The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Sunday News Reporter
HIGH data bundle charges and slow internet connectivity have been attributed to the slow growth of the country’s online goods and services sector, amidst the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown that Zimbabwe is currently in.
The effects of Covid-19 pandemic has seen a boon in the country’s online platforms where various retailers and people are offering their services online such as groceries and vegetables with some delivering to their customers’ homes.
The business sector like any other has been affected by the Covid-19 regulations with some sections of the informal sector screeching to a halt.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) association president Mr Denford Mutashu said for customers to also be able to participate on online shopping or ecommerce there was to consider data charges and the internet connectivity.
“For more people to participate on online transacting they need data and as long as most Zimbabweans are failing to access affordable data it may actually remain very problematic for most people to be involved in online transacting.
“And also, internet connectivity is also problematic as the greater majority of people in the country have no internet connections. So, we need those to be improved so that more and more people can able to acquire their goods and services in times like this where there are lockdowns,” said Mr Mutashu.
He added that CZI has been part of the global e-commerce foundation system since 2016 and they have been promoting the adoption of ecommerce and the process had been accelerated due to the continuous series of the lockdowns after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world.
Mr Mutashu also noted that since most shops are closed, some have opted to run around sell their commodities and products online platforms.
He added: “It is a good development but all we need to do now is to ensure that the regulatory environment is also in sync and in line, in order to control the activities that are taking place on such platforms. We should also not lose revenue as a country out of those transactions because some of them may not be detected.”
Mr Mutashu highlighted that as they were working on promoting and encouraging businesses to adopt online transacting, they were also working on a long-term strategy so that they do not lose sight of the fact that a lot of the consumers are in the rural areas, other underlying areas and marginalized areas still had to resort and relay on brick-and-mortar stores.
Mr Mutashu said they were working very closely with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the Ministry of Health and Child Care to ensure that while we apply the lockdown restrictions the national supplies are not interrupted.
He also bemoaned the high rentals that were being imposed on retailers and argued that this was affecting businesses.
“The situation with high rentals is actually getting worse due to the Covid-19 lockdown we actually got some tenants that got notices of rental increases in December for January and those increases have since been effected.
“You actually have a scenario where the increase has been effected and then there is lockdown while there has been reduced operating hours also the restriction on the movement of people. Which also means that there has been a decline in revenue. But landlords do not care and all they want is to collect the rentals only,” he said.
Mr Mutashu said high rentals in USD were eating into the profitability of most businesses while also feeding into increased cost of doing business in the country.
He urged the Ministry of Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services to be on the forefront in promoting the opening of online shops, as he said if Government leads it would achieve better results as they also influence the cost of data and the access of gargets like the smartphones, laptops etc.
Some of the major supermakerts in Zimbabwe have also adopted the online groceries store. A manager at a local supermarket said not only can customers come to the physical building to acquire their good but they can also get them online.
“Though the adoption is very slow customers are now able to buy their goods online and get them delivered on their doorstep. This has prompted the less movements of people during these lockdown times,” said the manager.
Mrs Sharon Moyo said as a customer she was openly in support of online shopping for most of her groceries and vegetables.
“It makes sense to some of us who stay far away from town and nearby shops are quite at a distance, also with busy schedules online shopping platforms have made my life easier. On WhatsApp you can also find people who sell fruits and vegetables who do delivers as well,” said Mrs Moyo.