The Broadband Economy Conference was held on 20 July 2017 at Sango Conference Centre, Cresta Lodge, Harare. Business leaders from different industries were in one room discussing how we can start leveraging the Internet for business growth. The 4th panel of leaders to speak were discussing E-commerce in Zimbabwe and here are some of the insights that we got from them.
The panel was made up of David Chifamba (COO at Hammer & Tongues Online Shopping Mall), Paul Soko (CFO at GetBucks), Natalie Jabangwe-Morris (GM at EcoCash) and Taurai Chinyamakobvu (Bitcoin Investor). Before the discussion by the panel started, we got a presentation from Taurai Chinyamakobvu who is a Bitcoin Investor detailing the history of Bitcoin and what is all about.
Bitcoin a currency misunderstood
He led us through the history of trade and money so we could get an appreciation of Bitcoin. After history of commerce with money that we’ve all come to know, he then started to lay out the different aspects on the history of Bitcoin and the technologies behind it like Blockchain. Taurai set the tone for the discussion of e-commerce as his talk also showed people how Bitcoin can be acquired and how it is now being used by companies like Beforward as a currency for payment of goods.
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Once the talk was done, the discussion started with a question being given to the panelists and them giving their initial views before discussing further.
“The future of commerce now: Cryptos, mobile money, electronic payments, E-commerce, Where are we right now, where are we going and what are the roadblocks?”
Here are some interesting issues that demand exploration in other articles:
More men buy online than women
Referring back to the question which was given to the panelists, David Chifamba shared some statistics from the online shop Hammer n Tongues. The thing that jumped out to many was how 2 thirds of the buyers on the online shop were men. This was particularly surprising because offline most shopping is actually done by women.
Another surprise statistic that David brought to the fore was that they got the highest number of visitors in the 35-44 age group. This is contrary to the intuitive notion that younger age groups are considered more ‘technologically savvy.’ Why are the demographics like this? Yes, David could not give to much detail or else risk spilling the secret source to Hammer and Tongues but these revelations demand more probing to understand the e-commerce landscape in Zimbabwe.
Right now the issue is not even the price of items online as compared to offline as Mr Chifamba gave examples to show that some of the prices on their online mall were really the same as prevailing prices in the physical stores. The other fact he presented which was not too surprising was that 90% of transactions on their online platform were from Harare and Bulawayo alone.
These facts could point more towards availability and equitability in accessing the internet amoung different social clusters. Men vs women, older vs younger age groups, rural vs urban populations. We will explore these trends more fully but I would venture to propose that this is more an economic issue than anything else for example maybe the 35-44 age group could be more represented in the formal employment market where they can access WiFi than the younger groups perhaps that only have WhatsApp bundles.
The numbers that David shared were then given more perspective by Natalie Jabangwe-Morris, the General Manager and Executive Head of EcoCash.
M-commerce rules locally
Natalie pointed out that the biggest payments solution right now was mobile money for example their EcoCash. She proposed that what probably contributed to the sex divide in e-commerce was that a lot of women were not using smart phones compared to men which could be a bigger social issue if probed. Natalie pointed out that most transactions were really through m-commerce and challenged solution providers to build with m-commerce in mind.
The example of this is that most EcoCash virtual card numbers are purchased using mbudzi type phones. One then wonders where these VCN’s will then be used. I guess this explains what Chifamba said: there is equal traffic from both mobile and desktop on their platform. I can hazard a guess and say the mbudzi VCN’s are then used on desktop at work by the 35-44 year olds.
Knowing how people are actually transacting a lot with these features phones through EcoCash or VCNs that they get, she raised the concern that anyone who is to start an e-commerce business needs to make sure that it is accessible to people without smartphones as the data shows that people are now using electronic money just not on smartphones always.
Paul Soko the CFO of GetBucks also weighed in:
People still like interacting with people and are sometimes forced to
GetBucks is a financial technology company that sales money online. The company allows people to get loans online and then pay them back with an interest within a certain time frame. Paul highlighted that people don’t actually make the transaction 100% online, they have to go to a physical location to complete the process.
This is because of regulatory reasons that don’t yet recognize digital signatures for transactions so the company has multiple agents across the country to facilitate the ground process. Paul shared how a GetBucks shop has multiple computers that people can use to finish the process by being led through the process virtually. Despite having that available, people still strongly prefer to interact with a person during the process instead of the computer.
Yes in this case the regulation is a hurdle to full automation but once a Get Bucks customer gets in store they seem to still shun the impersonal computer and go to chat up the teller.
Overall, this discussion shows that there is still a lot of potential to exploit within the e-commerce and e-transactions space.