Ecommerce in Kenya – How to Make Your Online Shop Stand Out

Ecommerce in Kenya is the next big thing, so say all the big wigs in the marketing departments. Personally I think that if that’s what you are thinking, then you may just be a little behind, but we shall assume that you are not that behind. There is always hope for the tortoise.

Everyone is clamoring to set up their own website and most web developers in Kenya will tell you that there is an upsurge in clients who want to add an online store to their websites. So why is it that many of them are still finding it difficult to get a single customer to buy their products on their sites? Why is it that there are those who claim that they find it easier to sell their products on Facebook groups or worse on OLX. At the rate we are going at, Kenyan businesses are busy creating the OLX brand than actually building their own brand.

It’s a strange phenomenon really. A company’s marketing department and the entrepreneur working very hard to build their landlord’s brand instead of their own.

The State of Online Shopping and Ecommerce in Kenya

Of all the ways in which one can earn an income online, having an ecommerce store is the most profitable and the best value for money. That is why we have companies such as Amazon or Wayfair in this world. People won’t stop buying on the internet. In fact, more Kenyans are going to buy products online in the near future. Forget cheaper prices, I’m willing to do anything to escape from the traffic jam in Nairobi.

A quick look at online shopping in Kenya shows that even though the consumers are readily available, the entrepreneurs are rather lazy or non-existent. I prefer to say lazy. I don’t see why the top a website based in the UK should bring all the tourists to Kenya. I fail to understand what the tourism experts in Kenya were doing while this was happening.

ecommerce in Kenya

I get even more confused when I see Kenyans going to Japanese websites to buy cars while the local car yard doesn’t even have an email address. There are thousands of cakes being sold on Facebook, yet there are only 2 cake companies with a website. Furniture is being sold on Facebook groups yet, not a single small furniture maker has a website that you can share with your friends.

For those already with an ecommerce store, that’s a good thing. It’s my humble opinion that you shall reap for your efforts to go online. So I’ll avoid talking about the guys who will never start a website for their business. Those I will leave for nature to take its course.

But can we do to gain more traffic to your store and make more sales online. Please don’t fall into the trap of saying that online shopping in Kenya is dead. I have personal experience of selling beauty products on a Kenyan online shop. Heck, I know nothing about making a woman beautiful. The only thing I can do is tell a lady that she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. That’s the safe answer…But trying to say that the mascara is too dark or the skin tone is too bright isn’t my thing. However, I sold a lot of product.

How to Build a Profitable Ecommerce Business in Kenya

So let’s see what you need to do in order to create this great online shop in Kenya. You don’t need to have the money Jumia has invested. Start small, know your niche and give great service. Then apply the following prerequisites of the best ecommerce stores:

  1. Domain and Branding
  2. Web Design and conversion
  3. Customer service and fulfillment
  4. Payment processing
  5. Internet Marketing
  6. Affiliate Marketing

Domain Name and Branding

I know I know……You took a very long time to come up with your business name. You really want to put it as your domain name. I have no problem with that, but if your company name is Kamau, Onyango, Kiplagat and Kerubo Sons and Daughters Enterprises Kenya Limited, you could have a problem with branding online.

There is nothing that stops you from creating another brand online for your business. The best domain names are short and memorable. Let’s take a look at a few examples. OLX, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Pinterest, and I hope you get the idea.

Come up with a short and memorable then buy the domain. You can add your weird company name in the terms and conditions.

Domain Name TLD’s

I know a lot of us love Kenya. But do we really have to add the word Kenya to everything that we do? ShippinginKenya.com, JogginginKenya.com, shoppinginkenya.com may be great domain names, but are you saying that your business goals are only limited to Kenya? What about the Ugandan who really wants to buy your product?

Don’t limit your Domain name by adding a location unless that location has super tough competition online. The Kenyan domain scene is still at its infancy. You can rank any site with any name in any niche since the competition online is very low. If you don’t believe me ask Jumia and Mamamikes.

Probably the thing you should avoid most is insisting on a Kenyan tld. Yes, I’m talking about .co.ke domain names. If I had the choice between waseeiya.com and waseeiya.co.ke, I would go for waseeiya.com every time.

The sellers of co.ke have this running story that says that you will rank better with a .co.ke than a .com. I don’t know what research they did to come up with that rumor. I would be happy to read it.  There is a possibility that in 3 years’ time all the dot coms I wanted would have been bought, only then would I buy the more expensive .co.ke. If my company was very anal about branding, I may consider it as an option. But if I’m trying to make money online with an online shop, there is no way I buy a .co.ke ahead of a dot com. That won’t be happening soon.

Ahh, so now I see guys removing their notes to mention Google.co.ke, Google.ng, Google.co.uk…..Yes but they had the dot com first. The others are for local branding only. So unless you want to stick to selling your export bananas to Kenyans, really think hard about that domain name.

If you want to come up with great names for your site, talk to your family, your current clients and take your time with it. Talk to your SEO Company early on so that they can work around your company name and your online brand.

You can then go to namecheap.com, name.com or nairobihost.com and buy your domain name.

Web Hosting and Site Design

As part of your branding, it’s a good idea to look at your web design. I want to say this before I go too far and start writing gibberish. A ksh. 10,000 website from the guy at Facebook would have better use buying sand to add to a beach.

You can imagine the first impressions a visitor will have about your business….”they are so cheap!”

On the same note, if you have a website that costs ksh.200000 that has never brought you any significant traffic or phone calls, it would have been better to pay for your electricity bills. KPLC seems to be doubling its rates every 2 weeks.

Beautiful Web Designs Vs Functional Web Designs

It’s not about the beauty it’s about function.

Of course web designers will have their own views about the above but I’m assuming that all you want to do when you set up an ecommerce store in Kenya is to make sales. If your website is the ugliest in the world but it makes sales, you will get used to it.

Shop around for a web designer who understands that your customer is King. It should be easy for anyone to navigate and the customer should see the products and descriptions clearly.

How can you say you have an online shop yet there is no BUY HERE button on your website? If there’s no place for me to make a buy, then that’s just a brochure. I think you can print those on River Road.

Understand that your goal is to make sales not win a beauty contest. Later on, you can always make it beautiful after it has paid for itself.

Don’t Blame Your Web Designer

Having said that; some of the worst Kenyan online shops are not the fault of the designer. I know you want to blame him but with all due respect, if your shop only has one product, chances are pretty high that you may not impress your visitors.

So the designer agrees to build for you the website. Then when he’s ready, he asks you for your products. You then tell him to read the 1 page document you sent him and tell him to copy and paste from another website you have seen.

Wow!

Decide early on if you are going to work with your web designer or he’s going to be your cheap labor. At least you will save the internet from your rants about how bad your web designer really is.

Please understand that once you pay your web designer, you are left with the problem. He will add your website to his portfolio. But you would have to deal with the fact that you have a horrible website. All for ksh. 10,000.

Ecommerce Web Hosting in Kenya

Only when your website is hacked will you understand the importance of a good hosting company. Cheap in ecommerce hosting means very expensive.

I don’t have enough space here to talk about web hosting features for an ecommerce site. All I can tell you that if your web hosting company has more than 1000 websites on the same server he’s hosting your website, then you are bound for some heartache.

I am very particular about the hosting companies I deal with. I am looking for reliability and great customer service for an ecommerce website. If I’m hosting for ecommerce websites, I go only for premium services. I go for either a VPS or even better a Dedicated Server. You can start with a VPS. Keep away from shared hosting.

I would greatly recommend you take a look at GreenGeek Hosting , iPage and Nairobihost.

Fulfillment and Payment Processors

“I love your website sir, but where do I pay?”

Telling people to write to you an email won’t cut it. We are in 2014; your customer wants to buy now or will go somewhere else. Luckily, there are now great options for you to get paid for your products.

Take a look at iPay for your online payment solutions especially since they allow you to accept Mpesa as a payment option.

However, you must include Paypal in your shop. This is especially if you intend to sell outside Kenya. Paypal is mandatory.

Next, take a look at how you are going to deliver your products. Should you charge your customers for delivery or is it free? Should you use your own delivery team or hire out a delivery company? All these have an impact in your bottom line.

You want to deliver your products promptly but at a cost that will not chase away your customers. It’s always funny how it’s easier to get delivery of a product bought at Amazon than a local online store.

Affiliate Marketing is King

I am an SEO guy. I will probably tell you that the best way to make sales from your online store is to rank high in the search engine. The social media experts will tell you to go on Facebook and market extensively. Google will tell you to buy ads in their network. Your Pastor will tell you to pray and fast often. Your friends will be silently praying that you fail so that they have a story to tell.

Affiliate Marketing in Kenya
Add Affiliate Marketing and Let others do the marketing for you

The fact is, if you want your online shop to grow, all the above work. But you should never ignore the power of affiliate marketing. For various reasons, affiliate marketing in Kenya is the most under-used method to increase traffic to a website.

If there’s one thing I would like you to take away from this loooooong article is that Affiliate Marketing is your bread and butter.

Imagine having 5 people marketing your product 24 hour a day 365 days a year? Imagine that you don’t pay them anything until they make a sale. Imagine if these 5 people were 100. Say 1000 or I million.

Then you will see why companies such as Amazon have been built not on cheap pricing or great designs but on the backs of hundreds of thousands of affiliates who sell their products for a commission.

If you are a company that sells fertilizer to farmers, it would be a great idea to look for Kenyan bloggers who talk about farming. Chances are very high that they will get visitors from farmers who may be interested in your product. Every time a farmer is brought to your website by the blogger, you give the blogger a commission if a sale is made. It’s just like hiring a sales team without the cost and headaches of managing one.

If you don’t have an affiliate setup in your ecommerce site, add it. Chances are very high that you are leaving money on the table. I don’t know of any serious online shop that doesn’t have an affiliate network. Even Google used affiliates to market its chrome browser and AdSense.

Online shops that don’t have an affiliate system are likely to have it very tough competing with those with.

Ok enough of the article. Hopefully you have learned that for great ecommerce in Kenya you will need:

  1. Great Branding and a Good Domain name
  2. Professional Web Hosting and Web Design Services
  3. Customer Service, fulfillment and a good Payment Processor
  4. Internet Marketing services and especially a very strong Affiliate Marketing in Kenya network

Of course there’s more to this but in many cases, starting with the above will give you an edge in the otherwise slumbering ecommerce in Kenya market. There are still huge opportunities for those who wish to take up the challenge of online shopping in Kenya. Chances are extremely high that you will curve out a niche for yourself and actually find success where others feared to tread.



4 Comments

  • ronald osoo

    HI Alex, nice article . Please refer any E-commerce client you find to me. Am a Expert in building and maintenance of E-commerce platforms. I also do consultations of the same.Read more about me at ronaldosoo.com

  • liz

    hi.. how much can you charge me for a small shop to put is online?

  • I’m contemplating starting an affiliate program for the products that I’m selling online but my challenge is finances. How much would it cost me to have an affiliate program in place considering that my website is still very new? Really desperate for one.

    • Affiliate programs are the single most important setups for ecommerce shops. They save you a lot of money in the long run. So don’t think about the initial setup costs and marketing costs. It’s more than worth it. Cost really depends on the systems you wish to run as well as the type of setup you require. They can go from 0 to thousands of dollars. Thousands of dollars where you are using affiliate marketers. 0 were you are doing all the grunt work yourself. You can email me if you need any help in setting one up.

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