Vaya is a Cassava (formerly part of Econet) product that has been enjoying quiet success while some of its more high profile counterparts have been having a harder time winning over users. It is a transport and logistics service that is offered through an app. You can use the app to order transportation for yourself or your goods. As the current lockdown approaches its final days, some people are speculating that the Zimbabwean government might copy its South African counterpart and opt for an extension. This will not be good news for many business owners as a lot of fixed costs like rentals and salaries were not suspended with the lockdown. With the government only allowing “essential services” to continue operating, we have witnessed some bigger companies with clout shrugging off the restrictions that their smaller peers are helpless against. So Vaya continues to operate as an essential service.
Retailers can weather this pandemic if they embrace technology in the form of online retailing. Online shopping has gone from being a mere convenience (or considered a gimmick in the case of Zimbabwe) to being a necessity. Right now across the world in the US the likes of Amazon are thriving while a lot of physical stores are in their final death throes. Our local retailers can still resume operations, be it in the face of a legally instituted lockdown or a self-imposed one by a fearful public if they move their operations online. This article is therefore meant to be a crash course in starting an eCommerce store for those who already own grocery shops, fast food outlets, restaurants, electronics stores etc. They can do so with the help of delivery services that are still in operation such as the aforementioned Vaya.
Choose a name (and then a domain name)
When choosing a domain name the easiest approach would be to use all or part of your current store’s name. If the result is too unwieldy you can always use a simpler one. There are a few simple rules that you must try to follow when choosing a domain name: use something short, simple and easy to remember. Avoid numbers and hyphens as these are difficult to remember. Also, choose something that you would not be embarrassed to shout across a room full of people. It is also advisable to use a “co.zw” (e.g. yourshop.co.zw) instead of a “.com” one (e.g. yourshop.com) as the former is better able to signal to visitors and search engines that your store is in Zimbabwe (presumably where your target market is).
Build your e-store
You can either hire a developer to build your store or just use any of several tools and services that are available nowadays. The latter has the advantage of giving you full control over your site whereas using a developer has several disadvantages such as the need to fork out additional fees if you want any modifications to your site. Even worse, hiring a developer is a commitment since at times a different developer may not be able to make any changes to your site—many will instead insist on rebuilding your site up from scratch (and then bill you appropriately).
Some of the best e-store building tools you can use are those offered by Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, Weebly and Big Commerce. For smaller stores (e.g those with less than 50 products) Wix, Weebly and Squarespace are the best while the rest are better suited for bigger sites with even bigger product catalogues.
Setup payment channels
Due to the cash crisis, Zimbabwe was practically forced by the central bank into going cashless. This means that the vast majority of the urban-dwelling population has at least one electronic payment method available at hand. Paynow offers one of the best (if not the only) payment gateway platform in the country. You can use it to receive payment via Ecocash, OneMoney, Telecash, Zimswitch, Visa and Mastercard. You can use the last two to receive payments from outside the country. These can be used to enable people outside the country to shop for their relatives back in Zimbabwe.
One of the biggest causes of failure of online businesses in Zimbabwe has been the inability of the owners of these to recognize the need for marketing. With no physical presence or a storefront to lure customers with, you will have to market yourself aggressively using other channels. Also, you will need to pay for advertising—going out of your way to skirt the costs of advertising is a recipe for failure
You can start by buying adverts from Facebook. The platform allows you to target your ads using several parameters one of which is location. This can be used to only display adverts about your online store to people who live in or are passing through your town or city. You can also buy Google ads, engage local blogs, and buy advertisement space on the websites of popular local publications such as the Herald and Newsday. There are also organisations with large Whatsapp “mailing lists” which offer advertising.
Your delivery service
Vaya offers you two options for delivering orders. The first of these is called Vaya Express and uses vehicles such as motorbikes to deliver your packages from door-to-door. There is a limit to how much a motorbike can carry and that is where Vaya Van delivery comes in. As the name implies, vans are used instead of the deliveries. This allows the delivery of larger parcels and goods which cannot be delivered by the smaller utility bikes and motorbikes used by Vaya Express.
To get an overview of the charges and terms of the service download the app and signup.
Other important things to consider
Just remember that while you can use messaging services such as Whatsapp to receive orders, these do not scale up well i.e they only work if you are sure you are not going to get a lot of customers. Also, ensure you make it very clear which areas you operate in—the internet allows anyone in the world to order from your store. So if you can only operate within a specific city ensure that no one who lives outside it can make an order. You must also keep track of your inventory and make sure that only products which you have on hand are available for ordering through your website.