Kenyan online marts picking up

February 9, 2010
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 9 – The laying of ICT infrastructure as well as the enactment of legislation for e-commerce in Kenya has played a major role in spurring the development of innovative ideas and services in the country in the last few years.

One such development is the setting up of websites through which Kenyans can trade in products or even advertise their services on the Internet.

Currently, there are about six Kenyan websites where one can buy or sell their wares. ‘Uzanunua.com’ is one of them and it seeks to tap into the huge potential that e-commerce portends.

Its developer and director Bruce Ryrie says he started “uzanunua.com’ to ease the hassles associated with shopping and also provide a platform for Kenyans can access the things they are looking for at affordable rates.

“At the time (2006), I wanted to buy a car but I found that buying a car in Nairobi was just a big hassle. You have to drive around in car yards, go to notice boards in all shopping centres and look at the ads there and I thought there has to be a better way,” he explains of the time-consuming exercise that saw him spend many hours in traffic jams.

Having lived abroad where e-commerce has grown by leaps and bounds (projections in Europe alone show that online retail sales are expected to grow to 172 billion Euros this year) Mr Ryrie, who works from home, decided to give it a try and launch his own website, initially on a trial basis.

“I was living in New Zealand and saw the growth and success of auctions and classified websites overseas mainly in the US and the UK (United Kingdom). Initially, I got a guy in Westlands to build a fairly simple site to test the market and over the next couple of years, we got about 5,000 items for sale and about 5,000 members who signed up,” he explains.

The success of this basic site confirmed to him what he already knew; that there was a huge potential for e-shopping in Kenya that needed to be exploited. And so in July 2009 using investments from his other business, he launched ‘uzanunua.com’ a classified and auction website.

Since advertising in newspapers and the notice boards is another costly affair, Mr Ryrie says his website also provides Kenyans with a cost effective platform to market their products.

Although he says the company is a long way from breaking even, he is encouraged by the attention that the website is receiving from Kenyans.

Since July last year, the site has about 8,000 registered users many of whom put adverts on the website at a fee of Sh100 for an ad that will run for six weeks.

“We are not making any money yet, we are doing it for the long term. We are doing it for the next 10 to 20 years but I’m very patient and will stick at it,” he says with a chuckle but adds that he’s satisfied with the ranking of the website both on the Kenyan and global scale.

The director says that a database of about 200,000 active (Kenyan) e-mail addresses which he has developed over the years helps him to market the site.

Although he declines to divulge how much the company is earning from the advertising, listings or how many people are visiting the site, he says it is growing by approximately 50 percent per month.

“It’s going to grow in line with the internet growth in Kenya. There are now about five million people online in Kenya and I think it (website) will grow by a million users a year,” the director says pointing to the affordable sale of modems and airtime as well as initiatives to avail cheaper computers to the masses.

All these efforts are in a bid to ‘crack’ the market which he believes will more or less guarantee the success of his company.

“What tends to happen with these businesses is that you get one site that dominates the whole country like eBay (.com) in America or in the UK, the others are just secondary and they don’t really rank that high,” he says.

He’s however aware of the scepticism that people have regarding transacting on the web and admits that this cynicism occasioned by the number of fraud cases and conmen on the loose will not go away any time soon.

However, he reckons that developing confidence in e-commerce is a personal choice and that many people will be attracted to the service in due course as their friends get hooked to it.

“Some people will always be sceptical and that’s fine but they will just miss the boat. But the young generation finds it easy to use and they will tell people about it. So word of mouth is important,” he adds.

With the full backing of the government, Mr Ryrie reckons that Kenya’s ICT industry is headed for a major online website boom in the next five years.

“I think we will have lots and lots of competitors but I welcome those. Competition is good, it keeps you on your toes, it keeps you worried but at the end of the day someone has to develop a site that is easy to use,” he says.

To keep ahead of competition, he has a few proposals up his sleeves such as the introduction of courier service to deliver some of the items bought on their site to enhance their competitiveness.

On the whole however, going by the number of ongoing initiatives including the setting up of country wide centres where people can just walk in and develop their innovations, that internet explosion is just a matter of time.

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