| Online traders in Uganda risk losing the market or even discourage online shopping all together over persistent failure to fulfill the expectations of the online customers, according to trade and digital innovation experts.
The growth of online business has picked up pace during the lockdown as more people sought to access goods and services amidst transport restrictions and the digital-based companies found an opportunity to earn more by delivering at the door. Players range from individual traders to national and multinational companies like Jumia.
The range of goods is highly varied from household items, footwear and clothing, electronics to food, and the sources can either be local or foreign. They display an equivalent of the shop window or a showcase on online platforms like Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook while others do direct marketing via the target customer’s email address.
However, the bigger and more established online shops have websites and can advertise on bigger platforms like news magazines among others. While many small traders will display their merchandises with price tags, others only tell the price when a prospective customer asks about it.
For larger ones like Jumia, they will even tell you the value of the product and the other costs involved including the taxes and transportation or shipping if it is to be imported. The customer will also be informed of the time it will take before delivery after agreeing on where it should be delivered. This nature of transaction means that in most cases, the buyer will order without being exactly sure of the product specification like quality, size and type of fabric among others.
Michael Niyitegeka, programs director Refactory, Clarke International University says online business is a good idea to the economy, but is threatened if the players do not create and retain trust of the market.
Unfortunately, there is so far no explicit law to curb such mishaps as the offender claims that the deal was reached to deliver what was agreed, even involving an online inspection. The director of technical services at the National Information and Technology Authority, Vivian Ddambya advises the online traders to mind what the market thinks about them because then, they will have a good image. This comes as experts try to prevent digital based companies from collapsing especially under crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic which has created missed fortunes for the innovators and users of online shopping technology.
Japheth Kawanguzi, commonly known as CK Japheth, the founder of The Innovation Village says many digital companies collapsed during to the lockdown but others thrived, while many new ones were created and are growing. He says innovators have to know what suits the environment before investing their time and money into it.
It is difficult to tell how many online shoppers are in Uganda since thousands of them are unregistered and do not have offices which also makes it almost impossible to regulate them.
This means even the payment of government taxes is limited to customs duties.
But Uganda Revenue Authority recognizes the importance of the online shops which have been an important part of creating or sustaining the bridge between the local industries and consumers on one side and the countries from which Uganda imports.
Milly Nalukwago, the Assistant Commissioner for Research says without this window, many local activities would have suffered during the lockdown especially for SMEs.