One of the great things about the internet is how it gives ordinary, not-connected and not-rich individuals like us access to customers for our home businesses and side hustles.
Now, many people in Zimbabwe use platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to push their products. Visit Facebook Marketplace and you will get a glimpse of what we are talking about. The internet has allowed for this.
Selling online has its drawbacks though. The documented ones are the fraud problem where people will try to scam you by posing as buyers and the difficulty in building trust with complete strangers.
We talked to a few sellers to find out their experience. The Zimbabwean-selling-stuff-online experience. We had been told a few horror stories and so we decided to let the sellers speak through us. We changed the names, obviously.
Jane, the baker
On the whole, Jane has not had too many negative experiences. That may be, but the few horrible experiences she had shaped how she views the whole game.
Jane once got an order for a $60 cake from a Zimbo based in the U.K., to be delivered to the guy’s parents in Harare. It was to be a surprise, a celebration of some anniversary. The buyer paid 80% upfront and would pay the remaining 20% on delivery.
Jane baked the cake, grabbed a cab and set off to deliver the cake. The cab peeled away as she knocked on the gate, excited at the prospect of making some elderly couple’s day. She was in for a surprise, she wasn’t going to make anyone’s day.
Cut to Jane fleeing the scene, sprinting with cake in hand and dodging stones being pelted her way.
There indeed was an elderly couple at that address but they said they did not have a child in the U.K. and thought she was trying to scam them in some way. So, they chased her away with stones, like a dog.
While Jane’s story may be extreme. We got a few stories about customers giving out the wrong address information.
Not everyone was showered with pebbles, in fact only Jane got that treatment, but in many cases, it led to heated discussions about reimbursements for transport to the wrong addresses. In the case of perishables, there were even more losses.
That’s because, for most sellers, customers only accept a cash-on-delivery deal. So, if you’re sent out to the wrong address, it will be hard to recover the resources you used to go to the wrong place.
For those already wary of buying stuff online, trying to show them that they are the ones that gave out the wrong address is an exercise in futility. They get defensive, thinking the seller is obviously running some kind of scam. They didn’t get the goods after all.
I won’t even go into the experience of any single woman on this. Most women have had to deal with unwanted advances from men. Some of these advances are downright abuse considering that in most of these cases, the women explicitly express that they are not interested. We, men, can be pigs sometimes.
I understand shooting your shot but is a Facebook Marketplace ad the best place to pick out women? I don’t think so.
One lady talked about how she had to stop selling via Facebook when the messages she received from strange men caused her husband to start wondering if it really was as simple as she was saying it was.
I think women have learnt to expect this kind of thing as a woman. It is what it is, I guess.
Amy the solar equipment reseller
Amy got an order for a solar panel and battery. She would meet the buyer while he was doing his rounds and they would do the deed.
They met at some car park of some shopping complex and Amy was relieved of the solar panel and battery, some other equipment she had in the boot of her Honda Fit and her handbag which contained a phone and some money.
She had some money hidden somewhere in the car that the thieves did not find. Regardless, the theft set her back.
Before you ask, Amy did not report the theft to the police. Suffice it to say, her equipment never crossed the country’s borders as far as the government knew. So, how could it be stolen.
Another woman, Mandy, did not end up getting robbed but pulled away when a buyer kept changing addresses. At first, it was this building, then it was another. Each new address taking her deeper into the jungle that is downtown Harare.
It could have been nothing but she decided to take the L and lose that sale.
We only talked to a few sellers. Most said getting outright robbed is not a fear they have but they still operate as if it could happen.
We also talked to some organisations. Their experience mirrored the ones that most male sellers had. They were generally not objected to abuse or anything negative.
Where many women, including those that have never been robbed or anything like that express some reservations, the gents had no such worries.
To them, the biggest challenge remains that of lack of trust by buyers, some of whom fear that they would be robbed.
One story mentioned how the seller suggested meeting at a police station to complete the sale, to assuage the buyer’s fears but the buyer still declined. He was afraid he would be robbed. All this despite the fact that he had interacted with the brand for years.
What has been your experience?
We only looked at a few stories from a few sellers but I imagine some of you have stories for days.
From the stories above it looks like women’s experiences are vastly different from men’s. Women generally have to be on their toes, careful not to get into tricky situations. The men on the other hand mostly strut about, with no care in the world.
It is also telling that for men, the negative experiences mostly have to do with buyers pulling out whilst some women have actually been robbed.
The dilemma for these women is that asking to meet in a public place might work against them when the male sellers promise to deliver to any address, even to backroom offices in downtown Harare. So, it becomes, ‘offer that kind of service or miss out on sales.’
If you have sold on the interwebs, please share what kind of experience you have had in the comments section below.