We spend more of our lives online than ever before. Work, socialize, play, have fun, it’s all happening online now.
The pandemic has accelerated this change and we find ourselves uncomfortable with being in the same physical space as other humans.
This necessitated a change in strategy for all companies. They now have to deal with a pool of customers who hardly leave their homes.
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We saw the rise of e-commerce platforms as an answer. Here in Zimbabwe, we’ve seen everything from full-fledged e-commerce platforms to Facebook Marketplace’s hugely popular hubbaloo.
There has also been activity in between. It now seems irresponsible not to have your own online store and Zimbabwean businesses have been busy.
We visited Union Hardware’s revamped online store. The site seems correct and one can navigate quite well.
The site is still under construction and you can tell. One of the key features of an online store, search, is still a bit wonky.
For one thing, the site still takes a little while to return results and for some items you may get a sprinkling of random products on the results.
I tried searching for “television” after marveling that Union Hardware sells televisions. I didn’t get any results for “television”, but I got items after searching for “TV”, but I also got towel racks and soap dishes for some reason.
So the search functionality needs a bit of work but it is usable as is. Luckily, you can navigate easily without searching. Extra points for having a proper mobile site.
So why are we talking about a simple online store?
Union Hardware targets members of the diaspora and offers them a way to pay for supplies and bring family and friends to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is supported by its huge diaspora. Remittances reached US$1.4 billion in 2021. Naturally, everyone wants a piece of that pie.
We know that most of our compatriots living abroad often want to build/buy houses here.
It has always been difficult for them to do it thousands of miles away. There have been many cases where relatives misappropriated funds sent to acquire building materials.
So when Union Hardware steps in and gives them the option to pay for materials directly, it’s a huge deal. Relatives only have to pick up the materials.
Union Hardware only accepts VISA and Mastercard at this time. This right tells you who the target customer is.
The local customer
However, the local customer has not been forgotten. Although you probably won’t be paying with VISA/Mastercard, you can place an order from Zimbabwe and pay on collection. You won’t have to wait when you get there.
If you know how shopping at huge hardware stores like Union Hardware works, you’ll know that it takes a while to get an order ready. So a local customer can avoid all of this by placing an order online.
It’s not just a time saver. There are discounts for online customers. There is no fixed discount rate, they are applied product by product. However, some products such as cement do not benefit from reductions at the moment.
If you place a large order, Union Hardware will deliver to your door on a cash on delivery basis.
This is the work that e-commerce sites resort to in Zimbabwe. People have cash but don’t deposit it, making online payments in USD difficult. However, cash on delivery comes with its own set of challenges.
Union Hardware is doing this delivery itself at this time, but is in talks with FedEx for the future.
Online store vs e-commerce platform
We often use these terms interchangeably, but technically there is a difference. E-commerce encompasses everything that goes into operating an online business. Online shopping, on the other hand, refers only to the sale and purchase of goods and services online.
Union Hardware is constructing a warehouse from which the online transaction will be executed. Currently, logistically, there is no separation between physical and online operations.
E-commerce snobs often say that until this split, an online store leaves money on the table. The logic? Among other things, e-commerce leads to reduced personnel costs, which allows cost savings to be passed on to customers.
Most e-commerce sites also act as aggregators where a number of sellers sell their wares. Therefore, for a buyer, aggregated platforms are more useful. You can easily compare the prices and brands offered by different suppliers.
However, Union Hardware can’t wait for someone to consolidate hardware stores to improve their online store.
You can try Union Hardware’s revamped online store, enjoy time and cost savings, and tell us what you think. If you live abroad and are looking to rebuild in Zimbabwe, I imagine this should work well for you.
Read also :
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The state of e-commerce in Zimbabwe: why we need our own version of Instacart
Without a proper local payment API, Zim’s e-commerce and fintech companies resort to workarounds