Is Safaricom’s Masoko ready for African Expansion?

Safaricom has announced plans to expand their e-commerce proposition – Masoko – to other African countries by year 2020.

“We see endless possibilities for business beyond borders. We are currently reviewing … Masoko to ensure that we are positioned ready to take off. Through the mobile phone, and with its penetration in Kenya at 100 per cent, most families have access to at least one mobile phone, making it possible to use these devices as powerful tools for social and economic development.” Sitoyo Lopokoiyit, Chief Financial Services Officer, Safaricom, said.

When I read this, I felt really conflicted about the idea of expanding beyond Kenya. Especially being that Masoko is still very young. November 2017 to July 2019 isn’t enough time, I would say, for this platform to believe it’s ready for the bigger African market.

Safaricom themselves admitted in November of 2018 that Masoko failed to take off as planned. During the release of Full Year 2019 Results, there was talk of a renewed approach to the platform after the fact of the failed take-off. And perhaps, things have now been better streamlined, making the company more confident of themselves.

December last year, in a release on Africa’s Online Shopping readiness, UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said, “Africa trails behind the rest of the world in its preparedness to engage in and benefit from the digital economy. Three-quarters of the African population have yet to start using the Internet.” 

In their official release, Safaricom said their decision to expand outside Kenya is based “on the backdrop of an expected growth of Smartphones in the region estimated to hit over 525 million users as at the end of next year.”

I know that alone cannot be their main reason. And I believe they’ve definitely researched, planned, and have a strategy for this expansion. But I wonder if they believe the product they currently have is good enough, or competitive enough outside Kenya.

I use Masoko. I have friends who are merchants on the platform. And in our discussions about the site, and the idea, we always agree that Safaricom is not going all the way in, and that they could and should do more. And that’s the premise for the the title of this post.

Before eyeing expansion beyond Kenya, I believe Masoko should first master the local market. Master as in become the top e-commerce site here. Master as in exhaust all possible avenues of expanding the platform locally.

Kenyans are increasingly buying and selling stuff online. In October of 2018, Central Bank of Kenya said the increase in mobile payments was as a result of more Kenyans adopting e-commerce platforms. Almost daily, you will find a new Social Media handle selling different products and services. There’s countless e-commerce sites popping up. Some serve particular niches, others are generalised, while others are localised to particular sections of the country. All this screams potential. No one has tapped into this need. Not Masoko, not Jumia. Still, I believe only Safaricom can.

Safaricom understand Kenya better than any other company. They have customers across the whole nation, from all walks of life. They have data not many companies can boast of. They have an idea of what works, and what doesn’t.

When Masoko launched, most of us thought things would be different. They would not be another e-commerce site copy-pasting what’s been done elsewhere. I wanted to see a different approach first of all in design of the platform. I wanted to see Safaricom tap in to data, into partnerships, and much more. Two years down, still nothing. I believe:

  • The site needs a re-design. Especially for mobile. (I’ve complained about SEARCH problems on Masoko for so long)
  • We need to see more meaningful partnerships with local and international brands
  • Safaricom needs to own the idea a little more. Including, as suggested by many, data free browsing for Safaricom customers
  • Some aspects of delivery need to be rethought. Though this has greatly improved for us Nairobi customers.
  • And Safaricom needs to really push the idea of buying online beyond the capital. Because only them will it make sense to go beyond Kenya.

I believe Safaricom can and should eventually push Masoko beyond Kenya. That has been part of their plan from before launch anyway. But that shouldn’t be something they prioritise now. First, solve the challenges you currently have, be a master locally.

I want to see more Masoko local partnerships, with shops, with supermarkets, and many others so as to achieve that dream first sold to us during launch. So that any Kenyan in the country should be able to buy, and receive their order in record time be it groceries, electrical items, or other home and personal items. I want to see Safaricom Shops being part of this Masoko dream. I know Safaricom have plans for M-Pesa agents’ stores being pick-up points too, and I want to see that idea explored.

In the press release on Masoko’s expansion, Safaricom said “The ambition for the platform is to bring the market to small businesses wherever they are in Kenya, and to give them access to opportunities presented by the rapid growth of e-commerce across the globe.” I want to see this happen before we talk about the rest of Africa.

  • What are your thoughts on Masoko’s planned expansion?
  • Do you use Masoko?
  • Do you believe Safaricom is doing everything well?
  • Should Masoko.com should be data-free while on the Safaricom network?

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