There are those-conspiracy nuts- who have jokingly said that Valentine was invented by the corporate hegemony of card companies, gift companies as well as flower companies to sell their products. For the most part those who have dared to say that out loud have been met with derision. I cannot help but think however that in these conspiracies there is wisdom that the Zimbabwean industry in general and the e-commerce sector in particular would find indispensable.
Men and women more qualified than myself have already written to disagree but I feel that most, if not all, the pieces that are required to build a successful e-commerce enterprise are here and already being used in the domain. MasterCard and Visa Cards, EcoCash, Pay4App, Facebook ads, local coding companies which are familiar with the lay of the land, reasonably fast internet connections, a decent macro-economic environment and a ready to be conquered market of more than 13 million people-both here and abroad. That is more than could have been said a few years ago.
One of the reasons why e-commerce is still to make the success it deserves is that of lack of a concerted marketing effort. Despite all we have been saying about the indomitable and enterprising spirit of Zimbabweans I think the decade long crisis broke something in us. Now marketing has been reduced to handing out fliers at road intersections, stuffing fliers into people’s mail boxes and handing out mass produced business cards to colleagues at functions. Great professionals have been reduced to hawkers. The great companies with pennies to spare do billboards and full page ads in national newspapers, sponsored radio talks and competitions and some even advertise on national television but it just does not feel good any-more.
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At the surface all looks well but deep down something is gone. That pizazz and chutzpah that characterised the golden 1990s is gone. Then people were proud of themselves as a national collective. People where proud of their local brands as told by the ads: People used Perfection and Key-bar soap to wash their clothes, Surf washing powder was part of every laundry operation, every-man used Lifebuoy to bath themselves, Olivine and Panol were everywhere, Bakers’s Pride, Aroma Bread and the Imperial Darlity fridges were star brands. All that is gone and what is left is a nation of consumers contend with small time hustling and playing second fiddle to South Africa.
If e-commerce is going to catch a break somebody needs to bring back that glitz and glamour into the game. I am overwhelmed with bouts of nostalgia whenever I recall the good old days: the Perfection ads when that guy runs after his dish of clothing, the glint in that lady’s eyes whenever she talked about Royco, the restless Chibuku guy waiting for the delivery truck to arrive with his favourite brew, how Peter Ndlovu used to bath with Lifebouy and Oliver Mtukudzi used to play guitars made from Olivine gallons, how the Imperial Darlity lady mocked the folly of those who dared to buy cheap foreign fridges and how they used local dialect stereotypes to push Aroma. It seems everything was just better then.
E-commerce in Zimbabwe does not need a new payment system,more broadband speed, increased mobile penetration or any of that technical mumbo jumbo than it already has-those would just be icing on the cake. Those involved need to go beyond the Facebook and Google ads behind which they have been cowardly hiding. What e-commerce needs is a group of revolutionaries who are willing to go all the way to make it mainstream.
For starters will somebody tell these sleeping giants that Christmas is around the corner and they need to bring out the Santa spirit. Anyone remember all those famous Power Sales sales of yore days. Those in charge of marketing at e-commerce sites need to emulate these. They need to engineer marketing periods like Valentine, bring out the Easter eggs on Easter, let the monsters roam and embrace Halloween holiday sales, do a Black Friday sale, come out in force on Cyber Monday and do a Cyber Week.
They need to embrace and preach the power of the coupon. The big companies and retailers like OK need not just to embrace e-commerce, they need to stop treating their e-commerce websites as some sort of perfunctory chore and show a little more passion. Sure, a successful campaign requires money but with innovations like drop shipping this all can be mitigated provided the retailers have zing to begin with. OK for example needs to bring the enthusiasm of the Grand Challenge(the one from the golden ’90s) into their e-commerce efforts.
The thing is with technical products like e-commerce and mobile money the customer hardly knows the benefits and their need beforehand. They need to be convinced about the virtues of the product and in my humble opinion more needs to be done in that respect before the doomsday sayers begin their squelching out their stultifications.
The buy for a $1 and sell for $2 mantra does not cut it. E-commerce needs to bulldoze its way onto the laurels. Something along the along the lines “Shop at Power Sales where your money buys you more!” A call that reverberates across the whole nation; something classical and bound to be remembered.In addition to everything else, the coding, Google and Facebook ads and what nots, e-commerce needs to be irresistible- like the legendary call of the Sirens sans the wreckage- it must woo people to unwittingly fall in love with it. As Econet has shown with EcoCash it can be done.
P.S. I do not have the links to some of the ads from the good old days so if anyone somehow have the links please leave them in the comment section. I also don’t know if I have spelt Imperial Darlity right in my defense I was still a kid back then.