The telco business in the Kenyan market has been a success story especially for market leader, Safaricom. The company has never shied away from augmenting its trade with new products, and has, for some time now, been integrating a variety of new services to its offerings. One of the most hyped (for good reasons) product is Masoko, an e-commerce platform that went live a little less than one year ago. Targeting to serve customers over the telco’s expansive reach, Masoko’s primary goal was and remains to serve local customers, and by extension, Africa with a model that does not replicate its rivals’ trade in other continents.
We managed to have a chat with Sharon D’Souza Holi who is the Head of Masoko. She highlighted some setbacks the platform has encountered (and possibly averted), as well as a couple of notable gains.
Why Masoko exists
According to Sharon Holi, Masoko’s goal is to democratize retail across Africa.
“What we are looking forward to is helping vendors get a market for their products, and for anybody to have access to products via a smartphone or any other gadget,” stated Sharon Holi.
The firm found out that a lot of Kenyans can use an online platform to buy stuff, but they need to trust the seller before committing. The trust aspect is what Masoko believes elevates its trade over competitors.
A challenging start
Speaking of initial setbacks, Sharon Holi admits that Masoko did not take off as expected. For instance, some vendors were skeptical of leaving their brick and mortal approach to selling products and services via Masoko. Secondly, shipping delays, albeit in isolated incidences, were reported at that time.
“Some of our vendors were not quite ready to sell on a platform like this. However, the ones that we have now understand what we are trying to achieve both in terms of quality of products and timely deliveries,” notes Sharon Holi.
These issues have since been addressed in a variety of ways. To begin with, Sharon Holi says that the platform continues to help vendors meet timelines. In particular, some vendors are undergoing retraining, while others have been equipped with stable delivery tools.
Secondly, it has always been Masoko’s goal to deal with quality products, which implies that it partners with vetted and known brands. Additionally, deliveries are now done in a timely manner, which, as mentioned, was an issue for some time.
Collectively, these developments are complemented by Masoko’s team that is also supported by Safaricom’s call supporting centre.
By the way, Masoko is ten times as big as it launched in 2017.
As you enter Masoko’s head office, the first thing you will notice is how young the team is. The moderately large area utilizes an open office layout.
We were informed that the team constitutes of people who had previously worked in e-commerce. Others were sourced from similar businesses and the rest have been with Safaricom.
“We have brought the best of the three groups to make sure the team is strong,” adds Sharon Holi.
As mentioned, Masoko’s operations and systems are not solely in-house. It works with external partners, vendors, and delivery teams. There is a development team too that continues to improve the website’s look and feel, search and overall customer experience.
Masoko works with two logistics company but plans to add more in coming days.
“We believe that Masoko’s success across the country depends on the input of various partners. While the platform is under the umbrella of Safaricom, we work with partners to deliver, as well as vendors on the platform to develop and grow the tech,” she highlighted.
A lot of people have used online shops to buy a variety of goods. Also, many folks have reported being duped by vendors in several ways such as delivering substandard or fake products. Mainly, this is the issue that Masoko wants to solve for customers by working with verified partners and vendors.
Similarly, Masoko is improving return processes. For instance, if a customer is unhappy with a service or product, they can return the item for a refund or a replacement.
Also, the e-commerce platform works with electronic brands that have a local service centers. This has improved warranty and repair cases significantly.
Shopping with Bonga Points
Bonga points have always been redeemed natively for minutes, SMS, data or phones. This has since changed as Safaricom has expanded the number of products that can be paid for using the loyalty points. Other than buying goods and services, Bonga points can now be used as currency in the e-commerce platform.
Launched sometime last month, we tried purchasing a 6-pack of beer that amounted to KES 750 plus shipping. It cost us a healthy 3745 points, which is more than we expected but the purpose of the purchase was to understand how the process works. We will discuss more of this detail in another day.
Nevertheless, it works, which adds up to the number of payment options at a customer’s disposal.
“Not only can you use MPESA but also other means such as Bonga points,” added Sharon Holi.
Asked if this was a way of enticing people to use their points, Sharon Holi insisted that the option is there to give shoppers a choice.
Link with Safaricom
Masoko has taken advantage of Safaricom’s tech fraternity. Safaricom has helped Masoko build and launch Masoko’s payment platform, 24/7 customer care support and the telco’s reach in the country.
This time round, Masoko will join other players with a lot of deals that will mainly go live in November’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Masoko did not reveal what it has in place, but we will know when that time comes.
At the moment, the campaign is currently referred to as Masoko Shopping Festival and will be marked by lots of discounts as we approach Christmas, so you may need to be on the lookout for that.
Masoko has shown that Kenya has a lot of prospects for e-commerce development. Investing in key ICT infrastructure will continually provide the much-needed platform for e-commerce growth and rapid economic development on the continent. Also, the issue of distrust, which is a global problem but seems to be domesticated in Africa due largely to inadequate ICT skills, especially in electronic systems, is what Masoko aims to solve.