To track innovation on the Silicon Savannah, just follow the latest hustle

CONRAD ONYANGO

THE Silicon Savannah moniker may be wearing a little thin but second-hand clothing trader Offie Otieno is living proof that East Africa’s tech and innovation hotspot is as dynamic as ever, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Otieno’s platform of choice for his hustle? Whatsapp. 

Offie Otieno is standing inside his stall on Moi Avenue on a busy weekday morning, hand in pocket. The second-hand clothes trader would usually be busy scanning the central Nairobi crowd for potential customers. Today, he pulls out his mobile phone and, unlocking the screen, clicks on the Whatsapp icon and moves to the app’s status.

After scrolling through his contacts, Otieno locks the screen and places the smartphone back in his pocket. He repeats the same sequence every three minutes or so.

Otieno is scanning for customer orders. Just the day before, he had uploaded images and videos of his latest stock of second-hand trousers, formal shirts, t-shirts, shoes and men’s briefs onto the status section of his Whatsapp account.

“Nineteen hours ago, I had 220 views and that’s a single photo. That is not even 24 hours. I think it will reach around 240 to 250 views by then,” he explained enthusiastically. Picking up newly arrived stock, he folded items and began arranged them on the wooden shelves.

Otieno started using Whatsapp status to promote his business in 2018, long before the pandemic hit businesses hard. The second-hand trader has since reaped the rewards of being an early mover. He enjoys a high customer conversion rate, since most customers who view his status are on his contacts list already, while new clients are constantly being referred to him by loyal customers. And the system worked well through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic when shoppers all but abandoned the many stalls that line the city streets.

“Whatsapp status is working magic,” he explained. “Somebody using a smartphone and has the app cannot go 10 to 15 minutes before checking and scrolling on their status.”

According to the Global Web Index’s 2021 Social Media User Trends Report Kenya (73 per cent) and Nigeria (72 per cent) have the highest number of people finding out about new brands or products on social media ads, via recommendations or updates on brands pages.

Most of Otieno’s client base is now on Whatsapp and with very few walk-in clients, his stall has become more of a collection centre, where clients come simply to pick up their orders.

“For walk-ins, in a day you will find one customer but not a serious buyer. Serious buyers are on WhatsApp,” he said.

Mastercard’s Economic Outlook 2021 shows that 79 per cent of Kenyan consumers are shopping more online than they did since the start of the pandemic. The report estimates that 20-30 per cent of the Covid-19 related surge in e-commerce would become a permanent trend in terms of retail spending, globally.

Offie Otieno showing his WhatsApp account. Photo : Conrad Onyango

Judy Njoroge, a financial advisor with the listed insurance company, ICEA Lion Group said she discovered the potential of Whatsapp a year ago, after the outbreak of the pandemic made it difficult to meet face to face with clients.

“I had to find a way to reach my clients and boost sales. That is how I started uploading on (my) WhatsApp status” she said.

Since then, clients have flooded her inbox to enquire more about the products and services she posts on the status. For Njoroge, the pandemic has come as a blessing in disguise, allowing her to offload transport and calling costs.

“I used to spend a lot when calling clients and transport to meet them, but when I post a video, it can reach lots of people and clients, boost sales without spending much,” she explained.

Otieno shared similar sentiments. Ever since starting to use Whatsapp status to sell stock, he has managed to avoid operational costs associated with marketing on other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram or paying for space on high traffic websites, of which Kenya has plenty.

“It has reduced a lot because you have ready clients. That is the best thing about (using Whatsapp) status,” he explained as he leaned back on his shelves.

The use of social media for business is enabled, indeed fuelled, by Kenya’s high internet connectivity, cheap mobile data and a high mobile subscriber base. The latest Communications Authority of Kenya report showed a 119.9 per cent mobile penetration rate, showing that many people own more than one sim card.

Multiple sim cards are used by subscribers to switch through different service providers and take advantage of cheaper call rates and mobile data offers. There are many offers for mobile data, including a current deal of 1 Gb of data going for the equivalent of 1 US dollar (for use within an hour), or 500 Mb of data with no expiry – also for 1 US dollar. Other service providers offer free Whatsapp data with the purchase of different data bundle offers.

As a customer arrives to pick up a pile of second-hand trousers and shirts, Otieno glances at his phone again. The number of views on his new stock is still climbing.

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