New technologies change business and life radically, but usually it takes a bit longer than people expect for the full effects and changes to kick in. These changes often come about in waves. Mobile money was first introduced in Zimbabwe in 2010 but was perfected circa 2012. It took some time before mobile money gained mainstream adoption and began to be used and accepted by retail shops and merchants.
Similar to the wave of Mobile Money, Ecommerce is about to disrupt how people buy and consume products and services in Zimbabwe. In this wave businesses are starting to experiment and leverage the power to sell and deliver products in a different way. Why go through the hassle of waiting in shopping queues when with a few clicks you can get the product delivered to your doorstep without breaking a sweat.
Zimbabwe has not had distinctive Ecommerce success like other African countries such as Nigeria and South Africa but only promising Ecommerce failures.
But The Times A’ Changing
Timing is everything. Telecel were the first to launch the mobile money in Zimbabwe but did not experience success like Ecocash who launched their service much later. The fact is there were simply too early for the market among other reasons.
Similarly Tengesa.com and other unsuccessful ecommerce sites experienced failure mainly because there were simply too far ahead of the curve. But like Bob Dylan sang, the ‘times are a-changing’, a number of retail giants and as well as small start-ups are aggressively trying their hand at ecommerce and sooner or later we are going to have a success story.
Some of the notable ecommerce sites include: Econet’s Ecoshopper, Food World Ecommerce’s site, 10ngah (pronounced ten – ngah, a shona derivative which means to buy) and more.
Zimbabwe’s Ecommerce Payment Platforms
A big reason why we are having so much Ecommerce activity now in Zimbabwe is the availability of payment platforms and ways of making payments online.
The lack of an easy and secure payment platform was a major stumbling block for Ecommerce in Zimbabwe. Fortunately, there are now a plethora of payment platforms and methods to choose from. Ecocash debit card, Telecash and ZimSwitch options are just some of the options available.
Educating the market on using the technology and its benefits should be the priority as a lot people are still rooted in the idea of using cash to make payments. But as Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people do not know what they want until you show it to them,” we can be encouraged that once people get an idea of how easy it is to buy online using a MasterCard the floodgates will open.
Ecommerce is different from selling offline. Part of what makes it different is there are infinite competitors. Your competitors are not necessarily those that operate in the same area. They can bee from anywhere in the world. You are always looking over your shoulder checking who is coming for your lunch and where the cheese is going to be.
Online there are different rules. It’s a cutthroat business. You may decide to cater for the Zimbabwean market but you cannot force people to buy the products they want on your site and not Amazon. There has to be a compelling reason why they should buy from your site, and not from the nearest grocery store or your online competitor.
A chicken and egg conundrum
For ecommerce to scale there is need for costs such as delivery charges to be low. Economics 101 will tell you that for this to happen you need numbers to achieve economies of scale. This has an effect of reducing the cost of transporting products to customers. Unfortunately, at the moment the cost of delivery sometimes is more than the cost of the product being bought. This is a conundrum which needs to be solved before Ecommerce takes off in Zimbabwe.
Another key ingredient in unlocking the Ecommerce gates in Zimbabwe is attracting and converting leads. Businesses that have started in Ecommerce in Zimbabwe need to approach Ecommerce differently and change the way that they sell. With Ecommerce you need to create content that engages and educates and more importantly content your customers love and are interested in. It is the content that draws the customers to your website. Sadly, a lot of these ecommerce sites rarely engage in content marketing and educating their audience and therefore it is a little surprise that they fail.
Wrapping it up
The internet has disrupted the normal way of life, life as we knew it. The retail sector in Zimbabwe is ripe for disruption. This is the opportunity that exists for every business in Zimbabwe today. Are you prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that Ecommerce will bring?Are you ready for the future? The glorious future? Share with me your comments in the comments section below. alternatively you can get me on email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, twitter @tnyaruwanga