By Tafara Mugwara
HARARE, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) — With more people increasingly relying on social media to maintain social connections and to stay updated, retailers in Zimbabwe are now devising new ways to follow their potential customers where they like to spend their time the most.
Although the physical storefront is still the main driver of purchases in Zimbabwe given that the country is still in the early stages of developing a robust e-commerce ecosystem, social media storefronts are increasingly gaining traction.
The way consumers, particularly millennials, discover new brands and products is slowly shifting from physical spaces to digital platforms.
While the use of digital platforms as a marketing tool has been in existence for quite some time, travel restrictions and a lockdown imposed earlier this year to stem the spread of COVID-19 accelerated the transition brick-and-mortar stores to digital market places.
For Richard Dzimiri, a fruit vendor from Bulawayo, social media marketing revolutionized the way he conducts business. After first going on Twitter nine years ago, Dzimiri never anticipated that the microblogging site would become a useful platform to market his products.
Dzimiri said at first, like many young users, he used the site to follow fashion trends, drama and gossip.
“Then I grew conscious upon seeing how other people are utilizing their digital presences to their benefit doing promotions, adverts, marketing and showcasing their talents,” he told Xinhua.
Dzimiri said social media platforms offered him a more efficient way of interacting with potential customers than traditional channels.
“I knew people liked the work I did and were willing to support so therefore it cut me from a different cloth as that of other vendors who solely depended on passer-by to buy without knowing whom they are and remembering them. So that was an advantage for me and the impact I was putting on people,” he said.
Social media expanded his market, and now people all over the country and even overseas are supporting his business.
“Social media is a very important marketing tool, very efficient if one’s delivery is captivating. A good brand with good imagery and a clean reputation can go a long way. We’re a broadly digital spaces now, without a phone there’s no business or there’s no efficient sales catalyst,” he said.
Dunmore Tendai Chikanya, a social media strategist, said social media has become the new retail storefront, adding that by adopting social media marketing, businesses can reach larger audiences by a few easy steps than awaiting for people to physically visit their stores.
“The perks of social media marketing are that you can actually eliminate renting office space and focus on a virtual store and still manage to have more sales,” Chikanya told Xinhua.
“The store won’t be governed by time so your customers can reach and enquire from you anytime and anywhere in the world.
“With more and more devices becoming smart devices, I think SME’s need to jump aboard the social media marketing train to have a wider scope of clients than they already had,” he said.
He said the popularity of social media means there is a huge base of potential customers waiting to be tapped, and social storefronts provide a way for brands to turn casual followers into customers.
“People are prone to stumble upon a product they actually did not need whilst scrolling than having to go out there and search for it. It is also easier for customers to compare different products whilst enjoying the convenience of not leaving the comforts of their lives,” he said.
Kudakwashe Musasiwa, founder of home delivery e-commerce start-up Fresh in a Box said embedding e-commerce within social media is powerful as it makes it easier for business owners to directly interact with potential customers.
“You know, women, our mothers are now using WhatsApp to sell chicken to their church members. Our brothers are already selling their sneakers to their friends in their groups on WhatsApp, so we have no choice as a country because the world has already gone that way,” Musasiwa told Xinhua.
Musasiwa said e-commerce has the potential to transform small scale business operators since it allows businesses to reach markets despite geographical distances and to connect producers and merchants directly to customers.
This gradual shift from physical shopping spaces to web storefronts wouldn’t have been so significant if not for the mobile revolution. Internet connectivity in Zimbabwe has rapidly expanded in recent years, with more people now accessing the web through their smartphones.
According to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulation Authority (POTRAZ), Zimbabwe’s internet penetration reached 8.6 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2020, about 60 percent of the country’s population.
Social media traffic accounts for the bulk of internet in Zimbabwe, with WhatsApp accounting for 44 percent of all the mobile internet traffic. The next most popular platform is Facebook, followed by Instagram and Twitter, according to POTRAZ. ■