A.T. Kearney's 2015 African Retail Development Index (ARDI) evaluated 48 countries in the region and ranked the top 15 in terms of market attractiveness for retail expansion, based on measures, including market size, market saturation, country/business risk and time pressure.
Tiny Gabon topped the list and that was the biggest downside identified by the report – with a population of just 1.7m, the west African country will not generate significant sales volumes.
But 86% of population is urbanised and a stable middle class is "exactly what is lacking in so many other sub-Saharan African countries", the report said.
Botswana was ranked second and Angola third, with Nigeria and Tanzania rounding out the top five.
"It might be most instructive to think of Africa as a set of opportunities that can be augmented and added onto one another, rather than just one singular opportunity," suggested Bart Van Dijk, A.T. Kearney partner and leader of the firm's consumer industries and retail practice in Africa.
"How you pick among the opportunities depends on your offering – retailers with a basic offering should target the large cities and countries because scale will be important, while retailers with a wider offering should target emerging markets."
And if scale is not so important to a retailer then mature markets such as Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are solid points of entry, according to Mirko Warschun, A.T. Kearney partner and leader of the firm's consumer industries and retail practice for EMEA.
These have "established shopping cultures, relatively high wealth levels and well-established infrastructure", he said, adding that, "In these markets it is important to bring a differentiated retail concept".
Data sourced from A.T. Kearney; additional content by Warc staff