Remember Econet Zimbabwe chief, Douglas Mboweni, hinted last year at getting into e-commerce soon? They just did. The company will be launching its first foray into e-commerce today with the introduction of – you guessed it – EcoShopper.
It’s not your typical e-commerce. Or let me say it’s not your fully fledged e-commerce operation but there are some key things that make it interesting.
1. They are starting with basic commodities, probably because they are fast moving and therefore worth doing for a company their size. Econet would only get into this if its going to have some visible impact in the medium term, otherwise they would wait. The groceries are sold in baskets starting with a $20 one, $30, $60.
2. They are partnering a manufacturer – National Foods. They are looking to disrupt the Supermarket model. Econet are not the first to try commerce on basic commodities in Zimbabwe. The others before it have faced the problem of their prices being higher than the supermarkets’ because, well, they are supplied by the supermarkets. Econet’s strategy is to take the supermarket out of the chain and get direct from the manufacturer. That way, the price may be better than the supermarkets. Those who shop , please compare and let us know in the comments.
3. Econet won’t deliver. Yet!
The customers of EcoShopper will be required to collect their groceries from a National Foods pickup point. If you’re like me, this is ofcourse a deal breaker since getting to these pickup points takes away the convenience. I wish Econet (or National Foods) had more pickup points in Harare.My guess is it’s something they are working on. For those near the points, I hope pickup is 24 hours otherwise it’s attractiveness compared to regular shopping starts to get questionable.
On payment, Econet is requiring the use of its mobile payment platform, EcoCash. This is ofcourse brilliant but if Econet plans to make this big they’ll have to open it up to everyone, Mastercard, Textacash, Telecash, Onewallet, and even Cash etc… Though I use EcoCash, I don’t always have money in that wallet. Sometimes its in the Mastercard, sometimes in the Telecash wallet and sometimes just cash etc… why can’t I pay on pickup. Then, yeah, it’s just a regular supermarket!
What impresses me is that Econet put some thought into this and that they were bold (as usual) to want to change the way things work. Going via the supermarkets has made the e-commerce business unviable – they are cutting out that fat. Delivery logistics are a cost nightmare that threatens feasibility – they are cutting it out for now and trying without it. Buying separate units wouldn’t work so they are bundling the groceries and doing it anyway.
The danger with the basketing ofcourse is that the customer won’t want some of things in that bundle and, in these hard times, will feel they are paying for stuff they don’t need.
My guess is that this first iteration will likely not yield any significant results and that the company will have to do some things really fast before people write EcoShopper off and forget to try it again when it improves. They’ll have to introduce more pickup points. They’ll have to make it possible for me to pack my own basket online from a limited selection of products – the same range of products yes, except I choose.
In terms of how you shop online, from what we see, it’s via the website only. We think Econet will zero rate this website on its network otherwise if I need to buy expensive data just so I can buy groceries there’s a problem. Another way to do it would be to allow me to select a basket from my EcoCash menu and just buy it from there without ever using the web.
Econet will be launching EcoShopper later today, and we hope some of these issues are already addressed.
In the e-commerce business, Econet are trailing other operators like MTN on the continent who have indicated this is a key growth area for them.