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E-commerce blooming despite Covid – 19 pandemic

It’s safe to say that Covid-19 has been one of the defining events of 2020/ 21. The evolution and spread of the global pandemic with an extraordinary pace has resulted in emergence of online purchasing of products and services.

The last one year has seen accelerating transition towards a digital economy in Kenya and the entire world in which Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), play a substantial part in the production, consumption and exchange of the majority of goods and services.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO), characterized Covid-19 as a pandemic, leading to the infectious virus not only becoming a public health crisis, but also affecting the global economy and how consumers interact with the current markets.

As people have embraced social distancing as a way to curb the spread of the pandemic, there has naturally been a drop-off in walk-in shopping.

This would mean that perhaps people have ceased acquisition of products and services, right? But that’s not the case. There is likely be an increase in online shopping as people resort to e-commerce to purchase the items they might have otherwise purchased in person.

Ministry of ICT, Principal Superintendent Electronics, Francis Hwaga, states that Covid- 19, initially affected e-commerce, in that the market stalled before it was able to spontaneously rise again.

“A lot of imported goods were not able to get into the country, many of the imports had to be treated before passage,” he says.

“The digital economy and e-commerce play a significant role in efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), bringing both new opportunities and new challenges to bear,” he explains.

According to UNCTAD and Netcomm Suisse e-Commerce Association, in collaboration with the Brazilian Network Information Center (NIC.br) and Inveon, shows that online purchases have increased by six (6) to 10 percentage points across most product categories.

According to the survey, the most used communication platforms are WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.

Various commodities have been in demand. It notes that the biggest gainers are ICT/electronics, pharmaceuticals, furniture/household products and cosmetics/personal care categories, fashion, and food and beverages.

In Kenya, with the lockdown pressure piling up across the counties, supermarkets and delivery giants  such as  Naivas, Carrefour, Jumia, Betika and Glovo have had to adapt faster and were able to close the gaps in unravelling e- commerce system.

Janet Akinyi, a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) operator with a wines and spirit business dubbed Janet’s Bar in Nairobi, accredits the growth of her successful business to her skyrocketing online sales.

“Most of my clients consume alcohol from home owing to the Covid-19 health restrictions and dusk to dawn curfews”, remarks Janet.

The Government, having extended a nationwide overnight Covid-19 curfew for 60 days to battle a third wave of infections in the country, Janet recons that the e-commerce markets, is doing better with time.

“Everything is online and the influence is much bigger, you get clients from far and wide and I sees myself getting a motorbike to ease my delivery channels, “she adds.

In the short term, records show that, retailers that sell supplies such as toilet paper, face masks and water bottles have had significant sales gains due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Long-term, however, one would argue that lockdowns and other restrictions to contain coronavirus contagion has stifled revenues and hampered growth in Kenya juxtapose to developing the economy. But the evidence proves the latter.

“Covid- 19 has changed my online shopping experience forever and am not turning back,” a respondents confesses.

He notes he’d continue shopping online and focusing on essential products in the future.

It is also said that emotions plays a role in shopping behavior. There is a human side of online shopping and that shoppers crave that visceral experience.

According to a survey from Clicktale, 40 per cent of shoppers use ‘retail therapy’ as a way to calm down, while 74 per cent said they have “stress-shopped” in the past.

A study from the Journal of Consume Psychology, states the benefits of retail therapy, making purchase decisions reduce residual sadness.

The Report also found that impulse shopping is alive and well online, as consumers are more likely to add to their cart.

However, online impulse shopping has been much less effective, even as consumers do more shopping online.  Specifically, 89 percent of women and 78 percent of men who visit physical stores shared that they add additional items to their cart beyond their identified need.

By comparison, a lower 67 percent of men and 77 percent of women reported adding extra items to their carts when shopping online.

Hwaga states that the situation is rapidly changing and that the amount of people deemed safe to gather in a single place has dwindled from thousands, to hundreds, to ten.

Restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and gyms in many major cities are shutting down. Meanwhile, many office workers are facing new challenges of working remotely full time.

“People don’t want to interact with other people due to the Covid- 19 health regulation,” remarks Hwaga. The Telecommunications guru states that initially e-commerce was thought to be only for the rich but now it’s been made accessible through mobile money transactions such as MPESA. All technologies are able to merge so long as you have internet connection,” he says.

He goes further to refute the belief that Africa is analogue and affirms that it’s an ancient notion which should be thrown in the books of history, since technology is overtaking the continent.

“Essentially, people are coming to terms with the realities of our interconnected world and how difficult it is to temporarily separate those connections to others. To say that we are living in unprecedented times feels like an understatement,” says Hwaga.

As disease outbreaks are not likely to disappear in the near future, many speculate that the virus is here for a while thus the need to espouse not only to save lives but also protect economic prosperity.

The ball is now on the seller’s court, to improve customer experience, to increase customers’ trust and to keep the clients coming back.

By Lydia Midani

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