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Basic buy and sell bargains booming online in Kenya

Monday, February 18, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY PETER KIRAGU

Sitted in her house in Kikuyu area and going through her Facebook wall, Mercy Wanjiku noticed a group page of some young person selling house curtains. She decided to enquire.

To her surprise, within an hour or two, a young guy was at the Kikuyu matatu stage with a variety of curtains for her choice. She selected the curtain she wanted, paid for it and the guy jumped into the next matatu back to town.

Another friend who is selling his car posted it on free advertising online platform Olx a few days ago. Within minutes, he had received more than ten enquiries from prospective buyers, a number who have already come to view the car.

“I didn't think it was real at first, but I have received a lot of responses am even thinking of removing it now (the car),” said the friend who goes by the name Shadrack.

These are just two examples of how Kenyans are buying and selling things from online contacts so easily of late. You can even order lunch online and it will be delivered at your offices through an online site such as rupu.co.ke. They promise to deliver the lunch 'within minutes'.

“The consumer is available, willing and ready to buy the product and the rapid growth of mobile payment and fast internet speeds have gone a long way into building the brand Rupu,” said Rupu's co-founder Munyutu Waigi.

Marupurupu is a swahili word meaning discount and this is where the success of Rupu is derived from. The deal of the day website is visited by many urban Kenyans on a daily basis where they access discounts worthy 50 per cent or more on some of their favorite products or services.

According to Waigi, no longer do businesses have to spend money and estimate the impact of the advertising campaign.“You only make money when people buy your deal online and that's the only time you spend money as well,” he said. “We are basically selling trust to Kenyans.”

A colleague, who has used rupu.co.ke says the services are fantastic, especially the discount.“Sometimes they have discounts on meals of up to 15 per cent...that is a huge saving,” the colleague said.

Kenyans are among the highest users of the internet and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook in Africa. This may explain why the online trading in rising by the day.

“The cost of mobile devices including smartphones have gone down,” said Star online manager Dickens Olewe. “There is competition in the market that has helped to reduce costs.”

According to the latest statistics from the Communications Commission of Kenya, the estimated number of Internet users in the country stood at 13.53 million as at September 2012.

The number of Internet subscriptions rose to 8.5 million between July and September up from 7.7 million in the previous quarter representing a 10.2 per cent increase. It is now estimated that 34.2 per cent of the population is accessing the Internet mainly via the mobile phone explaining the rapid growth of online trading.

“With the growing online market and over 75 per cent of the Kenyan population being made up of the youth who are always ready to try something new, Rupu has nowhere else to go but up,” said Waigi.

Apart from helping people sell and buy their vehicles for instance, Olx also allows people to send, for free, ads on jobs including those hunting for employment opportunities, real estate such as houses to rent and sell, services such as babysitting and driving and community services such as volunteering and lost and found items.

"It is free and easy to use and available even via the mobile phone," says Peter Ndiang'ui, the Olx country manager. Ndiang'ui says the site is used by more than half a million people every month.

"This is the solution of the future," says Ndiang'ui adding that the growth of online marketing is being driven by the fact that more and more Kenyans under the age of 20 are spending more time on the Internet than on televisions or newspapers.

Another popular site is cheki.co.ke which in Swahili means 'to look'. This site is primarily for selling second hand vehicles.

The owners of this site, Cheki Africa Media, has merged with South African-based firm called Private Property Holdings to form what is billed as Africa’s largest classifieds site. The merged entity is called One Africa Media and includes brands such as PrivateProperty, Cheki, Jobberman, BrighterMonday and SafariNow.

According to Carey Eaton, founder and owner of Cheki Africa Media, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in the African continent, broadband is among the cheapest in the world, the mobile market is the fastest-growing in the world and the world’s most mature payment systems can be found in Africa. This explains the big revolution.

“Add the fact that the workforce is growing fast, and you’ve got the ideal environment for classifieds growth,” Eaton says.There is also a site with high traffic called uzanunua which translated in Swahili means 'buy and sell'. This site has almost all the categories of items including jobs, vehicles, entertainment, tours and vacations among others.

Eaton says that Africa is one of the largest — if not the largest — remaining classifieds opportunities in the world. When broadband infrastructure was turned on in 24 countries in September 2009, a large digital marketplace of more than 500 million people was created with no players to exploit the opportunities at that time, he argues.

The growing usage of the internet is also gaining grounds in the ongoing campaign for the March 4 general election. All the major presidential candidates and their running mates have Twitter and Facebook accounts. The candidates use these platforms to update their followers on their programme of activities as well as selling their policies.

Narc-Kenya presidential candidate has the highest Twitter followers at 121, 089 as at Wednesday last week followed by CORD's Raila Odinga at 109, 537. Jubilee flag bearer has 98,768 followers while Kenya National Congress presidential aspirant has 62,274 followers. It is not clear how many followers the Amani Coalition presidential hopeful has because there are a number of Twitter accounts under his name. Presidential candidate Ole Kiyapi has 8,806 followers.

Nevertheless, social media analysts like Olewe says the online platform is not likely to influence the outcome of the elections in any way.

"It is pure hype...online media is not necessarily progressive thinking," Olewe says. If anything, he says, it is traditional media such as radio, TVs and newspaper that are giving voice to bloggers and the so called social media activists.

"It (social media) will not influence the election but will provide entertainment," he says.This notwithstanding, the big marketing revolution is here, industry players agree.