Stephen Githinji, a 27-year-old entrepreneur in Juja, a small town along Thika road, recently opened his new workshop.
One end of his premise is stacked with his best-selling products; Milk ATM’s and Water purifier machines. On the other end, his storefront is a counter complete with a desktop computer and a seemingly young lad named Joel, his sales representative looking ready to receive customers.
Except, there are no customers. His real storefront is Facebook.com.
Through Facebook, Mr. Githinji normally receives orders for his machines from customers all over the country. He then does personal deliveries to the last mile using his wagon which is normally packed just outside his workshop.
On this particular day, he has just returned from delivering his 3rd order of the week to a customer in Nakuru County.
“We usually do weekly Facebook adverts for a price next to nothing, and just like that our phones are ever buzzing with enquires and orders, Facebook has to be the best sales channel in the world,” Says Githinji.
But this is not Mr. Githinji’s world alone. In hindsight, after realizing little or no value from individuals purporting to be social media influencers, a majority of enterprises in Kenya are overwhelmingly turning to nurture their own social media platforms; most notably Facebook and Instagram, to boost sales, and this trend is bearing fruit.
In Kenya, Facebook boasts of up to Seven million active users every month. Now, in order to put food on their tables and to exponentially drive their revenues up, entrepreneurs like Mr. Githinji and millions of other merchants large or small; are taking advantage of Facebook’s huge audience base and the recent Introduction of new commerce features like purchase buttons and business accounts offered by social platforms through social commerce.
Social commerce is simply a cross-integration of e-commerce within social media functionalities. And by the way, this trend is expected to rise rapidly in the next year according to findings by Ogilvy Social lab, a firm whose parent organization, Ogilvy, lists among the most respected marketing and communication consultants in the world, working with some of the poshest companies in the continent.
And it is not just consumer products that Kenyan merchants are trading on social media.” whether it is booking a table, ordering a cab or delivering a flight boarding pass, instant messaging functions of social platforms will be connected to buying of the products.” Says Riku Vassinen, Ogilvy Africa Managing Partner, Customer Management.
High smartphone penetration in Kenya, coupled with democratization of mobile data by telcos such as Safaricom has been a key success factor for merchants like Mr. Githinji whose Milk ATM business routinely receives orders via Facebook from as far as Turkana and other marginalized regions in this country.
Safaricom for instance recently partnered with Facebook (the Company) to roll out a light version of the app dubbed ‘Facebook Kadogo’ that use little data.
Further, Safaricom’s deployment of 2G/3G enabled telecoms masts in remote areas through programmes such as CA’s Universal Service Fund (USF) through which mobile operators are incentivized to put up base stations in areas that do not make financial sense, means that a good number of previously disconnected Kenyans have now been looped in to the new digital economy, allowing them to participate in various online and social media platforms.
The rise of social commerce in Kenya mirrors a global trend where social media is increasingly becoming a sales channel as over half of the online product searches start from these platforms.
Experts predict that Social Commerce could be the next big thing after a sharp rise of the ‘social media Influencer bubble’, which just like any other bubble will eventually burst.
Mr. Vassinen now recommends that for brands to realize maximum return on their investments in social commerce, they must move beyond vanity metrics such as likes and comments and concentrate on actual business KPIs.
To do this, first and foremost, brands must ensure that the content they put out is of fine quality. Secondly, brands must adopt a customer-centric approach by having a customer’s journey at the heart and center of their activities.
Mr. Vassinen was speaking in Nairobi, during a forum that brought together digital managers of various organizations, on September 4th 2019.