In today’s developing online businesses market in Zimbabwe, there is a tangible competition for a greater share of each sector. The potential of 14 million people, the young and well-educated structure of population, high Internet penetration rates, etc., has changed the way we do business. Specific characteristics of online businesses in Zimbabwe have made it possible to achieve remarkable productivity with small investments. We have also seen that people using WhatsApp groups as classifieds and people are getting a huge return on investment.
When you think about the fastest growing areas for start-ups in Zimbabwe, you probably don’t think about classified ads. More likely, your mind wanders to music apps, e-commerce or social platforms. It’s understandable; after all, the classified ad industry has barely innovated since Classifieds.co.zw came to the scene.
The problem with online is that, in this business model, only one player can become a strong viable business, not two. Winner Takes All! And Classifieds.co.zw has been taking the biggest piece of the cake. Now it’s sharing the cake with Ownai. The other classifieds sites are just there.
If statistics of Zimbabwean websites are compared to those of neighbouring countries like South Africa that are very similar to Zimbabwe in terms of culture, demographic potential and infrastructure, it can be found that Zimbabwean market has a great potential in the field of Internet businesses. But in terms of growth South African sites like OLX which a fast growing online classified company, active in over 105 countries, supporting over 40 languages. With more than 125 million unique visitors per month worldwide, OLX is generating up to one billion page-hits per months. This cannot be compared to any site in Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, the challenge with the online free classifieds industry was that it was a two horse race from the beginning classifieds.co.zw and Deepleague. Both companies built strong platforms, and invested heavily in marketing. Users came to both platforms. Since it was free, users experimented with both platforms. But somewhere along the line Classifieds.co.zw become the defector then Ownai came along. Ownai has tried to change the game but they have not bought anything new on the table. All platforms have built a decent seller base and buyer base. Both platforms are trying to build “unparalleled market”.
One of the main problems I have seen from the classified industry in Zimbabwe is that they are all following and trying to mimic Classifieds. This is the reason why the industry will not grow. Classifieds.co.zw is not the benchmark of the classifieds industry, they should try to be unique or better copy what classifieds doing and do it better. For example Storefronts, this is where the money for Classifieds.co.zw is and I only see Classifieds.co.zw doing them and they are cashing in.
In order to differentiate to be able to monetize, I would like to see one of these many classifieds site launch more vertical platforms (i.e. separate platform for auto, real estate, gadgets etc.). Classified Mobile ads apps will silently rise to importance under our noses. With the power houses like the Econet joining the classified wars they can change the way the game has been played.
Additionally, with so many competitors rushing into the market, none of the start-ups may be able to provide real value. Classifieds.co.zw thrives because it’s where everyone is. When you have websites from which to choose, using these websites may make the process of finding what you’re looking for more complicated, rather than easier.
The African race for a classified ads solution
Although all Zimbabwe classified sites are completely focused on the Zimbabwe market and has made no decision to enter foreign markets, the considerable growth of this companies and the existing inertia in the market of Zimbabwe and many neighbouring countries provide a great potential for all Classifieds Sites for entering foreign markets. If this objective is achieved, Zimbabweans can soon become a serious contender for the Africa’s great companies in this field.
Getting into these markets and taking over the market won’t be easy. One challenge for would be surrounding trust. Let’s take SA for example, OLX and other classified ads services have a longstanding reputation for being prone to scams, and new players apps will need to work hard to establish trust among their user bases. Zambia would be a good market to start and move to other countries.
The next classified leader will have to “reverse engineer” the noise of the Internet to deliver the best service possible to both consumers and the businesses that serve them. The top classifieds website is continually trying to improve by tendering better service to its visitors. A large part of that is of course the website. Having an attractive website, which is easy to navigate through and accessible from diverse platforms is essential these days.
Hence I believe the future for free online classifieds in Africa and Zimbabwe will lie in one of the following outcomes:
- a) All classifieds platforms consolidate and create one platform
- b) One Classifieds platform outlives the others with a stronger balance sheet
- c) One platform stops competing in the free classifieds space and pivots to vertical or other adjacent businesses or become a full time ecommerce.