Businesses that previously depended on walk-in traffic or window shopping to make their money have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Thanks to technology and the Internet, online shopping has become the lifeline for many businesses.
To avoid contracting coronavirus, many Kenyans have resorted to shopping online and goods are delivered at their doorsteps.
“Shopping patterns changed when Covid came, clients were skeptical about shopping online,” says Brenda Mugambi, an online entrepreneur. She says clients were mostly worried about their safety – whether it was safe to shop for clothes. In addition, many clients work from home. “This was a blow to my business,” Ms Mugambi says.
The fashion retailer, who runs an online shop called Starsjoaillere, started her business in 2015.
“When restrictions were eased in the country, I saw a different trend again. I think it is because people could go out again. There was an increase in demand,” she says.
Operating online, she says, has eased the shopping experience for most of her clients as they can easily get what they want from the comfort of their couches.
She compares sales from the previous years before Covid: “Business was doing well prior to Covid, there was however an adverse effect when Covid came.”
There was high demand before the pandemic but “our clients have lost jobs, others had pay cuts which in turn affected our revenues.”
“Starsjoaillere ensures customers are satisfied by maintaining proper channels of communication, seamless and speedy delivery of orders and quality products that suit their needs,” adds Mugambi.
And like other digital businesses, online retailers are faced with technological challenges.
“We have clients who are still trying to adjust to the digital space. Some also question our authenticity as a business because we do not have a physical location,” Mugambi says.
Many people are also not connected to the internet, therefore their product marketing cannot reach everyone.
Mugambi’s desire to cater for the needs of the modern woman inspired her to start the business.
“I saw a gap in the market, it was a challenge to find exciting and affordable shops that would suit the modern woman,” she says.
In 2019, a third-year student pursuing a course in biotechnology started an online shop; Thrift With Dola, with Sh3,000.
Viola Dola adds to the list of other online retailers who sell second-hand clothes.
Washed, ironed, folded to ensure the edges pop out, a little perfume if necessary; that is what sets a physical ‘mtumba’ and an online shop apart. From the same source, the only difference is how it is delivered.
“My shop deals in official pants, mom jeans, corduroy pants, joggers, cargo pants, tops and blazers,” says Ms Dola.
She says online selling was convenient as she could not run a full-time business, and therefore saw no need to pay rent for a shop.
Dola enjoys the rush of getting new products to restock her shop. “I go to the market in the wee hours to ensure I get the best for my customers.
“I go home, wash them, iron, decorate and take pictures to upload on my Instagram account, which is my shop,” she says.
The first few weeks after Covid were tough for her because of the ban on the importation of second-hand clothes.
“People were not buying clothes because they were working from home,” Dola says. Most of her clients, however, were students.
“The purchases were great before Covid, and I moved to online when the pandemic came, and then gradually sales started improving. Going digital was a survival mechanism for me.”
Dola can tell that her clients are satisfied from the feedback she gets, though the favoured way of shopping is still going to the physical shop and trying out clothes.
“Some people don’t know their body sizes, hence they can’t buy online,” she says.
An ICT survey conducted in 2016 by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the Communication Authority of Kenya established that 39 per cent of private businesses engage in e-commerce. [Esther Dianah]