E-COMMERCE is a gateway to a world of new opportunities for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Zimbabwe, a new report has established.
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
In its latest report, the country’s export promotion body, ZimTrade, revealed that the growing availability and use of the internet in global business was an opportunity that all MSMEs in Zimbabwe should investigate as they look to take a share of the e-commerce market.
By taking their businesses online, MSMEs could access international markets to find new customers and build value through exposure to new trends and technologies, says the report.
“Zimbabwean companies are encouraged to invest in the development of oline stores to interface with and sell to customers from around the globe,” ZimTrade said.
“Such stores allow convenient shopping for customers as they can instantly make orders and pay for goods and services using secure online payment methods such as PayPal, or the local equivalent, PayNow.”
In Zimbabwe, Zimpost is also offering e-commerce services.
To see how this could help, MSMEs should look no further than China, where millions of MSMEs rely heavily on digital channels to access markets across the world.
E-commerce giant, Alibaba, is the major platform in China, facilitating sales for two million suppliers. They have nearly half a billion active buyers purchasing $574 billion of goods annually.
The leveraging of ICT tools by small and large businesses in China is a case study on how companies in sectors such as handicrafts, decorative and fashion wear, health and cosmetics, and many more, can grow their domestic and international revenue through e-commerce, the report noted.
A FinScope SME survey carried out in 2012, indicated that 2,8 million people in the informal sector in Zimbabwe were business owners.
ZimTrade said any e-commerce strategy should include use of the various social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, which have huge user bases and international reach.
“Whether conducting direct sales, or marketing an online store, if done well, social media should play a central role in how Zimbabwean companies grow their exports,” report added
While Africa was still catching up to the developed world, ITC estimates that Africa’s e-commerce trade will reach a significant $50 billion by 2020.
In an endeavour to capacitate local companies with online skills, ZimTrade has been conducting trainings on marketing and branding for international competitiveness (MBIC), including a module on online and social media marketing.
This course helps equip Zimbabwean exporters with skills on how to make use of e-commerce to increase their exports.
One of the beneficiaries of this course, Millenium Footwear, said it had started reaping the dividends of online marketing.
“We did online marketing with ZimTrade and we have embraced it as a company,” the company’s co-founder,
Sikhangezokuhle Simali, said.
“We have even started implementing it because it makes things easier for us.
“We had experts from PUM (a non-profit organisation which gives business advice in developing countries and ermeging markets) who visited our company sometime this year and they endorsed it.”
However, Simali said they were yet to implement e-commerce through development of online stores to interface with and sell to customers from around the globe.
But due to internet access challenges in Zimbabwe, some analysts argue that it would be difficult for e-commerce to thrive as it requires people to buy and sell online.
Eyetro Digital, an organisation comprising of IT experts in different fields, said lack of support services such as delivery systems with only a 7,1% decline in overall courier and postal service as reported by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe in 2017, was hindering e-commerce in Zimbabwe.
“This figure is very low. The other factor that is hindering the growth in e-commerce is the suspension of online payments by most banks due to the currency instability,” Eyetro said.
“Yet e-commerce has not been growing fast enough, with the cash shortages e-commerce was going to be the saviour and more convenient measure to tackle this nightmare.”
The organisation said it could not be disputed that internet penetration was increasing; however, a lot still needed to be done.
“Policymakers and business leaders must work hand in hand to enable improved conditions of the internet ecosystem,” it said.
Other critics say e-commerce is commerce, meaning it is heavily dependent on the economy of the country.