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Zimbabwe’s cash crisis could ignite boom in online retailing

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Cash Crisis Solutions, E-commerce Zimbabwe, Online trading

In one of our recent posts that looked at workarounds to the current cash crisis in Zimbabwe, we highlighted the use of online retailers that accept electronic payments as a way of avoiding the use of cash.

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As it gets harder to withdraw money from bank accounts or to cash it out from mobile money agents, the services that already rely on electronic payments could position themselves for greater visibility.

All this stems from the fact that consumers, faced with the need to make certain purchasing decisions (for example groceries) will increasingly look at cashless alternatives.

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They are likely to become comfortable with any of these services as they adapt to electronic transactions, but only as long as products or services are delivered and customers can bank on the reliability of service providers.

Credit won’t be for the cash crisis only

As much as the crisis seems likely to herd consumers into buying goods online, there are other factors at play. In the past 5 years, the local e-commerce scene has undergone a number of changes that have prepared it for the emergence of e-commerce services.

Electronic payments and digital money have been democratised by the rise of mobile money phenomenon that has opened up mobile money to over 7 million Zimbabweans making it easier to state the case for virtual transactions than it ever was.

This was also supported by the evolution and emergence of online payment channels like Paynow that have been moulded around the demands of the local market.

At the same time, internet penetration has jumped from 11.5 % in 2011 to 46.6% at the end of last year, opening up a larger segment of the population to the internet and its opportunities for commerce.

A handful of startups and traditional brick and mortar businesses took advantage of these factors and launched their own e-commerce platforms and the viability of that same collective of e-commerce businesses has been a validation of how this way of doing business can actually work locally.

With all these factors in place plus the usual list of pre-requisites for a boom in trading online, it’s always seemed like Zimbabwe was one step away from a rise in e-commerce.

For e-Commerce in Zimbabwe to take off, it will still need another nudge

Perhaps a cash crisis is what will light the fire and bring Zimbabwean offline consumers online, but it won’t happen on its own.

While services and offline businesses that haven’t gotten into online retailing might want to experiment with it now, the businesses and startups that currently exist as the notable e-commerce platforms in Zimbabwe need to capitalise on what is happening in the environment right now.

An aggressive marketing drive that sells the convenience of a cashless consumer experience could help acquire new customers, something that every startup has come to understand as being expensive.

This could be done with discounts, free deliveries, the creation of a presence in offline media or even loyalty systems for customers who sign up for their services now. It all depends on what sort of online retailing abusiness is involved in.

With a lot of effort and strategy and some luck, this could be the start of a new chapter in online retailing and e-commerce in Zimbabwe, inspired by a cash crisis.

image credit – Webdev


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9 thoughts on “Zimbabwe’s cash crisis could ignite boom in online retailing

  1. You are on point. Zimbabweans are a people that never run out of solutions.

    I comfortably bought electricity in the comfort of my home 12 midnight when the pre paid meter started beeping continuously. I had been frustrated earlier in the day when most electricity agents demanded cash upfront.

    1. So true G. or as long as Internet costs are still high, that will remain prohibitive to e-commerce to take off as it probably should.

  2. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. to credit Webdev for that image.

    1. Smh we have since credited Webdev for that image, sorry about that omission.

  3. This won’t get around the core issue: We, as a country, spend more than we earn.

    While e-payments may avoid the immediate need for cash for the buyer, the seller still needs forex to replace those items, unless they are selling local products ( which restricts it to chocolate, milk, cooking oil or mealie meal at last count. )

    Unless we start exporting more and the Reserve Bank gets more responsible about not spending other people’s money, e-payments will only help for a couple of weeks.

    Sellers are aware of this, so why accept an e-payment into a bank account if you don’t know if you can get the money back out?

  4. As long as we are still importing goods from outside, migrating to e-Commerce might not work out. Imagine, an electronics e-tailer who import products from SA. Even if he gets the cash in his bank, it will take ages to be able to transfer that money to SA suppliers to replenish stock. Only those e-commerce platform that is of a service nature or those that specialise in local products might try there luck. Thats my own opinion.

  5. The lack of trust in the financial system means most consumers will avoid having anybody (but themselves) keep their money which will stymy the use of e commerce. Even the retailers will prefer cash because they also face challenges with financial institutions. In any case, what money? We are importing way more goods than we export… très unsustainable.

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