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.
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.
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