Feature: Kenya's e-commerce platform draws inspiration from Alibaba's success

  • World
  • Friday, 17 Jul 2020

NAIROBI, July 16 (Xinhua) -- Victor Botto's dream to build a pan-African e-commerce platform is largely inspired by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's global success.

The 34-year-old's ambition was nurtured by his month-long training stint back in 2019 at the Alibaba Business School in Hangzhou, China, where together with other budding African entrepreneurs, he received valuable lessons on the opportunities available in the digital economy.

"The training was the best investment I have ever made for myself because it was an eye-opener. It cut a lot of guesswork in my entrepreneurial journey," Botto told Xinhua during a recent interview.

Before schooling in China, the married father of two children was already operating a brick and mortar electronics store in the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi.

"I was totally dependent on walk-in customers but from what I learned from Alibaba, I decided to develop an e-commerce platform in order to expand my customer base to all towns in Kenya," Botto said.

He was then inspired to establish an online platform dubbed Bovic.co.ke.

Botto told Xinhua that he has since gained traction with many online shoppers attracted to affordable priced electronic products, most of which are sourced from reputable Chinese suppliers.

He observed that while in China he also received training on how to interact with suppliers and vendors as well as how to structure partnerships.

According to Botto, African e-commerce platforms can borrow critical lessons from their Chinese counterparts who have created global online sales platforms.

"The Chinese are hard-working and disciplined, and focus on volumes and low margins to be able to offer competitive prices to consumers," he added.

The entrepreneur, who is also a graduate of electrical engineering from the University of Nairobi, said that e-commerce players in Africa face a lot of challenges due to underdeveloped infrastructure.

"The lack of street names in many neighborhoods makes it costly to deliver goods ordered online," Botto said.

He noted that his operation is currently profitable despite the fact that some larger e-commerce platforms in Kenya are not because he owns the inventory and therefore can make more profit margins.

BOVIC has also emerged as a viable enterprise because it stocks over 2,000 different electronic products at price points that target different income brackets.

Botto said that the future of e-commerce in Kenya is bright because it is largely unexploited as the bulk of retail sales is from informal shops and supermarkets.

"A lot of consumer education is therefore required to educate people on making online purchases. Consumer confidence will also have to be built in order to have a vibrant e-commerce industry," he added.

Data from the Communications Authority of Kenya indicates that as of March, total internet subscriptions stood at around 39.3 million.

Botto urged the continent to take advantage of the growing online presence by Africans in order to boost the e-commerce industry.

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