We recently tweeted an article from Celebrating Progress in Africa “E-commerce in Africa – Preferences of African consumers in Nigeria, Kenya & South Africa”.
Accepting that online shopping is a developing market and that retailers are yet to make the best use of its availability, it is clear that many of the building blocks are in place for example, internet penetration and reliable payment mechanisms – particularly money transfer services.
However the perceived barriers to use within this survey were lack of security 33.95% and delivery time 30.94%. It is not clear from the survey what specific concerns people had about security and whether it is security of their data, money or purchases. It is my guess that two of these can be dealt with via consumer education and some clear policies on use and sharing of data.
The nub of the issue for me is delivery and the lack of reliable, affordable and trusted national and international delivery / postal system. I admit the issues for any delivery system in Kenya are complex. Firstly, how do you locate people who do not have addresses – we have all come across the various solutions to this, draw a map and scan it, let the delivery guy get somewhere close and then guide him in, and the ever useful google map link. However there are companies out there providing solutions to this problem (have a look at MapIt). As is always the case in Africa it is not about copying what happens in “developed” countries it is about coming up with our own solutions to our own unique needs.
Secondly there is the issue of security of your goods in transit. Will it actually get where you intend for it to go. It is unfortunate that the national postal system is not up to the job. Leaving one other option – couriers.
Which brings me on to my third issue – cost. It is the case with many of the companies who you can shop with on line that delivery costs are minimal if you live within Nairobi. If you live outside Nairobi it is a different story and there is rarely a standard price for delivery. Let me compare this to the story in the UK. When Amazon initially started selling many of the news items about the company at the time were about how online retail had given access to goods for people who found it difficult to access shops because they did not live close to a city or town. I don’t think we can say this is the case in Kenya.
It is not only the customer who looses out. Imagine you are a producer of small unique craft items based up country. You can access social media to get your products viewed but what you can’t do is take individual orders because the cost of delivery to your customer is prohibitive – especially if you were to receive any interest about your items from abroad. You instead have to rely upon middle men to take your items to craft fairs in the city or to package your items along with thousands of others to send abroad.
In answer to my own question I believe that the biggest barrier to online retail in Kenya is delivery. It essentially undermines many of the main benefits of shopping on line for those who live outside Nairobi. We therefore await the Kenyan solution to this Kenyan problem.
Sam Crosthwaite – Client Service Manager