A Sneak Peek Into What Kenyans Are Buying Online As eCommerce Peaks In COVID-19 Lockdown

By  |  April 10, 2020

The COVID-19 Effect?

The coronavirus pandemic has made terms like “social distancing” and “stay at home” part of everyday lingo. In fact, with no vaccine or cure for COVID-19 in sight, staying-at-home is perhaps the most effective ‘treatment’ at this time.

Across the globe, entire cities are on lockdown and normal activities like travel and other forms of recreation have been halted. 

Global economies are stuttering, industries are just hanging on, people have abandoned public spaces, remote work is on trial globally, and schools have taken classes online as edtech/e-learning goes through an impromptu litmus test.

But COVID-19 has not only forced the world to shut down. The pandemic, which has caused more than 1.6 million infections and over 96,000 deaths globally, is also changing the way people go about their daily lives.

Of course, handshakes, hugs, and kisses are all canceled for the foreseeable future (as they’re all ‘corona bombs’), but those are not the only behaviours that have been impacted. Consumer behaviour is also starting to metamorphosize.

Online Shopping On The Rise In Kenya During COVID-19 Lockdown

With about a third of the world’s population caught up in one form of a lockdown or the other while taking precautions to curtail the spread of the virus, people are starting to change the way they would normally do things.

In Kenya where the number of COVID-19 cases has jumped to over 180 since the first case was announced on March 25, people are beginning to embrace online shopping. E-commerce platforms like Jumia Kenya, Sky.Garden, Kilimall, Pigiame, and Copia are all available in Kenya and the partial lockdown in Kenya appears to have triggered an uptick.

As Daniel Maison, co-founder and CEO of Sky.Garden told WeeTracker, “Due to the Stay Home, Stay Safe campaign, a lot of people are turning to e-commerce to procure products and minimise exposure to the pandemic. This has led to an increase in organic traffic for most websites.”

He added, “Basket sizes have increased as customers directing more of their spending power towards online shopping.”

After initially placing the country under a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew, the surge in COVID-19 cases saw President Uhuru Kenyatta take further action recently. President Kenyatta announced border closures in four counties: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale, and Kilifi.

This means that, in addition to the nationwide curfew, movement into and out of those four counties is on hold for the time being. And that is on top of the restrictions already placed on non-essential activities, travel, and public gatherings.

President Kenyatta had also earlier spoken in favour of the adoption of cashless forms of payment in these times, due to concerns that cash could be a vector. This saw both telcos and banks waive certain mobile money fees to encourage people to embrace e-payment in these times.

As it is, there is evidence that Kenyans are doing bigger mobile money transactions than usual. And now, there is also evidence that Kenyans are doing more online shopping than usual, as Sky.Garden’s CEO revealed, though he withheld the actual numbers.

So, What Are Kenyans Buying Online?

Thanks to COVID-19, online shopping is no longer an upper-class luxury. The global pandemic may have forced normal economic and social activities to shut down, but people still have to get food, toiletries, and other essentials. 

Plus, by now, it’s common knowledge that the rules of social distancing prevent visits to physical shops, thus, making online stores the last resort for supplies by default. And many people in Kenya are getting in on the act.

According to Maison, everyday consumer goods like beverages, processed canned foods, dry goods, toiletries, and cosmetics are among the top online buys in Kenya at the moment.

People also seem to be interested in entertainment electronics, educational toys since schools have been shut, and gym equipment because folks seem to be worried that ‘flattening the curve’ by staying at home could easily create another unwanted curve in their mid-sections.

Looking at in-house data, Maison revealed the following products as what Kenyans are buying online mostly: 

“Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), productivity tools (computing products and accessories) entertainment electronics (TVs, home theatre, decoders) are popular as people prepare to remain indoors and work from home for the long haul. We’ve also seen increases of educational material, toys, gym equipment, etc,” he said.

On the other hand, orders for products like fashion, furniture, and beauty which were in high demand before the viral outbreak have dipped.

Dealing With The Surge & Safety Concerns

As more than one South African startup have learned over the past few weeks, there is such a thing as overwhelming customer demand. 

As covered in this story, some South African e-commerce platforms have been having a torrid time handling the surge in orders from online shoppers since the country went into a 3-week nationwide lockdown.

One online shopping platform was so overwhelmed at one point that it had to take its platform offline for several hours when its technology began to buckle under the weight of the high volume of orders. This was after it had announced it won’t be able to meet up with deliveries as it used to.

Kenya’s Sky.Garden is also witnessing a similar surge in orders, though the idea is obviosuly to handle things better than those guys in SA. The Kenyan e-commerce startup is hoping to keep things going as smoothly and as quickly as possible in these times, though it’s quite a challenge given the curfew in place and shortage of goods due to import blockades.

“We do our best to maintain our 24-hour delivery window and have done so for the most part,” said Maison. 

“We have a curfew which has affected sellers across the country which in turn impacts fulfillment timelines. There’s also growing issues of stockouts due to lack of imports from China/Dubai as well as merchant’s products being held at the ports.”

On the issue of making “safe” deliveries during a pandemic, he said all of the startup’s delivery partners have been equipped with masks and gloves and products are being placed on customer doorsteps once payment on delivery has been verified. Hence, actual physical contact with the buyer is eliminated.

With the likes of well-funded names like Jumia and Konga huffing and puffing so far, African e-commerce may have hit a snag. But Maison believes e-commerce is, once again, coming to the fore as a viable way of trading without borders.

“Every company in the retail sector is having to look at e-commerce at the moment and maintaining sales via this channel. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of SMEs have been negatively affected due to this pandemic and we’re doing our best to ensure they can still serve customers via our platform. 

“On the same note, customers are incorporating this into their purchasing behaviour and we expect this to become a more natural way of sourcing goods post the COVID-19 crisis,” he enthused.

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