I recently wrote an article on the issues hampering the spread of e-commerce in Zimbabwe. That being said I would still like to see people transcending those hurdles to establish online shops in Zimbabwe. Interestingly there are no definitive statistics on the e-commerce industry in Africa. That serves to show how the industry is in its infancy on the continent as a whole. Last year China was at the top of global e-commerce with almost 600 billion USD realized from online sales. This makes it plain that having online shops can open up overflowing streams of revenue locally. So let me discuss how you can establish your own online shop.
The point of departure is determining what product(s) you want to offer. You must settle for a niche that can be easily sustained and can be scaled up over time. You must never lose sight of the fact that you’ll be looking to compete with brick and mortar establishments. That’s why it can be expedient to employ both models i.e. online and brick and mortar (with the online cluster occupying the lion’s share). With respect to the products (or inventory), there are two commonly used approaches; drop-shipping or handling your own products. Drop-shipping entails you receiving orders from people then you forward them to companies who have the products and send to the customers in your name. Due to the complex logistical framework of drop-shipping, it’s wiser to handle your own products. When you handle the products yourself you are in control.
The determinant issue in setting up an online shop is online payment processes. Actually, it’s one of the biggest impediments to e-commerce progress across the continent.
You’ll need to have a domain name, get an e-commerce website developed and have relevant plugins incorporated on it to complete the online shop set up. You’ll also need to have storage space for the products you shall be offering. You can actually source and keep them at your home so long it’s spacious, secure and within the proximity of your catchment area of prospective customers. You also must have a transportation or delivery ecosystem; you can use own transport or you can outsource. Local example Fresh-In-A-Box uses own transport and at times outsource transportation services from Hwindi (an online taxi service) among others. You must carefully consider your inventory handling and your delivery ecosystem because these are factors that’ll influence your pricing regime.
The visionary, innovator, customer guru and rainmaker tag team are applicable to an online shop. How many people you would want to work with depends on your financial standing and your endeavour to keep costs at bay. Whichever way, you are better off starting off with 4 individuals that’ll adequately service those four key roles I mentioned. The innovation and the customer handling aspects are central to your ultimate revenue so ensure you have experts in those regards.
Depending on how you start the significant initial costs will be having the website setup, acquiring the startup stock of products and the delivery of ordered goods. So ample planning must be done prior to commencement because a substantial amount of money may be needed to start an online shop. The financials need extreme focus and evaluation because if you aren’t careful your costs will be so high that you’ll be forced to put mark-ups that make your prices out of reach for customers. Thus, running on a lean budget from the onset is most viable.
There is a huge untapped market locally. With as many as around 5 million Zimbabweans in the diaspora, you definitely must also tap into that market. Fresh-In-A-Box, Zimbuyer and Nyama Farma are examples of local businesses operating online shops that also tap into the diaspora market. That is strategic because diasporans already have a rooted appreciation for e-commerce, they usually have disposable incomes and are eager to buy goods for loved ones back here.
Register your business so that you won’t have scuffles with ZIMRA later on pertaining taxation. You’ll obviously be producing online content to market your business and as such it’s important to adhere to copyrights. Copyright infringement of copyrighted online content such as images, videos or other forms of content can cause problems for you. It’s also important to get legal assistance in drafting terms and conditions so that you don’t have run-ins with customers. Online shops have their own unique set of logistical issues that must be well thought-out when formulating the terms and conditions.
If you are to make it in this business you must have a strong internet and social media presence. You must also ensure that the packaging of your goods is appropriate. Remember that you’ll source products, store them then transport them again when ordered. Thus, your packaging must be thoroughly done to avoid products getting to customers compromised. The other aspect is that of delivery time; if you don’t deliver in the time you promise your ratings will go down. Your delivery time must far outweigh the time it would take someone to instead go out and do the buying themselves.
I’ll reiterate, the market is huge and mostly untapped; plus you have another strategic market – the diaspora. Amazon and Alibaba are now mighty global e-commerce brands and their founders are billionaires. We are yet to see local Zimbabweans becoming super rich from running online shop businesses – but it can be done, it’s possible! So it’s my wish to continue seeing online shops emerging. Seeing gradual sprouting of local online shops such as the ones I mentioned earlier is definitely an indicator of great things to come.