As the Kenyan middle class grows, a change in shopping habits has become noticeable.
The middle class is slowly yet increasingly getting more involved in business, meaning little time for social activities and forcing retailers and supermarkets to open deep into the night – sometimes for 24 hours – to allow people to shop.
For those who choose to shop during the day, traffic is a huge problem, with Nairobi’s Uhuru Highway continually maintaining its reputation of being the biggest parking lot in East and Central Africa in rush hour.
However, these challenges have opened room for innovation and growth of e-commerce as business people try to solve these barriers to trade.
One such product is e-pepea, which enables shoppers to shop from their comfort of their offices and have the goods delivered to their premises, beating the time and traffic jam challenges.
According to the managing director of e-pepea Winfred Gacheri, who also conceptualised the idea, making shopping easy was always her dream as she saw many working women struggling to balance work and family.
“I had always visualized a society where people do not leave their comforts or convenience to shop, they can shop from office, home or even away from home for their families. My target audience is middle class Kenyans who have to juggle work, housework and going to school,” she said.
Interested clients of e-pepea start by visiting the web portal Epepea.com from where they have the opportunity of shopping for goods from the e-store which provides a wide range of domestic goods at market rates.
Once a ‘shopper’ is in the store, they have the opportunity to choose the weight as well as the brand and colour of the product they look to buy.
The shopper has various options to pay for the goods, which include mobile money transfer platforms, credit and debit cards as well as electronic fund transfers for those in the Diaspora, who constitute the majority of the site’s clients.
She notes that Kenyans in the Diaspora who have discovered her e-shopping innovation have preferred it to sending money straight home as they can be sure that their families and parents get the basic goods their require.
All this at a charge of KSh500 (approximately US$5.80), she says.
“Imagine how much time you could have spent in the jam, supposing you are using a car how much fuel that results to, the amount of energy you use, how this affects your productivity and above all the chances that you might be distracted inside the supermarket and forget something you require,” Gacheri added.
She further revealed she has been in temporary partnerships with major supermarkets in the towns she operates in and is working at hammering them into solid deals. From these partnerships, she is able to access the goods at reasonable prices as well as enjoy transport where possible.
E-pepea services are currently available in seven major towns, namely Nairobi, Kisumu, Kakamega, Meru, Mombasa, Nanyuki and Embu, with other towns targeted in the next few months.
Gacheri has been able to employ 20 salespeople, who are helping in marketing the product, in the six months she has been in operation.
On average, she says, she transacts five to ten deals of amounts varying from KSh15,000 (approximately $175) to KSh20,000 (approximately $235) daily, volumes she says are still too low to keep her afloat in the market at such low charges.
Her next step is to seek extra cheap capital from willing investors, which she can use to advertise her product and increase traffic.
Gacheri now aims at increasing her daily transactions tenfold, which would enable her to employ an extra 30 people in her sales team as well as expand to as many towns as possible.
“The challenges I face as a business is that I do not have enough capital to advertise and I am left to depend on referrals and word of mouth as my way of marketing on a large scale,” she said.
Though most supermarkets have been co-operative, she says a few have been unwilling to share information on prices of goods. She adds that a sudden change in prices from those stated on the website could easily lead to an under-calculation of the eventual price, which she would have the burden of paying.
She hopes with more marketing and increased traffic to her website she can woo manufacturers to advertise on her site, increasing her profit margins.