Hammer and Tongues spends big to redefine e-commerce in Zimbabwe

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Will e-commerce in Zimbabwe ever take flight? That question has never brought out easy responses. In fact, it sounds like rhetoric rather than the starting point of a solid discussion on local businesses thriving in the digital age.

We all get how e-commerce is this perfect junction for new age consumerism, commercial convenience and the possibilities that the internet can hold. What you get when you size up our country’s response to that opportunity isn’t encouraging yet.

Brick and mortar businesses that should be investing in it don’t see the value of online business while the majority of Zimbabweans that are excluded by realities like limited internet access haven’t noticed its benefits. Some, however, like Hammer and Tongues, are viewing the opportunity differently.

The company, which is almost always associated with auctions, dived into online retailing in July 2015 when it went live with its own online mall. The launch highlighted Hammer and Tongues’ confidence in online distribution and brought the “e-commerce is finally here” debate back into rotation.

Seeing the opportunity

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In the two years leading up to the online mall’s launch, the Hammer and Tongues team worked on creating an online alternative for its traditional auction business with the hopes of using the internet to allow buyers, both locally and abroad, to remotely participate in auctions.

A lot of effort was poured into the project and in the process, they realised that the platform could be harnessed for more than just auctions, thus giving birth to the online retailing functionality. This online retailer would position Hammer and Tongues as a seller and distributor of products from other retailers that would aggregate goods for users while offering retailers a new channel to push volumes.

Besides the technology being suitable for this, Hammer and Tongues had, over the years, developed competencies in logistics and built a brand that could command the attention of potential partners.

The site was launched as a mall, providing online retailing for diverse goods while also keeping with the plans for the online auction facility that had been envisaged initially.

What does the site offer?

The Hammer and Tongues Mall integrates catalogues from over 25 stores in various retail niches. Through these partnerships, it is able to offer goods that include household appliances, basic groceries and fast moving consumer goods, farm implements, school uniforms, clothing, DIY tools and even liquor.

Inventory from Hammer and Tongues’ offline auction business is also available, giving users access to auctioned and imported ex-Jap vehicles, a money lending service, real estate as well as cattle. There’s even been the auctioning of equipment like generators.

This creates the most diverse Zimbabwean e-commerce site, providing the widest range of products on a local online retailing platform, something that has contributed to a fair amount fo traffic.

When we spoke to the team at Hammer and Tongues, they were mum about specific numbers, other than the 1,200 visitors that the platform handles everyday. A notable chunk of these visitors are from the diaspora though Zimbabwean users are still the majority of users.

Partnerships, promotion, product and all the other right moves

As far as strategy for launching an e-commerce platform goes, Hammer and Tongues appears to be making the right moves so far. The platform has taken the core elements of a functional, competitive online retailer and incorporated them into its own DNA.

Firstly, there’s the aspect of product diversity. The one-stop-shop approach has managed to give Hammer and Tongues an advantage over other niche e-commerce platforms. User retention is amplified significantly, creating a greater opportunity for sales conversions.

Then there’s the use of an easy to use payment method, which, thanks to Paynow, means that mobile money is catered for. Complementing this is a strong brand name that sells the platform as a serious, credible and secure retailer that can withstand any scrutiny from e-commerce sceptics.

The same solid brand name has also helped Hammer and Tongues break down doors with a variety of retailers and providers that have partnered with it. Any other online retailing startup with less clout would struggle to pull in even half of the collaborators that Hammer and Tongues has managed to snap up that include listed entities like OK Zimbabwe and Colcom.

Also taken into consideration is the handle on logistics. The company had already figured out this aspect of retailing for its offline business. Now, it has extended these competencies to its online model where the value proposition of convenience heavily relies on the ability to send any product to a buyer’s doorstep.

There’s also a marketing strategy which has involved product promotions and discounts to create a buzz and make up for limited price discounts, as well as advertising through offline media and digital channels like SMS, email, and social media. Collectively these have helped Hammer and Tongues gain visibility even among potential users that are yet to embrace online retailing.

If you put all of this together you have a very aggressive online retailer that is making a strong play for market domination. The underlying element for these grand ambitions is the huge investment that has been made into this online mall.

According to information provided by Hammer and Tongues, the company has put together a team of 40 people to work on the online business. This includes technical support, staff at collection depots, hands in charge of logistics and the online support staff.

By our estimates (we weren’t provided with any figures related to this, these are purely based on market averages), the cost of such a business, including operational costs and some capital expenses, would push Hammer and Tongues’ commitment since July 2015, to at least $200,000.

It’s the sort of investment that hasn’t been seen before from other online retailers in Zimbabwe, and speaks volumes about the faith that has been placed in the internet and e-commerce. It’s particularly significant coming from a “previously offline” company that has, for the sake of growth, reinvention and diversity, looked at the online space.

The model that is being used – that is, the aggregation of products from offline businesses – also shows how brick and mortar retailers are looking for new distribution channels and, given the right approach, would consider the internet for that. Hammer and Tongues has managed to sell its ability to create that viable channel.

Will it work?

The big question is whether or not there is profitability from all of Hammer and Tongues’ efforts. E-commerce startups, even in economically stable markets, have a bad reputation for struggling to establish profitability. The investment is usually long term with unclear break-even horizons.

So far, Hammer and Tongues has managed to differentiate itself, ticking a lot of the right boxes for a startup that is learning from duds in Zimbabwean e-tailing. However, there are some aspects that it still needs to figure out to be a true success.

How will it grow its customer base and create returning users? Can it improve its user experience in ways that make it a strong choice for every potential consumer that is easily sucked into the screaming offline retail circuit? How much of an investment can it make as a company operating in tough Zimbabwe and how long a runway can it afford itself while it stretches out the dream of cracking online retailing locally?

These questions will be best answered by observations and expensive lessons on the nature of Zimbabwe’s online retail market and the data that will be gathered around growth potential. Only then will Hammer and Tongues know whether $200,000+ is enough to define the online retailing market or just to survive in it.

28 Comments

  1. Valeria Tsaurai says:

    I believe Hammer and Tongues is on the right path and even though it’s a start up in the e-commerce arena growth opportunities despite the hindrances mentioned in the article are positive.It’s not an overnight success story but with it’s aggressiveness,coupled with the advent of mobile phones in Africa reaching almost everyone,e-commerce in the near future will be accessible to everyone.Of cause I foresee it coming up with viable solutions to internet connectivity issues by pulling one or two strategic partnerships with relevant partners.It is also providing home grown solutions even to Zimbabwean Diasporans overseas.They can now have an elusive peace of mind by making purchases wherever they are without worrying about misuse of funds by family back home.Hammer and Tongues Shopping Mall,buy online in Zimbabwe,shopping mall Zimbabwe,online shopping…..Keep up the innovation and entrepreneurship African spirit!

  2. kilford Mhizha says:

    I Like It

  3. Dutoit says:

    Hammerandtongues shopping mall keep it up.The world is a global village.Are they doing deliveries country wide,if so please make sure Mukumbura ,Sango border post ,Guruve is covered

  4. Precie says:

    I believe frontiers were made to be pushed and this is definitely pushing the frontiers of retail as we know it in Zimbabwe. Online shopping in Zimbabwe, wow! Its a gusty move by Hammer and Tongues and at the pace that technology is moving it can only get better. They say the person who charts the way faces the roughest terrain and it will be so for Hammer and Tongues Shopping Mall. I just love the gusty-ness of taking up this idea in such an environment….wow! #helloconvenience

  5. Anonymous says:

    As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. I believe online shopping in Zimbabwe is the future and its good that Hammer and Tongues has stood up to set the pace. I must say they are on a very aggressive pace very soon they will be the leading e-commerce arena. I love their innovation.

  6. Justin says:

    Great article about a great initiative. The convenience that has been brought about by Hammer and Tongues is indeed amazing. I am a registered customer with the online site and these days I simply buy my groceries from my office and by the time I get home all my groceries would have been delivered. People should really try this and see for themselves just how much they can save in terms of money and time

  7. Cde Mhofu Yemukono says:

    i really think this is a great initiative, i am a very happy customer buying online in Zimbabwe is very interesting, thumbs up to Hammer and Tongues Shopping Mall, i love their Mid Morning Fiesta awesome bargains and the Food Lovers Market store is great for some of us who stay far from those place its all available at the click of the button, and payments are instant and i get my confirmations immediately. Keep it up guys the trends, Zimbabwe haina kusara akomana you are proving that!!!!! ZikuHappy Customer

  8. rufaro says:

    Great read on a innovative initiative that could revolutionize they way modern Zimbabweans interact and exchange goods

  9. Dutoit says:

    I really like the Happy Hour Store https://shopping.hammerandtongues.com/shop/happy-hour-store/ ,there is lots and lots of bargains there.Oh what happened to the castle lite and red label special.I miss it,please bring it back

  10. Mthembo says:

    Ichokwadi here ichi??kune Shop yakadaro.Do you we have someone who have used this platform.I would like to be part of it .Tell me how do you go about it to register and buy items online.Do you i need a bank account or i will need to come to harare and pay???Please help

    1. Titoh Titoh says:

      Yes, it’s true Mthembo! I have used this platform several times. Got to http://www.hammerandtongues.com and register there. You can buy with Ecocash, Telecash or some local banks directly from the website. You do not need to be in Harare, you can do it anywhere pane internet even from your phone.

    2. Mai Lexy Nokutenda says:

      VaMthembo ini ndakambotenga kakawanda chaizvo!They even have stores with cheap goods like Happy Hour,and Mid-morning Fiesta,click here https://shopping.hammerandtongues.com/shop/mid-morning-fiesta/
      Vane yese,I buy my cerelac ipapo!You can also go pafrequently asked questions section pakanzi FAQ – https://shopping.hammerandtongues.com/faq/ for further details.Vamwechete ne Hammer and Tongues Auctioneers so they are here to stay.Send groceries home inoshanda chero nekudiaspora vari kutenga.Thanks online shopping hammer and tongues.I support you!Chitihwinisai mota futi zvamakaita last year or scratch & win.

    3. Cde Mhofu Yemukono says:

      Cde, its very true i have used it and i still use it online shopping Zimbabwe yakutoita, go and register mdara its not very difficult pa http://www.hammerandtongues.com. chero ecocash and telecash mdara inoita you know us ndozvatakutoshandisa, you can pay from anywhere bambo

    4. Justin says:

      Mthembo I am one of the people using this online platform. Online shopping Zimbabwe is real and you can buy groceries online, Enbee School Uniforms, Vehicle accessories and just about anything on https://www.hammerandtongues.com. You simply log onto the site, click on register and fill in your personal details on the form provided. If you are on Facebook or Twitter you can register and log in using your social media account details. I registered using my Facebook account details. Once you have registered you are good to go. You can buy from any of those stores on the site and also you can get good bargains from the Happy Hour store and the Mid Morning Fiesta store. I usually get bargains on certain items from these two promotional stores. When you are done shopping you can pay using Ecocash, Telecash, Zimswitch or PayNow (VISA & MasterCard). The good thing about this platform is that you can buy from anywhere in Zimbabwe or even outside the country at any time of the day.

  11. gaint says:

    this is a good step into the future and making life easy i joined the site hope u did too

  12. Major R says:

    Convenience for sure, you actually save time, since they deliver your goods to your doorstep. And lookout for the happy hour and mid morning fiesta.

    1. Mthembo says:

      Thank you guys for the insight ,i am now a registered user,still having difficulties navigating the site though,i think its a user problem ,kikikikiki.Thank you once again.

  13. Muendamberi says:

    My uncle sold his cattle on this platform and I was really amazed that Online shopping and Livestock auctions in Zimbabwe were now possible. He had some very good steers and heifers that were snapped up in no time. I then decided to try shopping online at the beginning of this year and I am impressed by the service and convenience of this platform. Well done Hammer & Tongues. Ngazviende Mberi!!!

  14. Felistas says:

    I have used this platform, it makes shopping life easy and convenient. From online cattle sales to cellphones computers and accessories http://www.hammerandtongues.com has it all.

  15. Mthembo says:

    AHH hamurevesi zveimwi, neN’ombe N’ombe haa haa,when is the next online auction,will i get updates since i am now registered user??

    1. Gaffa says:

      Mthembo you can choose to subscribe to the mailing list and you will get daily updates on whats new, promotions as well as lined up online auctions.

  16. RIO says:

    i really like this online thing. the delivery is magnificient and i received my perishable in the original state. keep it up Hammer and Tongues

  17. vicstyles says:

    i believe this is the future. Hammer & Tongues Online shopping mall is very convenient.

  18. snowman says:

    it is very convenient, its a one stop shop and its the future.

  19. Anonymous says:

    gydbhu

  20. Anonymous says:

    Good idea

  21. Melania says:

    Thumbs up for Hammer and tongues online.Being a first mover within a market means a lot.Take care of the disadvantages of being a first mover to avoid disappointments. Fellow Zimbabweans lets not be laggards, this thing is real lets grab it.

  22. Fadzai says:

    i was quite impressed yesterday with the delivery of ma fresh products that i bought from Food Lovers. i was sceptical to buy meat and fruits online but i got them in perfect order – fresh. Keep it up Hammer and Tongues, the refridgerated trucks are on point. By the way thank you for linking us online with Colcom and Food Lovers, my business is now more efficient, cutting down on travelling. Koodos to free delivery.

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