As it appeared in the Daily Nation on June 2nd 2020
Dr. Lucy Kiruthu
The earliest memories I have of e-commerce are two decades old. During my MBA course, I purchased used textbooks from Amazon.com on recommendation from one of our professors. It however seems that e-commerce is older than that, even before Amazon, businesses were trying to buy and sell online. Nonetheless, the most massive growth in e-commerce has been witnessed in the last 2 decades. Globally and even locally, e-commerce has skyrocketed. Amazon has grown beyond an online bookstore to being a renowned global brand and a mega technology company. Besides Amazon, many other e-commerce companies have sprung up across the globe. Alibaba Group another large e-commerce giant has transformed global online transactions. Though Africa lags behind, the ability for businesses, to conduct commercial transactions via the Internet is huge.
In Kenya, online buying and selling continues to experience an upward trajectory. Looking back into our e-commerce space a decade ago, I recall the likes of Zetu.co.ke, Mocality, Mamamikes, and Dealfish.co.ke. Some may also recall the role that OLX played in driving conversations around e-commerce. Since then, very many online stores, platforms and apps have mushroomed in Kenya. Today, the list of those online in Kenya is long. In the last few years, the likes of Jumia, Masoko, Cheki.co.ke, Pigiame, Kilimall and Copia come to mind. Besides, the growth of social media sites has enabled the expansion of e-commerce. For example, there has been the use of Facebook and even conversion of Facebook groups such as Kilimani Mums into marketplaces as well as sharing of shoppable posts on Instagram. Also, retailers, restaurants and many other businesses with a shop-front have established online stores from which their customers can access their products from anywhere. Further, service organizations such as those providing transport and deliveries have as well gone online to make their services more accessible and to support online shopping.
E-commerce has enabled both large and small businesses to leverage technology to reach customers in both domestic and global markets. It has also allowed businesses to compete more effectively. Domestically, internet penetration in Kenya and especially the growth in the use of smartphones is at the centre of e-commerce growth. This continues to provide potential new business opportunities to many. Despite these opportunities, some of the online stores in Kenya have become extinct, others are struggling and only a few seem to be flourishing. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic is favouring tremendous growth of e-commerce. Many businesses in Kenya are already taking advantage of this. Some are setting up new e-stores and others are providing e-commerce platforms. Customers in Kenya are more open than ever before to make online purchases. Many are giving online shopping a try for the first time and increasing their online expenditure. Soon, we will be spoilt for choice!
As businesses adapt to e-commerce, they need to have clarity on who their target market. They also need to focus more on building trust and creating value for their customers. Sometimes, I find that fascination with technology can blind e-commerce businesses. As more and more businesses jump onto the e-commerce bandwagon, they need not forget the commercial side of building a loyal customer base. I believe that those in e-commerce can hold on more to their customers by providing a painless, seamless and frictionless end-to-end experience.
Dr. Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy