Dee Shah has turned a shopping frustration three years ago into an online marketplace that lists goods and services complete with discounts.
Ms Shah had returned to Nairobi for a short visit and needed a plumber, a painter and a messenger. She could not find a comprehensive listing for the services.
Last month, she turned her earlier tribulations into a business by developing a portal —www.offersafrica.com — which helps consumers to find essential goods and services at special offers.
Offers Africa thrives on coupons where service providers offer customers discounts which they can claim when buying the item or service.
“It is about offering convenience shopping; a site where people search for what they are looking for and get great offers through promotional codes,” said Ms Shah.
“The online coupon code is an interesting concept that gives customers special deals and helps businesses to grow sales and have a greater exposure.”
The shop has so far signed up about 100 businesses listed across fashion, automobiles, events, home and garden, travel, hotels and leisure as well as technology, books and stationery.
Customers search the portal for goods or services and each listing has a unique coupon which qualifies the buyer for discounts and offers.
The buyer is required to copy down the promotion code or sign up to create an account at Offers Africa where one can e-mail or text the code to for reference.
Shoppers present this coupon code to the merchant when buying to qualify for discounts. “This is a bridge between online and traditional shopping.
You search for the items or service online, get a coupon and present it at the shop when making the purchase,” says the techpreneur.
Ms Shah reckons that most buyers in Kenya prefer searching for offers online but shopping at premises rather than through Internet because they want to see, feel and touch what they are buying. It costs Sh2,000 per month for businesses to sign up and list their products at Offers Africa.
Ms Shah says the site also offers advertising at rates that compare favourably with the traditional marketing channels such as newspaper, radio and television.
The offers listed on www.offersafrica.com are also linked to Facebook and Twitter.
Having studied, lived and worked in the UK, Ms Shah did a market study and found out that most people find it hard to get goods and services they want to buy.
Most enterprises, she says, are unable to reach consumers through advertising because of the prohibitive prices charged by conventional channels.
“There are a lot of businesses selling great stuff, or people offering great services but Kenyans don’t know about them.”
Offers Africa leverages on the Internet to direct shoppers to businesses and offer traders a chance to advertise their goods and services.
“Most people also love great bargains and offers,” said the techie who holds a degree in computer science and management studies from Nottingham University.
With eight out every 10 Kenyans having access to a mobile phone and the growing number of people using smart phones or Web-enabled handsets, Ms Shah saw an opportunity to exploit.
Kenya’s total Internet users have grown more than five-fold in the last five years to 19.6 million users or 49.7 per cent of the population as at June last year, data from the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) shows.
Some of the current listings at Offers Africa include an HTC Wildfire S mobile phone discounted to Sh11,500 from the original price of Sh12,900, translating to a discount of Sh1,400.
Heritage Hotels is also offering a safari package to the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve, billed the seventh New Wonder of the World due to the great wildebeest migration.
“From Sh37,568 per person on full board, game drives and drinks at Mara Explorer Camp,” reads the offer valid from January 6 to March 31.
Décor Stop, a firm that provides event management and services for birthday parties, weddings and corporate functions, is offering free delivery of chairs, and free lighting to people who hire their tents.
For clients that rent crockery and cutlery for more than 300 persons, the customer is provided at no extra cost Roll top chafing dishes – used in buffet events where guests serve themselves.
Ms Shah, who left Kenya in 1999 to go to the UK, joins a growing list of diaspora professionals returning to their home country for business.
She has previously worked as an asset manager with BlackRock, one of the world’s largest asset management firms.
Offers Africa is fighting for market share in the online marketplace with rivals such as Jumia, Rupu, OLX and bidorbuy.
Jumia, a global Internet shopping site, entered Kenya’s online retail market last year and offers a range of products including electronics, shoes, apparel, furniture and home accessories — which are delivered to the doorsteps of buyers, with the option of cash on delivery.
It is financially backed by Rocket Internet, a Berlin-based online start-up incubator that owns a chain of e-commerce retail companies across the world.
Rupu is a group marketing tool that offers discounted deals for group buying, where a minimum number of buyers have to sign up for deals on offers such as health and beauty, travel and lifestyle.
It is owned by Ringier, a Swiss media conglomerate based in Zurich.
Ms Shah says she plans to list 1,000 businesses by the end of this year, giving traders a platform to market their goods at an affordable rate, connect with buyers who ultimately enjoy great bargains.