Friday, November 8, 2013

Zimbabwe e-commerce startups challenges and solutions

 By Newson Mukono (Opinion)

Many tech loving Zimbabweans have been dreaming of Zimbabwe embracing e-commerce, in particular online shopping at a faster rate that it has done! Some have been blaming lack of online payment platforms for the staggering. But we could still sell products online and use Cash On Delivery as the payment mode, then have goods delivered to the recipient in the comfort of their home.

 I strongly believe the challenge is not with platforms: PayPal, visa, credit lines or sanctions as some assume! I believe it’s to do with patience, relevance and meeting the people’s needs!
People don’t just buy from your online shop just to support you for benevolent reasons? The big question is “What does it benefit them?” What convenience does it bring to them over existing ways of buying goods?” What motivation is there for people to buy goods from your online shop when the goods are readily available at a tuck shop nearby?

Will one choose to buy a wrist watch online and then drive into town to buy car parts? Why not just drive to buy everything in town, after all one will burn the same amount of fuel. You see! People need an online store where they can buy everything under one roof, and realize the benefits of saving time and fuel! That’s one secret behind the success of e-bay! They sell any kind of products you can imagine and ship too!

It seems businesses have no problem listing their products on an online platform, as evidenced by the success of the website with over 50 000 registered users. It seems the challenge is with the customers who have not build trust in paying for goods before they receive them.  On the other side the seller is reluctant to ship goods before they have been paid! It’s to do with trust and who’s doing it!

People have no problem with subscribing for DSTV via ecocash, because they have built trust in Econet and DSTV too has a good reputation. Econet and DSTV have stood the test of time! It seems however that with tangible goods, people feel they must touch and inspect the products first before they can buy or pay for it! This is actually true with a Zimbabwean market that is polluted with cheap imitations coming from our friends from the East!

I can also testify to you that one reason towards the success of the is that they stood the test of time and did not give up too quickly. Many startups have the problem that if they don’t seem to meet their expected revenue inflows within six months they give up!  So maybe the smaller startups should not give up too quickly! Reputation and trust sometimes take considerable time to build. Startups must embrace cheaper ways of running their business as the give them time to grow, mature, flower and bear fruit! e.g. use a room at your house for an office (After all Google started in a garage apartment)

These are the things I consider important for the success of any ecommerce startup in Zimbabwe!

1.       An inclusive e-commerce store

2.       Ship goods in time and as promised

3.       Sell high quality products

4.       Stand the test of time

What speaketh I then? Ecommerce Startups have a great challenge to demystify all those suppositions and myths in the market.  But then, it takes time!  Patience! Grow your business surely but patiently!  People need time to build trust with your startup! Would any girl marry if they changed boyfriends each time a guy took six months without asking “Will you marry me?” Don’t compare yourself with ebay yet! Yes don’t compare you beginning with someone’s middle or end! What do you think?

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