The idea seems so obvious once it occurs to you: Why don’t I make a comfortable passive income selling things online? After all, starting an online store today has become simpler than ever.
In the 1990s, Jeff Bezos was working at hedge fund D.E. Shaw in New York City. He was astounded to learn about the growth of the Internet—2,400 percent a year. Bezos decided he had to find a way to take advantage of the demand. He made a list of what he should sell online, eventually settling on books. In 1995, Bezos sold the first book on Amazon.com: Douglas Hofstadter’s Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.
When Bezos took Amazon public, in 1997, it was an unusual public offering for a tech company at the time. Amazon went public before it ever turned a profit. Bezos didn’t expect Amazon to be profitable for several years.
Jeff Bezos has commercialized online shopping, and even when the dot-com bubble killed off many e-commerce companies, Amazon thrived.
Internet subscriptions might have climbed to over 80 percent, as more Zimbabweans spend time online on their computers and smartphones, but only two percent of them utilize the Web for shopping and most shop outside the country on sites like Alibaba, Amazon and eBay.
Still, more than twenty years since the introduction of the internet, Zimbabwean retailers have not invested online shopping platforms.
What are Online Shopping Portals?
Despite term sounding like something from a The Matrix movies, online shopping portals are very simple. In developed countries, online shopping has grown in the US that some of its retail chains, such as Toys R Us and Payless ShoeSource, have been forced to file for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, shopping giant Amazon continues to grow, increasing its appeal to markets well beyond America’s shores.
There is no known centralized data on e-commerce activity in Zimbabwe, and there is little indication that it is widespread, albeit that a number of small business are using their social media pages to market and sell their products.
But, more businesses are looking to the Internet as they seek ways to widen their markets, the latest being the FoodWorld.
If done well, grocery shopping appears to be one of the most lucrative areas in which Zimbabwean online shoppers are willing to spend their money locally.
Attempts to reach both OK and TM for comment were unsuccessful up to press time.
To encourage more Zimbabweans to do their shopping remotely, OK and TM should develop a web-based shopping platform that uses technology developed by online grocery companies such as Amazon Fresh and Instacart, but customised to their operation.
Retail is just one sector in the Zimbabwe’s economy that is undergoing a transformation as a result of disruptive digital technology. We have seen this taking place with the banking sector, with the introduction of mobile money and cryptocurrency.
OK and TM could target millennials, who are more connected and don’t want to visit physically. Such services are designed not only to appeal to young and digital-savvy customers but also to see whether such products can point to savings business lines.
Such a trend will significantly impact jobs, the consequences of still yet to be determined, both in Zimbabwe and beyond. But for now the region’s customers can celebrate Food World online and other services that promise a more convenient and less expensive shopping experience.
Forget software as a service. Welcome to the age of stuff as a service.