We are spending more of our lives online than ever before. Working, socializing, gaming, entertainment all happens online now.
The pandemic accelerated this switch and we find ourselves uncomfortable being in the same physical space as other humans.
This has necessitated a change in strategy for all businesses. They now have to contend with a customer pool that hardly leaves house.
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We have seen the rise of ecommerce platforms as an answer. Here in Zimbabwe we have seen everything from fully fledged ecommerce platforms to the ever popular Facebook Marketplace hubbaloo.
There has also been activity in the in between. It now looks irresponsible not to have an online store of your own and Zimbabwean companies have been busy.
We checked out Union Hardware‘s revamped online store. The site looks okay and one can navigate well enough.
The site is still under construction though and you can tell. One of the key features of an online store, search, is still a little wonky.
For one, the site still takes a little while to return results and for some items, you may get a sprinkling of random products on the results.
I tried searching for ‘television’ after I marveled that Union Hardware was selling TVs. I got no results for ‘television’ but got some items after searching for ‘TV’ but also got some towel rails and soap holders for some reason.
So, the search functionality needs some work but it’s useable as is. Luckily, you can navigate easily without search. Extra marks for having a proper mobile site.
So, why are we talking about a simple online store?
Union Hardware is targeting those in the diaspora and offering them a way to pay for supplies and have family and friends collect in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is being propped up by its huge diaspora. Remittances in reached US$1.4 billion in 2021. Naturally everyone wants a piece of that pie.
We know that most of our compatriots living abroad often want to build/buy houses back here.
It has always been challenging for them to do that from thousands of kilometres away. There have been many cases of relatives misusing funds sent to acquire building materials.
So, when Union Hardware comes in and gives them the opportunity to pay for the materials directly, that is a huge deal. The relatives need only collect the materials.
Union Hardware only accept VISA and Mastercard at the moment. That right there tells you who the target customer is.
The local customer
The local customer has not been forgotten though. While you most likely won’t be paying using VISA/Mastercard you can place an order from within Zimbabwe and pay on collection. You won’t have to wait when you get there.
If you know how shopping at huge hardware stores like Union Hardware works you will know it takes a moment to prepare an order. So, a local customer can skip all that by placing an order online.
It’s not just time savings. There are discounts for online customers. There’s not a flat discount rate, they are applied on a product by product basis. However, some products like cement don’t have discounts at the moment.
If you are placing a large order, Union Hardware will deliver to your doorstep on a cash on delivery basis.
This is the work around ecommerce sites are resorting to in Zimbabwe. People have cash but won’t deposit it, making online payments in USD a challenge. Cash on delivery comes with its own challenges though.
Union Hardware is doing that delivery themselves right now but are in talks with FedEx for the future.
Online store vs ecommerce platform
We often use those terms interchangeably but technically, there is a difference. Ecommerce encompasses all that goes into operating a business online. Online shopping on the other hand refers to just the selling and purchasing of goods and services online.
Union Hardware is building a warehouse where the online operation will be run from. Right now, logistically, there is no separation between the physical and online operations.
Ecommerce snobs often say until there is that separation, an online store leaves money on the table. The logic? Ecommerce comes with lower personnel costs among other things which allows for cost savings to be passed on to customers.
Most ecommerce sites also double as aggregators where a number of sellers sell their wares. As a result, for a buyer, aggregated platforms are more useful. You can easily compare prices and brands offered by different suppliers.
However, Union Hardware cannot wait until someone aggregates hardware stores to improve their online store.
You can try out the revamped Union Hardware online store, enjoy time and cost savings and tell us what you think about it. If you’re living abroad and looking to build back in Zimbabwe I imagine this should work out well for you.