Traders and consumers in Gulu are embracing an online platform to sell and buy goods.
For close to two months now, many traders in Gulu have taken to a new online store, kawil.ug, to market their products, including food stuffs, electronics, cosmetics, clothes and other household items. The online shop that was launched on April 2, 2020, operates daily, from 8 am to 4pm.
The store delivers free of charge throughout Gulu municipality, and receives payments through mobile money or Visa, all integrated on the platform.
Jacob Odur, a co-founder of Kawil marketplace, explained to theCooperator that they are working with 30 traders in Gulu, to supply them with goods on order. Three of them, including the founders and a delivery boy, serve an average of thirty clients each week.
Odur and his colleague Denis Obote, came up with the idea to open an online shop in the district in 2018, but were only able to bring the idea to life this year.
“Frustrations with the inconveniences caused by everyday items being scattered in different shops made us think of this idea. And as working adults, our tight personal schedules make physical shopping more difficult, hence the need for an online shop,” he said.
Odur said that whereas the platform owners do not determine the prices of the goods they deliver, they use a pricing model that ensures that all three parties involved- trader, customer and Kawil- are satisfied.
“Our online goods bear the same price as those in physical shops. The retailer himself gets a profit without him having to keep the goods in his store, and Kawil also gets some money from it that can sustain the business,” he said.
Denis Olla, who owns a cosmetics shop named Can Deg Lok at Gulu Bus Park, has been using the platform for two months now. He pays for the service by giving a discount to Kawil’s founders, depending on the quantity of goods the online shop sells.
“For instance, if they buy goods worth Shs 100,000, I give them a discount of 5 percent. They also earn a small commission for selling my goods,” he said.
The online market place is winning over converts even among the sceptical. Abel Ogwang was one. Before the inception of an online marketplace in Gulu, he found the idea of shopping online strange and ‘snobbish’.
“Most online stores I have heard of are based in Kampala and mainly deal in imported stuff,” he said.
Ogwang was pleasantly surprised to learn that Kawil supplies even the most ordinary groceries.
”With Kawil, I can even order a tablet of soap and kilograms of rice and wait for it as I do other things at home. I will stick to it,” Ogwang says.
According to Nordea Trade, an authoritative online markets advisory, e-commerce is rapidly growing in Uganda, and the country is expected to shortly become the second largest online market in the East African region, after Kenya. But this is not to say that online businesses are immune to challenges.
A recent study by GeoPoll conducted in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire found that trust and prepayment barriers for orders are among the common hurdles to online shopping.
Odur concurs with GeoPoll, and adds that first-time clients of Kawil are often concerned about the quality of goods that will be delivered, as well as fraud.
“At first, our shoppers worried about fraud and low-quality goods. This attitude is carried over from their experiences with other shopping platforms,” Odur said.
“Besides there is sometimes limited inventory both on our side, and on that of our suppliers. This means we are at times unable to fulfil bulk orders. Finally, there is the technology divide, where some of our customers are unable to successfully make orders on the site,” he added.
The founders of the online platform plan to improve the website’s User Interface to simplify shopping, in addition to offering shopping tutorials and increased marketing geared towards guiding clients on how to order through familiar technologies like WhatsApp and Facebook Shop.
Despite the challenges of online trade, digital marketing experts believe that e-commerce has changed the pattern of purchase of goods and services.
Besides, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have been a blessing in disguise for online trade, as the period saw a rise of online shopping with many businesses opting to advertise their goods and services online through social media pages. As physical shops remained locked, the cyber shops remained open.
For instance, Dennis Olla says the online platform enabled him serve his clients, even when most shops were closed during the lockdown.
“As shops were closed during the lockdown, the Kawil owners could call me, pick items from my shop and then deliver to the clients. So, as many were crying, my business was operating behind closed doors,” he said.
However, Bosco Otyang, another businessman who deals in electrical appliances such as Television sets, phones, radios, MPs players and chargers among others, has had a different experience.
Otyang said he started using the platform before the lockdown was instituted and sales were great. But, after the lockdown, sales declined.
“I am hopeful that I am going to make more money by using the online platform, once my business normalizes.”
Richard Kimera, the Coordinator of Undergraduate research projects in the faculty of Computer Science and Informatics at Mbarara University of Science and Technology and a director of Global Auto system, suggests that the unemployed youth, especially those with a background in Information and Communication Technology, should use this period of COVID-19 to think of doing business online.
“I look at online business in terms of employment especially for the youth. For long we have been encouraging people to learn the use of technology and apply it in their businesses, and they did not really understand why they need to sell their goods online,” Kimera said.
“To me, life will never return to the way it was before COVID. The requirement of social distancing is creating some mistrust among people. This means those who started online transactions during this period are going to get used to and adapt to it. Online shops are going to be trending,” Kimera predicted.