift process.

“I think going all-in online would be a big mistake for the local brands that have betshops across the whole country, both big towns and small villages. But to have both an online and offline presence would be a great move to attract new audiences online, and show the existing player base the beauty and simplicity of betting online, while still keeping their beloved social hub – the betshop. Also, having the right agent scheme would greatly benefit these countries too.

“With existing tech trends, economic and regulation development and the growth of younger audiences in the region, in a few years betshops will also have to have an online presence. But I believe that competition will be high and it will be very costly to enter. So, why sit and wait for it?” 

What does a true Omni-channel gaming experience look like from your perspective?

“Simple, seamless and effective for both players and operators. It means it should provide players with a seamless journey across all betting channels — one account in both retail and online, shared wallet and loyalty programmes. This will enable the bettor to easily deposit money offline and bet online via SMS, for example, and/or register from the phone and bet at retail outlets. For operators it means unified administrative tools, an intuitive interface for cashiers and effective, uninterrupted operations. All of this should go together with high-quality tech solutions, extensive sportsbooks and adequate, knowledgeable support.

“That’s how we see it at Uplatform and this is how we’ve created our solutions.” 

Editor’s Note:

From speaking with Maria, it’s clear that, unsurprisingly, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a great catalyst for change in the market. The potential for retail and online markets to merge and maximise the player experience is stronger than ever.

Sports betting and lottery are still the most popular verticals across the continent and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

One thing that Maria makes very clear is that–although online is growing–going all-in online would be a big mistake for the local brands.

Instead, she argues convincingly, it’s best to have both an online and offline presence, to take the Omni-channel route. This will enable brands to attract new audiences online, demonstrate the beauty and simplicity of betting online — while still keeping their beloved betting shop social hub.

We look forward to seeing how the Omni-channel market in Africa continues to develop and how great solutions providers like Uplatform will bring this ambitious vision to life for brands hoping to make significant inroads in this emerging sector of African gaming.

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