The theme of the 2018 World Consumers Day, Making Digital Marketplaces Fairer, could not have had a better timing. Digitisation of businesses is currently a hot area in global trade and prominently featured in the eleventh World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Similarly, the concept is of specific interest to developing countries as it could potentially enhance access for their commodities in the international market place and help address issues such as poor balances of trade and unemployment.
Local Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) are major beneficiaries of e-commerce as trade conducted in social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are on the rise.
This is more dominant across major cities and towns.
As a result, it is now possible to do business without necessarily having to open up physical store, thus avoiding costs such as rent, licences and labour.
The relatively lower cost of internet provides a vital marketing tool for these enterprises.
Statistics by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) reveal a 90 per cent mobile telephony subscription rate as at 2015/16 financial year with mobile subscription rate to internet at 99 per cent. These, coupled with Kenya’s effective mobile money infrastructure, provide a favourable environment for the growth of e-commerce in the country.
Unfortunately, e-commerce has not penetrated well in rural Kenya. Unlike their urban counterparts whose orders are delivered by courier or boda boda riders for free or at a minimal fee, deliveries to and from the countryside remain a challenge and may usually attract a discouraging high cost of delivery. This could partly explain the slow rate of uptake in remote areas.
One way of making e-commerce work for rural and remote areas is to restructure and utilise the Postal Corporation of Kenya (Posta Kenya), which has 623 offices spread across the country.
If strategically placed, the government owned institution is the best bet for incorporating the countryside into e-commerce.
For instance, Posta Kenya should seriously rethink altering its business model from the traditional post office box (I would struggle to recall the last time I received mail through my P. O. Box) towards a more robust door-to-door or easily accessible delivery and collection of parcels.
The system should guarantee the shortest feasible turnaround time and for instance, give a specific duration of time. This might facilitate trade, for example, between a spinach farmer in Murang’a and a restaurant in Lodwar, or a fisherman in Homa Bay and a tilapia dealer in Gaberone.
A more vibrant networking with regional and international postal and courier service providers, shippers as well as customs department across the globe will enable Posta Kenya achieve faster delivery of cross-border parcels and cargo.
This will particularly address market access issues which are the most cited challenge by local MSEs pursuing international marketing opportunities.
Conversely, Posta Kenya can market itself to rural enterprises and farmers as a market linkage provider both locally and internationally.
Collins Owegi, assistant programme Officer, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), Nairobi.