E-commerce grows by leaps and bounds

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Kenya is slowly becoming a frontier for e-commerce as growth of online shopping steadily revolutionises business. As mobile money and internet reach continues to grow, in coming years traditional brick and mortar retail shops stand danger of losing ground.

Growth of online shopping follows trends in Europe, North America and Asia, especially in China, where it is not just a fashionable lifestyle, but a necessity as people crave for convenience.

Online shopping burst into the Kenyan scene about five years ago. While the trend has been slow to catch on, in the last three years, e-commerce has become a full blown industry with tens of online shopping platforms contracting vendors to auction their wares online as hundreds more sell on Facebook.

According to Kilimall Public Relations Manager Frankline Kibuacha, online shopping is slowly becoming the “in thing” in Kenya. From selling electronics, food, to airline tickets, even established retailers like Tuskys and Bata now sell their wares online to compete with emerging internet retail sites.

“There could be more sellers selling online than offline now,” Kibuacha says. “Online auctions offer sellers ability to reach a worldwide marketplace from their own home.

It offers buyers an immense amount of products along with the flexibility of naming their own price,” says Jumia Managing Director Sam Chappatte. These platforms are like a marketplace, where individual vendors hire to trade their wares.

“Kilimall owns a very small percentage of the products – that are not available locally. The vendors get space to sell their wares, and Kilimall gets a small cut as commission for the space and marketing,” Kibuacha says.

According to Chappatte, while e-commerce is in steady growth in Kenya, the current online platforms have only scratched the surface when compared with other established markets like China and India.

“There are about four to five millions Kenyans who should potentially be using online shopping because, they are educated, they have smartphones and disposable incomes. However, they are yet to use that space to do their shopping.

Our challenge currently is to explain to this critical mass that they can conveniently get the biggest range of products online, best quality and at a cheaper price because we have cut the middlemen to source the products directly from manufacturers,” he said.

“Kenyans are still struggling with that element of “seeing and touching. However, more Kenyans keep buying and online sellers keep educating them, the more they become enlightened and trust will set in,” Kibuacha says.

But in established markets, trust is no longer an issue. For instance, unlike in Kenya where a customer pays for an item upon delivery, in China once a customer makes an order, they pay before delivery is made.

According to Kameme TV news editor Caroline Wambui who returned recently from China after completing her fellowship at the China-Africa Press Centre, online shopping is extremely popular with the over one billion citizens using it.

“Fuelled by low fuel and transportation costs, online shopping is booming business in China. People order pretty much everything including food at the touch of a button.

China has tough laws against theft. That plays a big role in ensuring that both buyers and sellers don’t indulge in mischief” says Wambui.

While both Kibuacha and Chappatte agree that online shopping has taken a big pie from the brick and mortar customer base, e-commerce will not completely edge out traditional shops any sooner but will rather complement each other to make customers’ experience worth the while.

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