Friday April 11 2014

Online shopping, a trend picking up in Kampala


One of the most challenging aspects of life in Kampala is dealing with traffic when it comes to shopping. This is also complicated by the inconsistent supply of products at some stores. But, there seems to be a solution to alleviate the shopping burden for Ugandans.
Instead of spending hours in traffic and running around every store looking for a certain type of grocery, HomeDuuka handles the logistics of shopping and delivery en masse. That is, one can now shop online in the convenience of their sitting room or even bedroom.

HomeDuuka is both an online grocery and food mart, ensuring that all your shopping needs are brought to your doorstep.
Nicholas Katongole, the managing partner HomeDuuka, started working on the prototype of such websites shortly after returning from the UK where he was pursuing a degree. He partnered with Vinnie Payne, who had previously shared with Katongole’s father (Emmanuel Katongole) about starting e-commerce in Uganda. Knowing it was more than a coincidence, Katongole linked his son to Payne to discuss further. And like they say, the rest is history.

Exapanding cachement area
After developing an online grocery, they then came up with TakeawayUG (a website that has menus from different restaurants in Kampala) which they refer to as “an afterthought”. “As we were collecting surveys from potential customers, we realised there was also demand for managing the logistics of restaurant takeout. Three months after, we launched,” Katongole recalls.

How it works
It is pretty simple. Home Duuka ( handles next day grocery delivery to your home or office, while TakeAwayUG caters for the food.
“You will find a menu of the categories of products we have on the website like groceries, health and beauty with so much more. On TakeAwayUG, you will find the complete delivery menu for each restaurant listed on the site. If you know what product you are looking for, you can find it much faster in the search box on the top right hand side of the website,” Katongole describes the process while browsing through the website.

He adds: “You add items to your cart, just like in a grocery store, and after you have what you want in your virtual cart, you place your order. You can also enter notes with any information we might need such as time of delivery, desired items that you could not find on the site, desired spiciness of the food, whether your dog bites or not, anything that might be of use.”
Payne adds that when one is satisfied with the products they have added to the cart/basket, click “CHECKOUT’’ to go to the checkout page, which mirrors the experience at the cashier. “If you are a new customer, you are asked to fill in your shipping address and a local phone number in case we need to call. Your bill is shown, and you are able to choose your preferred method of payment,” Katongole supplements.

This form of shopping has three options of payment: mobile money (paying with the funds you have in your mobile money account), PayPal, and the most popular, cash on delivery.
“Once you have placed your order, our team springs into action. We plan the logistics of the order and contact you to verify details such as delivery time and location. We manage all aspects of the transaction, and you can relax knowing that we will get your items to your location at your preferred date and time,” Katongole confidently says.
They charge Shs5,000 as transport for deliveries around town. For out of town deliveries, it is negotiable.
TakeAwayUG has evidently focused on popular and reliable restaurants that consistently provide good food in Kampala like Bistro, Khana Kazana among others.
Asked how they preserve the freshness of the food, Katongole says they use thermal bags for hot food and coolers for cold drinks.

The business has, however, come with hiccups. Katongole recalls a time when a client placed an order. Unfortunately, they did not call the customer prior to the delivery. And on delivery, the customer could not be reached. This experience taught them a lesson to always contact the customer prior to making deliveries.
Payne adds, “The biggest challenge we face is making Ugandans comfortable with the idea of shopping online. Expatriates are used to the idea because it’s a common way of life back in their home countries, but the concept is new to most Ugandans.”

Most Ugandans like to see what they are buying before they can pay for it. Since the shopping is online, the potential customer only sees virtual pictures of the items they are buying, which is different from the usual.
Another hiccup is the fact that many Ugandans do not have access to a computer, for such people.

Future plans
“We see a lot of growth. Perhaps multiple distribution centres, thousands of additional products and online airtime top up. In future, one should have been able to log into Home Duuka and order an airtime top up,” Payne envisions.
They also intend to use technological tools like GPS to streamline communications with their drivers, merchants, and customers.
Katongole reveals that their drivers have a good knowledge of Kampala and if there is any ambiguity about the delivery address, they get clarification before the order leaves.

“We contact our customers a few minutes to arrival so that we can get the right home or office,” he says. Sometimes, however, the delivery drivers spend over 30 minutes on the phone trying to locate customers.
“The goal is to mitigate risk through modes of payment.
“For example, we use PayPal which is also used by many e-commerce websites throughout the world. We vet new customers, making sure that their contact information and delivery addresses are accurate. The threat of internet scams is very real but we take precautions to help us reduce the cost of fraud and pass the savings to our customers,” Payne explains.

Tried and tested
Asteway Z. Desta the managing director DHL says she is a regular user of their services, both Home Duuka and TakeAway UG and her experience has been delightful. She says, “their service is so convenient and easy to use especially for a working mom like myself.”

Brian Gill from the American Embassy says he has ordered from them before and they have delivered yet his residence is difficult to find due to lack of landmarks. Yet in spite of this, there are always re-assuring calls coming through up to the point of delivery.

E-commerce in Uganda
Six months ago, online shopping was almost non-existent in the country. Now there are sprouts of activity, and it is really hard to map out how fast this industry will grow.
“Technological growth can be quite rapid. But honestly, we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing without the market to support it. And we have proven that such a market exists,” Payne says.

With this type of convenient shopping, one will have more time with their family or even more time for other productive activities, confident that their essential needs are being catered for.

How to shop online safely
1.Ensure that you know the identity, location and contact details of the online retailer.

2.Find out more about a company’s reputation. Do not leave anything to assumptions.

3.After purchasing your item, always record the details of the time, date, receipt number, and order confirmation.

4.With first-time purchases, if you are unfamiliar with the site, you may want to test it with an inexpensive purchase to begin with.