Saturday, 11 July 2020

LOCKDOWN : ONLINE SALES TO THE RESCUE


THE Covid-19 induced lockdown has created a new group of entrepreneurs selling their products online.

While selling products online is not a new phenomenon, a few players in the business sector had embraced it in the country, but Covid-19 restrictions have changed the way people conduct business.

Bulawayo City Council (BCC) recently permanently closed some of the popular vending stalls in the city centre such as Khothama weekend market and 5th Avenue Market in line with Government’s thrust to remodel market places.

For some, the closure of the markets spelt doom for their business ventures. Some aggrieved vendors operating from 5th Avenue Market place took BCC to the High Court challenging its decision to close the market. 

However, other enterprising entrepreneurs saw an opportunity that came with the closure of physical market places, and shifted online.

Mrs Emma Nxumalo of Zwide Veggies is one of the people who took advantage of changes brought about by Covid-19 to expand her online presence. She started selling vegetables only but now she also sells groceries.

The businesswoman says while markets were limited to people within her physical environs, through online sales she reaches out to clients even in the United Kingdom and United States, who buy groceries for their relatives back home and she makes deliveries.

Mrs Nxumalo markets her products using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She comes up with hashtags to effectively market her products. She never thought that selling goods online was going to be profitable, but now she is reaping the benefits.

“When I started marketing my vegetables four years ago, I didn’t take it seriously. I was just posting my products just to weigh markets and get money for little things such as doing hair, nails and other small things. I did not consider it a business venture. But in the past two years I became serious after noticing that I was getting more orders for my products. The clients increased during the Covid-19 lockdown when some markets were shut down in Bulawayo. Although closure of some markets has been bad for some people it has really worked in my favour,” she said.

Mrs Nxumalo said as her business has grown, she has diversified her operations and is now selling groceries while some farmers contract her to sell their produce online as they believe she can reach more clients.

“The other advantage of selling goods online is that you don’t pay rentals. We just deliver to clients as per order and we try to pay the deliveries same day. But orders made after 12PM are delivered the following day,” said Mrs Nxumalo.

She said through her business she can now take care of her family including paying school fees.
Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association director Mr Michael Ndiweni said Covid-19 has affected traditional markets, giving a rise to online marketing. Mrs Emma Nxumalo loads farm produce in a car

He said online marketing is convenient as one can sell products from the comfort of their home while reaching out to a wider network of customers.

Mr Ndiweni, however, said this has further widened the digital divide as tech savvy youths are able to virtually sell their products while the elderly lag behind mainly due to inability to use smartphones and computers.

“The other challenge is that some people are failing to effectively communicate with their clients online,” said Mr Ndiweni.

It is not only the informal traders that have moved to conduct business online as big retail outlets also penetrate the same market, the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe (MAZ) said.

MAZ corporate communications manager Ms Auxilia Katongomara said any business that fails to penetrate the online market is risking extinction.

“For small businesses, most people are taking advantage of their contacts by marketing especially on WhatsApp. Almost 50 percent of people in my contact book are selling on WhatsApp status. It has become one of the cheapest and convenient way of ordering and buying goods. Also, notably, Facebook introduced Facebook shops during the lockdown as people adapt to the new normal. We also have big supermarkets like

OK Mart which have revived the online shopping platforms where one can order groceries or goods from the comfort of their homes and even pay online and get goods delivered,” said Ms Katongomara. She said more companies were now channelling funds towards virtual presence.

“As marketers we have seen a shift in the uptake of digital marketing by both small, medium and big corporates. Large firms have been restructuring and re-funnelling their customers away from the physical space with a rise in expenditure on digital marketing and sales training suggesting that their strategies will adapt to meet the customer at their most convenient point — which happens to be more online than ever,” she said.

Mr Nhlalwenhle Ngwenya of CityTech which sells electronic gadgets such as laptops says Covid-19 has changed people’s shopping patterns.

He said some people are forced to buy products online due to lockdown restrictions which have made travelling a challenge.

Mr Ngwenya said it was convenient selling products online as he does not have to worry about payment of shop rentals.

“But one of the challenges when selling products online is that people have trust deficiencies on online shops.
“Some people just want to see you in a shop for them to buy from you. But I believe there will be change of perception as more people are online,” he said.

Mr Ngwenya said he reaches potential clients on virtual platforms through posting his products on different social media platforms. He said daily, about 20 clients reach out to him and about three of them buy his products.

Mr Ngwenya said Covid-19 has impacted negatively on his business as stock that he buys online outside the country takes long to be delivered. Chronicle

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