What a thousand people think about online shopping in Zambia

Sara Drawwater
Product update
7 July 2020
We asked 1000+ people what they thought about shopping online in Zambia — here are the highlights from our recent Ecommerce survey.

To kick things off, we’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who took part in our recent Ecommerce survey. Over 1,000 of you got involved and in the end, Chilombo M. was the competition winner. The data we gathered is incredibly informative. We now have a significantly better understanding of what you want and importantly, what stops you from shopping online. This knowledge gives us focus and equips us to solve your most important problems first!

Do you want to be able to do more online shopping in Zambia?

98% of you want to do more online shopping. That’s a staggering statistic! It’s encouraging to know that shopping online is high on your agenda and that we are developing solutions that you want and need.

Why do you want to be able to do more online shopping in Zambia?

Interestingly, the biggest reason people want to shop online is because it’s a safer way to shop due to COVID-19 (29.3%). Clearly people’s reasons for shopping online have changed quite dramatically in a relatively short period of time. Three months after the major outbreak of COVID-19, health and safety benefits have matched the undeniable benefits of convenience, efficiency and flexibility that online shopping brings (28.8%).

Do you think people in Zambia are ready to fully adopt online shopping right now?

After such a strong statistic (98% of people wanting to be able to do more online shopping in Zambia), this one is a fairly lukewarm response. Only 39% believe people are ready to adopt online shopping, 24% believe people are just not ready, and a further 38% are sitting on the fence.

10 reasons why Zambians ARE ready to buy online, according to your written responses

  1. People are busy, with no time to go to the shops — online shopping is so much more efficient.
  2. People value their time and would rather shop online than drive and spend hours in queues.
  3. There are young, sophisticated and savvy Zambians who are ready to adapt and use technology.
  4. Because of COVID-19, people are more reluctant to interact physically so we have to move towards digital solutions — shopping online is going to be the new normal.
  5. Since the exchange of money puts you at risk of COVID-19, people are looking for alternative ways to buy and pay. Not having to touch hard cash is very appealing.
  6. We have been shopping online on international websites for things like clothes, bags, shoes and hair — so why not locally?
  7. People can and need to learn how to do online shopping.
  8. Most people just need to be educated so if app owners can speak the language of the ordinary Joe, most people would love the convenience.
  9. The uptake of technology and use of smartphones and internet has been increasing. At the same time, the population is largely youthful. This means we’re more likely to adopt online shopping.
  10. Cheaper logistics will become available and there will be higher smartphone penetration so it’s just a matter of time before online shopping becomes more mainstream.

10 reasons why Zambians ARE NOT ready to buy online, according to your written responses

  1. Not enough people have bank accounts or access to the internet.
  2. People can’t afford smartphones and data/internet costs are too high.
  3. People aren’t technically savvy and don’t know how to buy online.
  4. People are very distrustful of online shopping which creates a resistance to it. So there needs to be more information on the safety of online shopping before it will be fully adopted. There is significant fear of fraud and people have doubts about the truthfulness of sellers, especially since there is no established customer protection yet. Current return policies and customer services do not inspire confidence. There is a need for a massive campaign to educate ordinary citizens on the pros and cons of online shopping.
  5. People think that online shopping is just for importing products into Zambia.
  6. There is significant apathy towards account registration and providing all the information needed for an online order.
  7. Lack of affordable delivery services to all parts of the country.
  8. People like to physically see what they are buying especially because they have experienced internet scams, hiccups in delivery, outdated pricing, and broken websites that just don’t work as they should.
  9. There are not enough options available in terms of payment methods and delivery solutions, and the range of products online is not big enough.
  10. Businesses aren’t ready. Systems to effectively run an online business are not yet fully in place, such as delivery, online stock management and just so much red tape.

What devices do you have access to?

Smartphones and laptops clearly lead the way with a huge 97% of respondents having access to a smartphone.

This was a multiple choice question

  • 97% have access to a smartphone
  • 53% have access to a laptop
  • 17% have access to a desktop computer
  • 16% have access to a tablet

When do you usually have access to the internet?

More people than we thought have access to the internet when out and about. With 97% having access to a smartphone and more than half of respondents having access to the internet whilst out and about, we are becoming a mobile generation.

  • 86% have access to the internet when at home
  • 53% have access to the internet when out and about
  • 45% have access to the internet when at work

This was a multiple choice question

Do you currently shop online?

Half of respondents have shopped online and half have not! This, together with further data below, confirms our suspicion that education and developing trust is key to the growth of online shopping in Zambia.

How do you shop online?

We asked this questions because we suspected that people define online shopping differently. We were right.

This was a multiple choice question

  1. 46% said they use social media and Whatsapp — I view products through social media e.g. Instagram; then order through Whatsapp; and pay by bank transfer, Mobile Money or cash/card on collection/delivery.
  2. 33% said they use websites — I view, order and pay through a single website, then collect in-store or have it delivered e.g Amazon website.
  3. 20% said they use mobile apps — I view, order and pay through a single mobile app, then collect in-store or have it delivered e.g Amazon mobile app.

True Ecommerce and online shopping is when the entire process from product viewing through to payment is efficiently done in one place — such as on a single website or app.

But nearly half of respondents believe they are shopping online when they are using three or more different systems and processes — Social media to view products; Whatsapp to order products; Bank transfers, mobile money or cash to make payments.

I suspect people are calling this online shopping because in their minds they are using the internet for each step of the process, albeit lots of different tools and steps, rather than one efficient tool. In fact nearly half of you are shopping online with multiple tools, systems and processes. (This is an inefficient, disjointed and frustrating user experience, and there is a better way!)

Interestingly, not everyone recognises this user experience as poor. When we asked how you would like to shop online in Zambia, 32% of you said through social media and Whatsapp!

The rest of you said you want to shop online via mobile app (46%) and websites (20%).

When you buy online how do you pay for your order?

This was a multiple choice question

How people pay for their orders when they shop online reflects a number of key points.

The majority of online shoppers go for the most efficient, and now safest, cashless option which is to pay through the website or app with a bank card (66%) or mobile money (44%).

The relatively high level of payments on collection or delivery correlates with:

  • Low levels of trust, and people wanting to physically see what they are buying before they hand over the money.
  • The majority of people shopping online via multiple tools like social media and Whatsapp which do not offer an integrated payment system thus requiring that payments are made on collection or delivery by mobile money (45%), cash (43%) or bank card (17%).
  • Payments by bank transfer (27%) also reflects the lack of integrated systems in the way people are currently shopping online.

Top 10 ways online shopping could be better in Zambia

We asked those who DO currently shop online how online shopping in Zambia could be better. Here’s what they told us.

This was a multiple choice question

  1. 79% — more products available to buy online
  2. 66% — better delivery options
  3. 65% — more shops selling online
  4. 63% — ability to pay by mobile money
  5. 63% — ability to view, order and pay for products in one place (rather than having to use multiple systems and platforms e.g. social media and Whatsapp)
  6. 56% — better customer service and more established refund and returns policies
  7. 52% — ability to buy more supermarket goods and essential items online e.g. groceries, fruit and veg, personal care, etc
  8. 51% — the availability of online shopping mobile apps rather than just websites
  9. 49% — availability of online shopping reviews
  10. 46% — ability to pay by Zambian bank card

Summary

We can summarise how online shopping in Zambia can be better as follows:

Expanded range of products for sale online
Points 1, 3 and 7 clearly point to the range of products available to buy online being the number one thing that needs improving.

More delivery choices
Better delivery options is a close second.

More payment options
People clearly want to be able to pay by mobile money (63%) and bank card (46%), but mobile money is more important to them.

A quality user experience
Then it’s about making the online shopping experience better. The ability to view, order and pay for products in one place (rather than having to use multiple systems and platforms e.g. social media and Whatsapp); better customer service and more established refund and returns policies; the availability of online shopping mobile apps rather than just websites; and the availability of online shopping reviews.

Top 10 reasons why people don’t shop online

We asked those who DO NOT currently shop online why they don’t shop online. Here’s what you told us.

  1. 44% — I am worried about fraud and using my payment details online
  2. 44% — I am worried that the process won’t go smoothly and I’ll lose my money
  3. 34% — I prefer to buy in a shop where I can see, touch and experience the products
  4. 32% — I’m not sure how to buy online
  5. 21% — Customer service, refunds and returns policies are not established enough
  6. 20% — I am worried about how my personal data will be used
  7. 19% — The range of products available to buy online in Zambia is not big enough
  8. 17% — Delivery is too expensive
  9. 17% — I don’t trust Zambian online shopping
  10. 15% — Delivery is not available or is not dependable enough

Summary

We can summarise what stops people from shopping online in Zambia as follows:

Fraud and distrust
Points 1, 2, 3 and 9 show there are very real concerns about fraud and low levels of trust

Education
Point 4 and 6 tell us that people need help learning how to shop online and finding out what happens to all their personal information

Consumer protection
As we move into a world of buying online without physically seeing a product, we are all aware that there needs to be better customer service, and good refunds and returns policies in Zambia

Range of products online
The limited range of products available online stops some people from even trying online shopping in the first place

Delivery
Points 8 and 10 suggest that delivery needs to be more widely available, more dependable and cheaper

If the points you selected above were to improve or be resolved, would you start shopping online in Zambia?

Interestingly, despite these reservations, an 86% majority would start shopping online if their specific concerns were addressed.

COVID-19 and online shopping

Of course we had to ask how people feel about the current COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, the impact of COVID-19 is likely to fast track people’s acceptance of online shopping but only if businesses can respond accordingly and give people the range of products they need online.

Because of COVID-19, I want…

Because of COVID-19:

  • 69% say they want the option to buy everything they need online
  • 64% say they want their online orders delivered
  • 64% say they want their online orders prepacked ready for them to safely pickup in-store
  • 29% say they want to pay electronically and minimise their use of cash

How do you think online shopping can benefit Zambia the most?

It’s interesting that the majority of respondents believe online shopping can contribute most to the growth of Zambian exports (26.7%). This correlates with the many conversations we have had with businesses about the need to make Zambian-made products available to international markets through international payments and delivery systems. Think of some of the good quality uniquely-Zambian crafts, fashion and food items for example.

Secondly, people believe the retail and logistics sectors will grow as a result of more online shopping (24.1%). This is particularly important for the retail sector in Zambia which, like other countries, is likely to have seen a reduction in footfall.

Thirdly, people believe online shopping empowers the consumer through more choice, better product information and online reviews (18%). Shopping also becomes more efficient, convenient and flexible. Online shopping and features like online reviews will help businesses become more customer-centric.

Finally, people believe online shopping will contribute to the economy (17.3%) and create more jobs (13.8%).

We believe the more widespread adoption of online shopping would have a significant impact on businesses and the economy through the more fluid movement of information and products. Online shopping means that more people have access to products they otherwise didn’t have available to them due to lack of information and location limitations. The growth of online shopping leads to significant job opportunities. Apart from the obvious jobs like pickers and packers and delivery drivers, there are jobs for photographers, content writers and web developers.

Summary of participants

  • Sample size: Number of respondents — 1,036
  • Location: 93% of respondents were Zambians living in Zambia, 4% were foreign nationals living and working in Zambia and 3% were Zambians in the diaspora
  • Age: 49% — age 26 to 45; 44% — under 25; 7% — over 45

Conclusion

It’s clear to see that online shopping is good for the people, good for businesses and good for the economy. From this survey we conclude that Ecommerce is the future for Zambia but key obstacles need to be resolved in order for it to gain significant traction.

Why we believe Ecommerce is the future for Zambia

  1. 98% of respondents said they want to do more online shopping in Zambia. Such a high percentage can only mean that if we resolve the challenges related to online shopping, it will more quickly become more widely accepted.
  2. There is a significant portion of the population that have access to technology like smartphones and internet — it is this group that will drive the early adoption of online shopping.
  3. COVID-19 has clearly impacted peoples’ lives and respondents know that online shopping is a safer option to access the products they need.
  4. Ecommerce is widely accepted and still growing in other African countries and most definitely in the West — why should we let our people, businesses and economy be left behind?

The key obstacles that need to be resolved for Ecommerce to gain traction in Zambia

  1. The range of products available to buy online needs to improve quickly — businesses need to respond to the cry of the people.
  2. There is severe mistrust and fear of fraud and this needs to be tackled with education, sensitisation and reassurance from businesses and Government bodies like the  and the 
  3. Consumer protection goes hand in hand with enhancing the level of trust people have towards online shopping. We know from experience that customer service levels haven’t always been the best. We know from this survey that people are unsure how they will be treated if they have valid reasons for a refund. We also know from our work with businesses that they are unsure how to handle refunds. Relatively simple training will assist businesses to provide better customer service and the Government could look at ways to reassure the people of their rights related to online shopping.
  4. More widespread and cost effective delivery options are needed to enable the transfer of products between cities and to more remote areas of the country.

All these factors need to move in the right direction in parallel in order for online shopping to become the norm in Zambia.

Furthermore, in view of the current worldwide impact of COVID-19 on people around the world and the economies that are left reeling, our people and economy clearly need online shopping. But work certainly needs to be done to transition the people and the businesses into this new digital world.

What thebestofzambia.com is doing for Buyers

We’re actively working on the things you, the people, told us you need.

We’re working with Sellers on a daily basis to increase the range of products available to buy on thebestofzambia.com — this involves helping businesses transition into the world of selling online — unfortunately, this can be frustratingly slow for you, and for us!

In March we launched with ‘buy online and pickup in-store’. Delivery within Lusaka came in May. Now we’re actively looking at how to make delivery available in other towns and of course, between towns.

You want to be able to pay with bank cards (46%) and mobile money (63%). You can currently pay with VISA card, Mastercard and MTN Mobile Money. Airtel Money is next on the list.

Many of you are worried about fraud, do not trust online shopping and need a little help with online shopping. We hear you and we understand.

  • You can be confident that paying on thebestofzambia.com is safe and secure. thebestofzambia.com website is HTTPS secure by default and at no point during the process do we have access to your payment details. The complete transaction process is handled by a third party payment processor who are PA DSS & PCI DSS Compliant (meaning their payment system has satisfied the highest level security audit in the industry) and ISO 27001 & 22301 Certified (meaning they have acceptable business practices and a robust business continuity plan).
  • We are confident that as more and more of you use thebestofzambia.com to buy online, you will gain trust in us just by your experience. If a problem does arise we know we will be by your side helping you to resolve the issue and doing everything we can to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Online reviews are high on our list for development to help highlight the best Sellers on our platform.
  • We’re working on material that will give you the guidance you need. For instance, you can read our ‘Frequently Asked Questions About Shopping Online On thebestofzambia.com’
  • There is a lot more material in the pipeline to help give you the gentle introduction into the world of online shopping that you need.

You can already view, order and pay for products in one place on thebestofzambia.com. This is a massive win because 63% of you said the ability to view, order and pay for products in one place (rather than having to use multiple systems and platforms e.g. social media and Whatsapp) would make online shopping better.

We’re populating our Seller Success School with training material to help Sellers with things like customer service, and refunds and returns policies that will make you more confident in online shopping. We also encourage you to contact us if you’re having a customers service issue with a Seller on our website.

Features like online reviews are definitely on the agenda and an app version of thebestofzambia.com is in discussion.

What thebestofzambia.com is doing for Sellers

This survey is a powerful tool to demonstrate what the people of Zambia want and need when it comes to online shopping. We are using this data to encourage businesses to work with us and transition into the digital world of Ecommerce.

We’ve made it possible for all businesses in Zambia to have an affordable online shop no matter their level of budget or expertise. This is available right now.

We’re developing tools like user logins, branded white labelled websites and our Seller Success School to make the transition into Ecommerce even easier. User logins will help Sellers keep in control of their inventory by easily managing stock, prices and product information. Branded websites will allow businesses to use our website and online shop as their own. Seller Success School will teach Sellers how to transition into an Ecommerce business and keep serving their customers effectively.

Wrap-up

To close, the work that needs to be done to make online shopping the norm lies with all of us. We all need to act.

We need you, the people to act on what you have vocalised — take the lead and buy what you can online today. Tell your friends and family. The more Seller success stories we have, the more Sellers we can get on thebestofzambia.com online shop and the bigger the range of products will become.

We need Sellers to hear the cry of the people and act — we need businesses to partner with us. Set up your online shops on thebestofzambia.com and bravely walk into this new digital world knowing that together we will iron out the humps.

We need the Government to act — It needs to undo decades of scare mongering when leaders and offices actively discouraged Ecommerce. The Government can help grow this sector through regulations, education, sensitisation and support that encourages Buyers and Sellers to take up Ecommerce.

We (the Best of Zambia) needs to act — it’s been over a decade of hard grind but we need to continue investing in the development of the online shopping features needed by Buyers and Sellers.

If we can all act together, we will all benefit because #togetherwecan.

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