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How can we help Zimbabwean e-commerce, the black sheep in our family?

   

This is a guest post from a Zimbabwean app developer, Keith Baira

The retail sector has been facing a lot of challenges. These include erratic supplies, lower purchasing power and an influx of imports on a scale never before seen. It’s not the brightest picture to paint for someone interested in going into retail is it?

To top it all off, there was the growl of e-commerce, and like the din of a lion’s roar, most large international retailers stooped in fear of the great and mighty threat of online shopping. Some adopted it, some adapted to it and some just went bust.

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Fast forward to present day Zimbabwe and you’ll find retailers fighting off cheap imports and a hostile business environment. At the same time, investment in information technology has steadily started yielding the benefits that technology generally brings to an economy such as access to information, resulting in better skills and new jobs. But like all success stories, Zimbabwe has its own black sheep of the family; e-commerce.

Stubborn, rude and inert like a facial mole, e-commerce has been coughing and spitting hits and misses for the past three or four years. Why is e-commerce not taking off in Zimbabwe?  Haven’t we figured out all aspects related to online trading already, considering our growing internet access and familiarity with payments?

Sure, there are multiple e-commerce start-ups, and we even have two big tech powerhouses running their own sites. What is clearly absent, is that huge e-commerce success that draws everyone into the benefits of this phenomenon. Basically, there is nobody notable on the e-commerce front. Nothing to match either Zim Dancehall or mabhero in customer reach and market growth.

How do we help this backbencher of the Zimbabwean tech revolution find its mojo? After all, it should have disrupted the status quo by now, considering how it solves two problems, something which represent a unique selling point.

Firstly it removes the hassle of crossing from the Gulf Complex to Eastgate, or from Mussa to Kwame Mall looking for a 8 inch screen for a 2012 Sony Car DVD player screen (which you currently can’t find: I looked). One Google search and you have before you an assortment of choices to pick from.

Secondly, it is generally (not always, so be careful) more cost effective to buy from the internet, since it is perceived to remove some of the operational costs of retailers. Think I am lying? Ask anybody who has bought a second-hand vehicle online. Now walk up to the many car sales, and check the price.

Now, closer to home. Open up an e-commerce site, note the price. Get into town. Compare the price. Not much difference is there? It’s so sad. Local e-commerce platforms just put a similar markup and sell. That’s not much motivation to whip out your MasterCard is it?

Then we have glaring omissions in e-commerce like Zimpost’s inability to cash in on this unique opportunity for using its existing logistics network for delivery. Or ZimSwitch’s ability to keep some of the increasingly hard-to-come-by money in the economy that isn’t being explored.

These might not be all of the reasons, but they are a partial explanation for why this black sheep does not have three bags full of wool. What we should figure out now, is how to help this black sheep.


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