Paul Mwangi quit his lucrative job at a non-governmental organisation (NGO) two years ago to venture into e-commerce.
The 26-year-old is among about 10,000 vendors who sell their wares on Jumia, an online shopping mall unveiled in Kenya in 2014.
Prior to opening the shop on the platform, he had tried selling his merchandise — that include accessories such as watches, shoes and jewelry — on his personal website and on Facebook, but this, he says, limited visibility of the goods.
In June last year, he followed simple prompts online and opened a shop on Jumia for free.
“It’s been 15 months of good fortune thanks to the customer traffic on Jumia which has helped drive sales on my shop,” he says.
Opening a shop in this day and age of the internet has been made that simple. You do not have to go through the gruelling processes associated with setting up a physical shop, and the hard work of making your products known and finally accepted in the market.
To register as a seller on Jumia, all you need are an e-mail address, a valid phone number and your bank account details. They also offer daily training for vendors who would like to join their platform.
“We are doubling (number of vendors) year on year and this is driven by new customers as they realise the range of products online,” says Sam Chappate, Jumia Chief Executive.
“Three years ago Jumia had around 30,000 products available for buyers. Now the platform has three million and targeting to hit five million products by year end”
Once successfully admitted onto Jumia space, a vendor can pick what they want to sell from along list of products, ranging from clothes to electronics.
Mr Mwangi says internet presents huge opportunities for small entrepreneurs.
His sentiments are shared by Hulda Furaha, a small scale entrepreneur who recently ventured into the e-commerce space to sell phones and tablets. This, she says, saves her overhead costs.
“With online marketing, a vendor generates a lot of traffic from potential customers who might be looking for the product or doing simple enquiries which is faster compared to visiting a physical shop,” she says.
Mr Mwangi and Ms Furaha are among thousands of young people in the country who are opting for online retail space for a variety of reasons. One of the most attractive aspects of online business is that you need little capital to set it. This is crucial bearing in mind that lack of funds to implement your business idea is always the biggest obstacles to potential entrepreneurs.
Another key advantage for an online enterprise is that you don’t need to grapple with the costly monthly rent for premises. Perhaps all you need to pay is a fee for a firm hosting your site.
Besides, you may not necessarily start from zero because you can tap existing e-commerce platforms such as Jumia, Kilimall, Gosoko, Orion and Safaricom’s Masoko.
Working on the space of the well-known brands is instrumental in kick-starting your venture. This is the route that Mr Mwangi and thousands others have taken.
Analysts say the prospects for online businesses can only get brighter. Today, the convenience of shopping online has increasingly attracted droves of consumers to explore online for various products. At the click of a button, people can now access an array of products and services, such as clothing/shoes/accessories, books, electronic equipment, cosmetic and nutrition supplies, tours/hotel reservations, among others.
This trend is what local and foreign entrepreneurs are cashing in on to build thriving businesses in Kenya. And the competition is beginning to gain momentum too. Locally-owned Orion Online Mall unveiled in April, is leveraging on an all-inclusive service provision which includes a service centre and a logistics and grocery outlet.
Masoko unveiled in the market in November last year is targeting the mushrooming formal retail and informal online trading in the country.
Gosoko which entered Kenya about a year ago promises low-cost, effective and secure delivery across Africa.
In addition to the rising competition among themselves, e-commerce players still have to contend with the brick and mortar malls, supermarkets, hypermarkets, groceries and mama mboga stalls which still command the trust of most shoppers.
However, online enterprises enjoy unique advantages over their traditional counterparts as they are able to leverage on the power of the internet to engage with clients in a faster, easier and more convenient way, with physical barriers having been shattered.
Mr Mwangi , who gets 10 to 20 orders daily, says he is able to interact seamlessly and instantly with clients, making his business far much easier to run.
While e-commerce is beginning to thrive, there are still a number of challenges that entrepreneurs face. Trust remains the biggest impediment as most buyers are somewhat hesitant and apprehensive about buying goods online. Ms Furaha says the online business can be quite frustrating “especially after dedicating time to a potential client only for them to opt to get the product from another online shop at a cheaper price”.
“It becomes discouraging to some point because you invested in offering advice. This and the slow embracing of online shopping give us quite a hard time,” she says.