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MarketPlace

Online sales rise sharply as pandemic fears mount

Jumia outlet shop
A Jumia outlet shop in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

As the economic shock waves of the coronavirus scare hit the markets, online commerce is thriving as people avoid moving out of their houses.

Since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Kenya, e-commerce platforms have witnessed an upsurge in the number of customers logging in to shop for items, as more companies now allow employees to work from home.

Consumer behaviour in Kenya has also changed, as demand shifts to goods that can help contain the virus such as foodstuffs, sanitisers and cleaning agents.

Chief executive of popular e-commerce platform Jumia Kenya Sam Chappatte said although most people are buying daily-use products such as flour, rice, sugar and oil, they are conscious enough not to forget sanitisers to their shopping carts.

“We have seen a shift in sales in the past one week. Customer consumption behaviour has changed. Apart from food stuffs, we are recording high sales in hand sanitisers, masks and household cleaning products,” he told MarketPlace.

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He reveals that Kenyans have now stopped thinking about luxury items, as their search has drastically reduced on the platform.

“We are not seeing many people buying electronics,” he said.

This suggests that people are thinking about their own lives more than ever, and only basic needs matter to them during this period.

Priscilla Muhiu, head of marketing and growth, Africa at on-demand courier service Glovo, said the number of new users signing up to use the app has been soaring.

“Groceries and pharmacy orders have increased by 30 percent. The increase has been greater in goods such as food and household items.

“On certain items such as hand sanitisers, limits on the quantity a buyer can get have been put in place to ensure goods don't run out,” she said.

Even the brick-and-mortar business models seen in Kenya’s chain stores are now changing to adapt to the new market demands.

Tusker Mattresses, the operator of Tuskys supermarkets, has since March 12 gone on a massive activation of its e-commerce services to cater for its huge base of customers who now avoid physical shopping due to the government directive on social distancing.

Perfecting its home delivery services at selected Tuskys branches in Nairobi, the firm has now expanded the solution to nine branches in response to the growing customer demand.

Group CEO Dan Githua, told MarketPlace the solution, which was initially delivered at T-Mall, Embakasi, Westlands and Athi River branches, will now be available at five more branches.

“The new branches providing home deliveries in their localities now include Karasha (Kenyatta Avenue), Greenspan, Milele, Ongata 1 and Thigiri with several more expected to be added,” he said.

Orders placed on the WhatsApp and SMS options offered by the retailer, Mr Githua said, had increased by more than 200 percent and basket value had also more than doubled to stand at an average rate of Sh6,200 per day, per buyer.

With the service expansion, Sendy, the online logistics solution provider for Tuskys, has also more than doubled its motorbike delivery workforce with more than 300 riders now dedicated to supporting the online retail programme.

“At Tuskys, we are sparing no effort to provide practical interventions as part of our commitment to ease the social challenges arising from the Covid-19 threat,” Mr Githua said.

He added that “extraordinary times have called for extraordinary responses” and the use of new options such as the WhatsApp platform are expected to cater for thousands of Kenyans working from home.

Jumia, on its part, is accelerating the contactless mode of business, having trained its delivery agents to keep a distance when delivering home goods.

“The traffic on the Jumia website is huge right now as people search for essential items. We have taken stringent measures to regulate prices and discourage product hoarding,” said Mr Chappatte, adding that the website supports between 4 and 5 million users monthly.

He admitted to products running out of stock, but expressed the company’s commitment to working with suppliers in restocking.

“We have removed all cash payments on delivery to avoid spreading the virus using bank notes. We have bought our delivery agents protective gear and trained them on hygiene and contactless delivery,” he said.

But despite the apparent boom, uncertainty lingers on the extent to which the pandemic will ravage businesses. Mr Githua announced on Friday to take a 20 percent pay cut for six months as a cost-cutting measure.

The business community, he noted, is facing lean times occasioned by business unpredictability which will require internal cost management considerations.

“Conscious of the times ahead, we have suspended all non-business critical expenditure even as we look forward to interventions placed by the government to cushion the business community. I urge all of us to cut all unnecessary expenses,” Mr Githua explained.

Global e-commerce behemoth Amazon has temporarily suspended fulfilment of non-essential items through its Fulfilment by Amazon service for third-party sellers through April 5 due to high coronavirus-related demand for medical supplies and essentials, the company said.

“We are seeing increased online shopping and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock,” Amazon said in a Seller Central post.

“With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritising household staples, medical supplies and other high-demand products coming into our fulfilment centres so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and ship these products to customers.”

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