Meet the Seedstars World Ivory Coast winner: Airshop

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For a startup that hasn’t even launched yet, Ivory Coast’s Airshop is really making waves.

Not only did the duty-free shopping platform emerge the winner from the Ivory Coast leg of the global Seedstars World startup competition, booking a place at the final in Geneva in the process, but it was also one of the startups selected to pitch at yesterday’s DEMO Africa event in Lagos.

Validation indeed for Airshop, which does not expect to launch until next month but has already attracted several hundred pre-registered users. The premise of its business is simple, to enable airline passengers and duty-free shops to connect ahead of travel and arrange special orders.

Chief executive officer (CEO) Francis Yapobi told Disrupt Africa the startup was looking to solve the problem that airline passengers are unable to take full advantage of tax exemption at duty-free shops because of poor access to information and the scope of available products.

Airshop is a web and mobile application that allows travellers to discover what is available at the nearest partner stores in advance and reserve and pay for these items directly. The passenger then receives an electronic voucher that can be redeemed at the shop in exchange for the product.

“Since the sixteenth century duty-free has revolved around tobacco, alcohol and cosmetics, because most of the industry in relying on an old paradigm that duty-free runs on impulse shopping,” said Yapobi.

“We believe that in 2015 this doesn’t have to be, and that more and more people want to strategise their duty-free purchases on higher value products categories. The duty-free industry is therefore sitting on massive untapped revenue.”

Duty-free shopping and travel retail represented more than US$67 billion in sales globally last year, with an annual growth rate of more than 10 per cent since 2002. Yapobi said at the same time smartphone penetration had surged and mobile commerce is becoming a habit of frequent flyers. Airshop is looking to tap into this opportunity.

“Airshop connects travellers and their friends with duty-free stores ahead of the flight day, so that passengers can discover what’s available, pay for it, and collect it on their travel date with a flawless experience,” Yapobi said.

“We also let the users place special requests that have to be approved by the shops. Ultimately Airshop enables the shops to adjust their inventories in real-time so they never lose a sale again.”

He said the startup’s biggest competition would be from individual duty-free shops launching pre-ordering websites, but added Airshop would still be at an advantage.

“There are other pre-ordering sites, mostly hyperlocal, store-specific traditional e-commerce websites run by the shops themselves, but due to their individually small scopes and lack of features, they have failed in giving pre-ordering the traction it could get. In fact the vast majority of people do not even know it exists,” Yapobi said.  

“Having an infinity of websites with different procedures to discover and choose from is what will make pre-ordering fail as a major shift in the industry. Instead we propose a ubiquitous and enjoyable user experience, with features that most shops cannot develop on their own, like our social layer. We also have better chance at converting travellers with our global marketing initiatives than individuals shops.”

Airshop, which will receive a fee for each transaction its handles, is set to launch in Ivory Coast and France and on several airlines between Europe and Africa. Yapobi, however, said the startup has global ambitions and plans to expand further.

Expansion will require funding, however, with the Seedstars World and DEMO Africa participation part of a larger goal.

“Airshop is currently bootstrapped. We intend to start raising money later this year after launch and revenue,” Yapobi said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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