Zimbabwe like many other countries has accelerated eCommerce efforts in 2020 out of necessity with the COVID 19 induced lockdown that made many rethink the way business is done. The trends are not a result of lockdown but are ongoing trends that have been influencing eCommerce in the world in general and in Zimbabwe specifically. Understanding these trends will help you improve your eCommerce efforts. Ecommerce for this discussion is any transaction that has any part of it happening over an electronic platform.
Influencer marketing – it’s weird
Influencer marketing is at work in Zimbabwe big time but it seems to be something that is easily gotten wrong by businesses. Yes, influencers are definitely converting customers and the way to go however its not the size of the audience that matters but the degree of influence. Simply put you would rather an influencer who can motivate 9 of their 10 followers than an influencer who can motivate 1 of the 100 followers. Try a campaign that can be tracked to measure the true degree of influence.
Video is important and will only become more important. Research shows that 64% of shoppers were more likely to buy a product after seeing a video. I’d go further to say I’m not buying a product until I see an independent video of it in use. This is the frontier on which Zimbabwean eCommerce has lacked so far. Video is of course not easy and sideshow videos don’t count. But look at the way mobile phone manufacturers have partnered with Vloggers and YouTubers, they provide them with a first look at devices allowing them to release the videos as devices become available and create a conversation around the devices.
Online to Offline and vice versa
What is prevalent in Zimbabwe are partial e-commerce sales, that is where some of the transaction happens online while some of it offline. There are a few factors behind this but to give you a short version there is a lack of trust or credibility, inefficient support services and cost factors involved. You will understand the trouble with support services if you’ve ever ordered food delivery from some providers. Delivery happens to cost an arm and a leg while it is difficult to trust sellers we do not know. As a seller, you need to learn to be agile and handle sales the same in the two different channels and as they switch between the channels.
This is complicated before we bring in the multiplicity of payment issues specific to Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the solution to the problem here does not rest with retailers but with higher authorities in the land. One thing retailers can do is be human. I find a strange false dichotomy in Zimbabwe that posits businesses vs the people. “Businesses are raising prices”, “businesses are charging extra if you pay using mobile money” and “businesses are greedy”. I find this weird because businesses are run by people. And with Zimbabwe’s business landscape we are dominated by small, micro and nano businesses which are definitely run by people. So treating businesses and customers for that matter as if they have a different currency or mobile money to us is unfair.
If any one thing is killing the potential of eCommerce in Zimbabwe it is logistics. Without credible logistics solution providers, many small businesses have been forced to invest in their own logistics networks. I want to use the example of food delivery to make a point. Uber is large, almost worldwide and their Uber eats has taken off well. Uber of course owns no vehicles. However, your favourite Zimbabwean eCommerce dreamer must use their own vehicle or invest in a fleet of vehicles. These come with maintenance costs and result in an expensive option for customers. Paying $5 for delivery on a $5 item just feels wrong. Another problem that the solution rests with powers higher than retailers but retailers can educate customers and take a leaf from the previous point.
We’ve not seen the last of eCommerce or our troubles with it. As much as the factors that stunt its growth persist so to do the factors that improve it.