What Social Media Has Done For E-commerce in Kenya


E- commerce. This is no longer a new word to us. It is everywhere we look these days, both online and offline. Online shopping is turning out to be a viable option for many of us, especially but certainly not limited to, the tech-savvy, urban area living individuals. We are shopping for products and services from local sites, to foreign sites easily from the comfort of our mobile devices. Many retailers are venturing into e-commerce and hoping to tap into a market that is yet to reach its peak.

However, a few things come to hinder this growth, things that are understandable and relatable throughout Africa. We always discuss these challenges. We know and are aware of them, however I do get this feeling that we are too caught up in the challenges that we forget to acknowledge a not so silent revolution brewing underneath. The role of Social media.

The one crucial point that changed everything

“…social media has also become a blossoming marketplace. In my opinion, It has become the single driving point for e-commerce”

If there is something I have come to learn over the years is to never underestimate the limitless power of social media. In the beginning, social media was just a way to connect to your family and friends. You would share a few pictures and brag about the awesome holiday you are having so that those stuck at home could die with envy. Now, social media has evolved into something extraordinary.

Don’t get me wrong, people still connect with friends (read, flooding the Internet with unnecessary selfies) and have the urge to continue bragging about some overly priced meal they ate that nobody cares about, but social media has also become a blossoming marketplace. In my opinion, It has become the single driving point for e-commerce conversion increase. I have no idea who decided to first do it, but they may have single-handedly made e-commerce accessible to every single person.

So let us imagine the person who started this whole revolution was named Mary. Mary got a gift from an aunt, a pair of shoes that she didn’t like so much. She would have preferred cash. Mary goes on Facebook as usual and starts updating their status. It goes a little like this “Guys, you wouldn’t imagine the ugly pair of shoes I got for my birthday” she finishes the update by uploading a picture of the shoes but just before she publishes the post, an idea comes to her head. Maybe one of her hundreds of ‘friends’ would actually want to buy them. So she changes the post to. “Hey guys, I have a spare pair of awesome shoes that I don’t need, does anyone want to buy them?” That right there is how I want to imagine social media e-commerce started. It feels like a legit story guys. I like to romanticize things so let me just believe this fictitious story.

Point is, I believe that this revolution opened up a lot of people, especially here in Africa to the accessibility to e-commerce. The idea that you can buy something online without visiting the actual store and ‘bargaining’ (insert flirting) where appropriate with the retailer was something that many Africans were not too keen on. How can you buy anything online? Wouldn’t it just be fake, wouldn’t the person just take your money and run away? Will I even get to test the product before buying it? Can I take it back if it is not satisfactory? Why should I wait so long to get something when I can just run to the store, buy it and go home with it that same day?

These are some of the questions that plagued us when e-commerce sites like KilimallJumia and Kaymu launched here. Sure, we knew how Amazon and eBay worked abroad from all the movies we watched, or from friends living abroad but to imagine it working over here? That seemed a bit of a long shot. We didn’t have half of the infrastructure and networks they had there. But there had to be a starting point yes? It cannot all be perfect. Now the cost of showing Kenyans the value of online shopping fell on these giants from other countries. It was upon them to show that Kenya is ready for online shopping.

Who do you think came first, Mary’s or e-commerce stores? Is it Mary who showed us that we can sell and buy online or was it the online store that showed us the way? If someone has the answer to this, I’m ready to listen, but I do not think it matters. One thing we cannot dispute is that social media has made e-commerce a normal, everyday viable business model.

It is as easy as posting a picture

“One things that I think helped social media e-commerce to grow so fast is the design and overall user experience…we are familiar with them…”

Why do you think e-commerce is so prevalent on social media? I think it is just too simple. There doesn’t exist barriers to entry. If you have a Facebook or Instagram account, you are in! That’s the basic cost. It is important to note that I do not have any economics background and if I did, I probably just crammed for my exams but I understand the basic principle of supply and demand.

A post on one Facebook market place
A post on one Facebook market place

Selling things on social media is extremely accessible, you don’t need a company or warehouse or a business plan and proposal. It is as simple as giving a description of the product or service, the cost of the product and the extra step, a picture and a mode of delivery. That’s it. I am sure you have seen this all over your social media feeds or you do it. This just proves how accessible this whole concept is. The advantage of this ease of accessibility is that it opens up the space to so many people, increasing the supply to meet the ever increasing demand.

One things that I think helped social media e-commerce to grow so fast is the design and overall user experience. Kenyans have been using social media for many years now and have profiles in almost all platforms. Most of us are active on all the social media platforms we are in ensuring that we are familiar with them. We love the experience and in a way trust the platforms and how everything is laid out. We feel like we know the people posting their products because they are people just like us.

We feel some kind of peer-to-peer connection. The pictures posted are amateur, just like one I would take with my phone. Again we feel some relation to that. If its a dress on a girl that looks just like you, why wouldn’t you buy it. What I’m driving to here is that we feel like we can relate to the sellers on social media as they can easily be you. They post those pictures of the product just like they would their badly taken selfies!

Another thing to note about the e-commerce culture on social media is that because it is so accessible, you can find just about anything. This can range from home electronics, mobile phones and computers, clothes, food, drinks, home décor pieces, holiday packages, services like code development, writing, sales, cleaning and plumbing among others, houses on sale or rent. I mean this list goes on, and on and on. Since there aren’t restrictions (PG 13 obviously) about what you can sell and advertise, you can find just about anything you want. This in effect drives up the demand for products and services. I think there is a general rule here. If you think you want to sell something, there is someone out there who is willing to buy it.

Some limitations did come across however. Let’s take Facebook as an example. Remember Mary? Our Firestarter earlier in the article? So when Mary posts the ad for selling the shoes, she realizes that this will only be visible to her friends, who may not take her seriously. I mean, if I were Mary’s friends, I’d simply tell her to stop messing around and just gift me the shoes. She may be better off selling to strangers, so she sets up a Facebook page and gives it an obvious catchy name like ‘Shoe Game Marketplace’ and posts the shoes there, while inviting more people on the page and making it public. In due time, the page grows and grows with more people selling and more buying using that page as a platform. Problem solved. So many marketplaces like this exist on Facebook like Kilimani mums’ market place giving people the freedom to sell anything and reach a wide group of people with no marketing or customer acquisition. Tell me that doesn’t sound exhilarating!

So,what happens to e-commerce stores?

“People are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of buying items and services online”

In my opinion, this spells nothing but good news for ecommerce stores. I say that for a couple of reasons. The most obvious advantage is that people are getting more and more comfortable with the idea of buying items and services online. It stops being a foreign concept once someone sees how easy and simple it is to actually participate in the e-commerce experience. This removes the burden of educating and creating awareness of e-commerce to a whole population from these online stores saving them a whole load of marketing cash. It allows people to probably give them a second look.

Kilimall, one such online store
Kilimall, one such online store

Since this revolution has somehow leveled the playing field, it gives people a chance to choose where to shop. To loosely compare it, one might consider buying a product from a Facebook page or an online store just as one might consider buying from Nakumatt, Uchumi or your local supermarket. The choice is all about preference and what add on services you can get from one place to another. This is where I think online stores get a lead. They are big and resourceful. This means they can do more.

One add on feature that online stores have is country-wide delivery. Our postal delivery service is wanting but online stores have invested in delivery networks ensuring that anyone who shops can get their product anywhere in the country. For someone just selling a few things on a Facebook page, country wide delivery might not be an option. Unless you can meet some communal place close by, there exisits restrictions and an online store becomes the obvious choice.

Accountability  is something else that online stores have going for them. It is the responsibility of a online store to deliver the product to you, wherever you want it, therefore you are only accountable for the product once it’s in your hands. On the other hand, if you chose to buy something from someone off Facebook, it’s all on you. If the seller is fraudulent, you have no one to blame but yourself if your money disappears. Online stores really try to show that they are reliable, therefore they can bank on that.

It is not all rosy though because if there is something social media is giving to online stores is competition. They are all competing for the same customers and because of the accessibility of selling things on social media, they lose out to the numerous categories of products and services that are available to the market from social media. The only way the online stores can do this is having many separate sites selling different things which just leads to serious fragmentation, which is a disadvantage on its own. You can call social media a ‘one-stop-shop’.

E-commerce has greatly evolved in our country with more online stores popping up and even more social media market places from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and Snapchat showing up daily. All I can say it, where two or more are gathered, business will surely follow.

What are you thoughts about this? Share them on our forum!

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I love and appreciate everything tech. I am a nature lover and conservatist. Free time is spent baking and chilling with my kitten. Talk to me on email [email protected] or find me on twitter @mugurek_