The ritual of shopping could be a great activity to spend a few hours or it could be a dreaded hellscape one avoids like a plague. Nonetheless, it’s something people must do even if it’s as rarely as possible. Dedicated shoppers wander around the never ending shops of Mercato, walk down Hayahulet or Bole road going into shop after shop hoping to find, by some miracle, a pair of pants, shoes, shirts, anything, that could make them feel good.
The reluctance to physically visit shops amid the pandemic has cut the number of retail customers a great deal; consequently, shops are attempting to find digital means of showcasing their goods. Ecommerce has yet to find a footing in the country but some retailers are finding ways of making online sales work for them.
Shop Habesha is a new virtual platform that began operation 4 months ago. It sells items from shops that are willing to use Shop Habesha. Mainly focused on selling clothes, electronics and cosmetics, Shop Habesha has a large traffic on its telegram and facebook pages.
Kaleab Hailu, owner and manager of Shop Habesha, says: ‘I have no products of my own. I run my business like amazon, shopify and others that don’t own physical products. I connect suppliers and customers. I make money using only my phone while listening to music laying in bed.’
Kaleab also does advertising and promotion jobs on the side but Hulunem.com, his online shop, is his main source of livelihood. He gets a few hours of sleep a night, dedicating his time to posting on social media channels and managing the shopping site. His sales commission ranges from 500 to 10,000 birr, depending on the product. His telegram channel nearly has 180,000 subscribers.
Kaleab further remared: ‘the virtual retail market is definitely upgrading everyday. It is getting better. Since wi-fi has become accessible for an increasing amount of people, I think this is how people are going to do business from now on. And it is not only products and goods but also a lot of online services come straight to your door.’
Danait Tadesse, a marketing professional and online shopper says: ‘I hate going around trying to find something of my taste at a reasonable price. Other customers have the same problem.’ Having experienced online shopping, she figured she could start her own shopping channel on telegram and join the trend. She marketed items from Dubai or Bangkok and got them from people who bring them from abroad and sale them here. However, the commotion on her telegram channel, Shop til U Drop, has gone down over the last few months. The limited number of people that have travelled for business due to the pandemic and the difficulty of finding those that have are the reasons behind the dip.
The pandemic has increased the number of people flocking to online stores and shops. Those that have been around longer than a year are thriving. Sisay Worku manages a store located around Mexico but his main focus is on digitally marketing his products, specifically through his telegram channel Only Brand1 that has about 209,000 subscribers. He often encourages customers on his telegram channel to visit his store physically. He believes that a physical store inspires trust in the retailer.
The ability to compare prices among multiple digital stores before making the decision to purchase makes online shopping preferable but trust is a big issue. Danait says she has experienced difficulties with some customers when they meet at delivery. Items not looking like the pictures, clothes not fitting, or general reluctance to trust the seller are common bottlenecks.
High end products like perfume, watches and shoes attract people online and Sisay’s store offers a special delivery service for extra payment. His online store has been growing for the last four years and he has been able to hire motorcycles to deliver goods all over the city. He also occasionally mails products or hires cars to deliver goods outside of Addis. He is also in the process of developing an app to ease the transaction.
Hana Terefe is a designer whose sales is also focused online. ‘The market has moved online now. So I want to keep up. One of the ways I am trying to keep up is by studying Digital Marketing at a certificate level. I love being creative and making simple everyday clothes.’
Her designing business has grown enough that she now employs people in the production line at her workshop. Her clothes are often custom made or by special order. People can view her products on facebook or telegram or they can visit her workshop.
Retailers are handling the lack of e-commerce infrastructure by finding workarounds but a digital payment system is necessary for the industry to thrive. ‘The lack of an online payment system definitely has an effect. But as long as it is delivered in person, it doesn’t become much of an inconvenience. An online payment system would have definitely increased the transaction,’ noted Danait.
Kaleab agrees. ‘Digital marketing and e-commerce are our future and there could be a lot of things done, if we had those things available.’ Scrolling through instagram or going through websites like Merkato or Hulunem from the comfort of your home would be a lot easier with a functional digital payment system to close the deal; but that day is not far off. ‘The online market is not so big that you can be totally committed to it but it is promising in the future. So I am taking it very seriously,’ said Hana.