Online mall helps SMEs to break e-commerce barriers

Goby Mall does not charge commissions on either the buyer or seller once the subscription is paid. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Concealed in every crisis is an opportunity that, like a pearl in a shell, awaits discovery. But this can only be done by those who are courageous enough to search below the surface and find new ways of doing business even in times of disruption.

In the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, which has led to restrictions on movement, a company has found a novel way to work with small-scale businesses to bring their products to the attention of online shoppers.

Goby Mall, an innovation by WPP Scangroup #ticker:SCAN, was launched in April to bring micro enterprises in a mutually beneficial online relationship.

By harnessing technology, Goby Mall offers such micro enterprises an opportunity to market their goods through e-commerce, putting them in contact with customers looking for such goods without necessarily having to shop in a physical mall.

“The Goby app is a platform created to democratise access to e-commerce by empowering micro businesses to build, manage and grow their businesses online,” Manish Sardana, the managing director of Squad Digital, an arm of WPP Scangroup, told Enterprise.


Goby is the name of the smallest species of fish in the world.

“We’ve all heard the saying, small fish get eaten by the big fish. Goby allows the smallest fish to fight the big fish and thrive,” says Mr Sardana.

The app gives small businesses -- like green grocers and bookshops -- an opportunity to be seen, compete and to make sales online away from the shadows of big online players.

Through Goby, WPP is seeking to enable access to technology and market by removing barriers to entry such as high costs associated with setting up own website and marketing channels. The only condition is that such businesses must offer great products. By offering the platform, WPP hopes that the businesses will focus on what they do best - make their products and sell them to a waiting customer, all at the click of a button.

So how does Goby Mall work?

The business owners or managers are required to first download the app, sign up and set up their online store, just as they would in a physical marketplace.

A business only needs to upload photos of their product, indicate the name of the product and give a short description and price. Once they complete the process, the online store gets developed on its own. The app is currently available on Google Playstore in both Kenya and Tanzania.

Buyers pay directly to the sellers, either through cash on delivery or via mobile money transfer.

“Goby will give you a free 30-day trial after which you will pay a subscription fee of Sh300 per month to use the platform,” says Mr Sardana.

In Kenya, the subscription is paid through M-Pesa.

As a rule, e-commerce platforms charge a commission for every sale. However, Goby Mall has changed the model and does not charge commissioners on either the buyer or seller once the subscription is paid. It also does not handle transaction between the parties.

With such platforms, small businesses in both urban and rural areas, which have to close early due to the restrictions on movements imposed by the curfew regulations can continue to operate digitally and complete the transactions during the day, ensuring that the sellers remain in business and the buyers get their purchases.

“In Kenya, for instance, we estimate that we have about two million small businesses who have Facebook and/or Instagram pages for their products. These are businesses that Goby Mall can help grow,” says Mr Sardana.

Ranny Mwenda, the founder of Ranpire Collections, a customised jewellery, phone accessories and kids wear store in Nairobi, is one of the businesses that have signed up on the platform.

“I first learnt about Goby Mall from a Facebook ad as I was busy promoting my page,” say the college student who is also a mother of one. “I checked it out and decided to take advantage of the one-month free trial period. The platform is cost-effective, saves time and has helped my store in so many ways, considering I run my business purely online.”

By using the app, she can track her sales, profit and clients’ information all in one platform.

“Gone are the days of calling clients to place orders. Goby has helped me reach a bigger audience,” she says.

So far, the app has 5,000 shops although only 1,500 are active – meaning that the sellers who have downloaded the app are actively selling their products. Out of these, another 130 are featured or showcased in the Goby Mall.

For a seller to be featured, he or she must offer the highest quality products. The top five popular categories in the last 30 days are mixed businesses, food and catering, electronics, beauty and personal care and arts and crafts.

By using the app, the business owners or managers enjoy the capability to manage and track their orders and promote their shops on social media channels from within the app. Goby also provides them with a mini CRM platform that allows users to stay in touch with their customers. And by using data, the app gives users analytics and insights on their business performance.

For buyers, the app allows them to order a product directly from the supplier without having to go through middlemen. That means the prices are not marked up. And because the sellers are small operations, they can offer the buyers a unique range of boutique products not available on standard online platforms.

To ensure quality control, every online store created goes through an onboarding and know your customer process carried out by Goby’s contact centre team in Nairobi, which is both set up and managed by WPP Scangroup. Additionally, the team carries out a regular check on the product quality to ensure all arising challenges are managed as they arise.

In the last 30 days, Goby has seen orders for their merchants grow by more than 450 percent. This shows how the Covid-19 situation has accelerated the adoption of e-commerce both by merchants as well as by buyers seeking to circumvent the restrictions imposed by the need for social distancing.

“When you buy from a Goby shop, you are supporting the businesses that keep our economy going,” says Mr Sardana. “Personally, I buy my groceries from Goby.”

The founders’ vision is to create an ecosystem of technology, marketing, logistics and financial services for their merchants.