Ever since the introduction of the multiple currency system in Zimbabwe, online shopping has become somewhat simpler. Hitherto problems like obtaining an internationally accepted Visa/ MasterCard, hyperinflation and limited internet connections had hampered the widespread adoption of e-commerce.
Despite the opening of doors brought about by this currency changeover a number of problems still persist if one is to trade online. For whatever reason a good number of Zimbabweans are still reluctant to transact online stubbornly sticking to the brick and mortar model. Some banks still have stringent requirements for their Visas/MasterCards which effectively precludes other people from obtaining them. Most Zimbabwean issued cards are not accepted on PayPal which is still one of the most popular ways of paying online. In fact on Ebay.com PayPal is almost the defacto means of payment as most vendors only accept PayPal.
This is also true about other payment methods like Payza (formerly known as Alert Pay.) Also, some vendors only ship to certain countries which of course means they do not ship to Zimbabwe whilst some simply do not accept Zimbabwean credit cards. This effectively closes some doors but there are work-arounds to some of these and other problems which we will explore in the series.
In spite of the problems mentioned, there are a number of reasons why a person might need to transact online. About a month ago my friend broke his Samsung Laptop LCD (Model NP300e7a S03ZA) we could not find the screen here in Zimbabwe or even in South Africa yet we were able to easily purchase it from laptopscreencs.com. Some products are simply not available in Zimbabwe or are hard to come by. This is true for hobbyist stuff and specialists products. In these cases, buying online is not only desirable, it might be the only way.
Due to things like economies of scale and competitive advantage, some products can be cheaper when purchased online. Take for example the case of web hosting; because of well-developed ICT infrastructure in the developed world the cost per megabit of providing broadband is significantly lower than it is in Zimbabwe and there are less power cuts. If you add the intense competition between various data centers that provide similar services the result is a considerably lower price for web hosting on the global market. What’s more, if you are unhappy with a service, turning elsewhere is a matter of clicking a button. Going forward with stating the obvious, what is true with web hosting for other products as well.
It seems business people in Zimbabwe have failed to shake off their endemic affliction of charging extortionate prices especially on IT products. Margins of 100% are not unheard of. This is despite the fact that it has been a while now since ZIMRA* scrapped all duty on products like Laptops, Computers, Tablets and other ICT equipment. You can take advantage of this fact by making your own purchase online and having the product shipped to Zimbabwe.
Over the next couple of articles (series here) we will look at some of the problems that a current/shopper Zimbabwean might face and share solutions to these problems as well as tips. This is a very ambitious project where I have sought to cover areas that might interest the Zimbabwean online shopper and perhaps others. Contributions, discussions, criticisms, tips and questions are encouraged and welcome.
Are you one of those who obstinately stick to the brick and mortar model? If you are, tell us why. If you have met with some problems transacting online, please fill us in we/the community might have a solution. If you have a solution to a problem please feel free to share it.
* ZIMRA will still require you to pay 15% VAT.