Trading online is becoming increasingly popular in Africa and Kenya is leading the way due to its superior Internet connectivity.
Google trader, an online platform by Internet giant, Google Inc. is one of the latest entrants in Kenya’s online sphere that is seeing business grow their markets and attract more clients.
Walter Okoth is already reaping from this online space and hopes to expand his business further. He sells computers and says he has been receiving lots of calls from potential clients after he listed some of his products on the Google trader platform.
This, he says, has helped him cut down on the cost of doing his business, especially on adverts.
“Since I joined Google Trader seven months ago, it has helped me reduce the cost of doing business especially on adverts. I no longer have to print and distribute brochures around. I just post the goods and services I have and instruct the staff to keep updating the site.
"That keeps my business visible most of the time. There has been an increase on inquiries which eventually translate into sales. I can say that our sales have grown by over 10 per cent since we joined Google trader,” beams Okoth.
Faith Kamau found out about this platform through her mobile phone’s opera mini browser and tried it out of curiosity.
A merchant who sells clothes and associated accessories, Ms Kamau says her best-selling item has been moccasin shoes.
She was able to sell four items a week when she first joined and now she gets serious enquiries at least once a week.
“Google trader is user-friendly. As a professional marketer who chose to be a stay-at-home mum, it gives me the opportunity to market my products via a free online shop where I can sell even as I take care of my child.
"I have sold linen outfits online for five months now and so far so good. I have 12 new customers and get calls every other day. My business has made a 30 per cent profit,” says Ms. Kamau.
Through the free classified service launched in Kenya last year, businesses and entrepreneurs have direct access to a growing consumer market in ways they never thought possible.
Middle men have been removed from the trade process and entrepreneurs can now be responsive to the changing needs of their market. The distance between buyer and seller has been eliminated. All one needs is access to the web.
A survey by BDLife shows that the online platform is gaining popularity with more businesses and individuals listing their products and services for sale.
Usually, the seller will post their goods and provide contacts where they can be reached. Once a buyer identifies a product, he or she contacts the seller and a deal is struck on how and when to deliver the product.
The products on display range from electronics to clothes and farm inputs but as Google Kenya Manager Joe Mucheru puts it, online trading comes with risks and caution is required.
Traders should be wary of anyone claiming that the platform will guarantee a transaction, certify either buyer or seller, or will handle or provide protection for a payment.
Mr Mucheru says buyers should be wary of extremely low prices for expensive or popular items and promises of earning quick money with little effort.
“You should be wary of anyone asking you to wire money directly into their account, or who claims to only take Western Union or Money Gram or similar forms of payment or someone who provides a different address or contact details than what is stated on his or her details page,” says Mr Mucheru.
Mr Mucheru advices that as a buyer, when you plan to meet a seller you have connected with online, ensure you meet in a safe, public place and inspect the item before you complete the transaction to make sure it is exactly what has been described.
“If you’re the seller, be wary if the buyer wants to pay with a personal cheque or if they want to pay only part of the price upfront and the rest later or the buyer hides his or her contact details or phone number,” he advises.
Since the online space has no watchdog, experts advice that traders should use their discretion to avoid falling victims of cyber fraudsters.
It is also the onus of would-be buyers to ensure the goods they purchase are genuine and legally acceptable lest they collide with the law.
“A range of items is advertised at a discount. However, these discounts are offered from artificially high original prices to make you think you’re getting a better deal than you actually are,” says Rachel Wait, of lovemoney.com.
Rachel says one of the major concerns people have when shopping online is the possibility of identity fraud.
“In most cases, if you’re buying something online, you’ll have to enter your debit or credit card details as well as your personal information. So if you’re worried about this, always check the spelling of the website address or URL – if anything is misspelt, it’s likely to be an unofficial site,” she advices.
She adds that if a buyer is unfamiliar with the site, it’s worth typing the company name into a search engine to find any reviews from other customers.
“This can be a great way of establishing whether the site is out to cheat you,” she adds.