NAIROBI, KENYA: It typically doesn’t take David Kigo long to learn how to do something new.
In fact, just six months ago, 29-year-old David was one of the hundreds of electronics dealer in Kiambu County, fighting it out for customers. But in April, he’ll be on a plane to Bangkok, Thailand, his reward for outshining more than 6,000 vendors on the online marketplace, Jumia.
In one month, David sold more than 3,000 items, raking in Sh5 million and earning himself the trip that will introduce him to hundreds of vendors across Africa and Asia.
And when you have a conversation with him, it quickly becomes clear how he managed to master online trading in just six months. David learns fast – and executes what he learns even faster.
When Jumia unveiled the competition, Race to Bangkok, David had been on the platform for just five months, selling mobile phones and accessories, laptops and related electronics.
By participating, he was going to take on ‘veterans’ who’d been trading online for more than three years and had a larger variety of products than he did.
David’s entry into the online world was not accidental; he’d been looking for ways to expand his market beyond Kiambu.
He had a friend who used to sell soccer jerseys on Jumia who sold him on the idea of using the online store to expand.
It didn’t sound too appealing in the beginning.
“I was a bit sceptical at first because I didn’t think Kenyans would actually buy things online,” he says, but he gave it a shot anyway.
It was a slow start. David would receive between two and five orders for electronic items a day in his first month online, which means in a week, he’d sell about 13 products.
It wasn’t much, but it was more business than his shop was getting. And a few weeks later, the traffic climbed up to 30 items a month.
Then five months in, Race to Bangkok was launched, and David was determined to take a shot at winning.
The competition was held between November 13 and December 13 last year, a period the e-Commerce firm dubbed Black Friday month.
Three things were critical for a vendor to win the trip: ship orders in a timely manner with minimal returns; increase the number of products they sell online; and come up with competitive pricing.
Jumia offered training on meeting these criteria, as well as arranged a credit facility to enable vendors to get as many products online as possible.
At a dinner organised for vendors, David took copious notes and came out brimming with ideas on how to make the most of his online shop.
“I remember Sam (Chappatte, Jumia Kenya MD) giving some advice during the dinner that contributed to my doing so well. He said, ‘You need to protect your seller scope,’” says David. This means ensuring that the products you’re sell are of good quality, are available and are delivered as fast as possible.
A seller’s scope provides customers with information on how good a vendor is. A five-star rating, which is what David has, is the highest.
But it wasn’t easy getting to this point. When Black Friday month launched, David wasn’t prepared for the flood of orders that came his way. He remembers a day he received 140 orders in a day.
“I hadn’t imagined these kinds of sales. I had to figure out how I was going to fulfil all these orders on time. And I had my seller scope to think about,” David says, adding that he didn’t have the option of putting his account on holiday mode to opt out of the competition.
Further, order delays would hurt his rating, so he increased the number of employees he had to help with packaging and ensuring products were supplied to customers on time.
“With online customer, you have to be very careful about the quality of your product,” he says.
When you’re selling offline, a customer has the option of visiting your shop, seeing the product, touching it, trying it on and then making a decision. Online, the customer relies on the image and trust he or she will get what they’re seeing.
“If you don’t protect the quality of product that you have, it can become a really big issue,” says David.
Fast delivery is another critical element that matters to online buyers.
“The customer has the alternative of buying a product from a shop, which they would get immediately. Therefore, to survive online, you need to deliver products as fast as possible,” says David.
And given that customers can compare prices online, he knew he had to offer prices that beat what most other traders offer.
“This meant that in addition to making sure I’m offering a quality product, I had to have the best price for it.”
He made the effort to combine all three elements, and it paid off, giving him the win and earning him Sh600,000 in profit.
Jumia has been so impressed with David’s performance that one employee quips that if David ever wanted a job with the e-Commerce firm, he’d easily get it.
Today, David averages sales of between 45 and 50 items a day, and has his eyes set on selling between 100 and 200 items a day in a year’s time.
He still maintains his offline shop, but says on any day, his online sales exceed what his shop brings in.
What’s his secret? David says moving online doesn’t really change the rules of running a business.
Whatever makes an entrepreneur successful offline is what will matter online.
“I come from a line of businesspeople, including my father and my grandfather. I think entrepreneurship runs in our blood and dates back to the days of dukawallas. I learnt my lessons on business, including how to be disciplined with finances, from my background and my experience running a shop.”
But if there’s one quality of running a business that David cherishes the most, it is the ability to put himself in the shoes of a customer.
“I think that’s one quality I carried from my offline shop to my online business. You need to learn to do for the customer what you’d want done to you.”