Informal traders utilise digital platforms

Operations of informal traders have remained closed since the national lockdown to combat Covid-19 started on March 30.

To get round the challenge the traders have resorted to digital platforms in order to sell their products to be able to earn an income.

They are using mainly WhatsApp as a platform to market their products and services and to get in touch with their clients. Some traders who have utilised this platform include barbers, hairdressers, vendors, tailors and boutique owners among others.

Barbers and hairdressers in Gwanda said they have been utilising WhatsApp to secure bookings and advertise their services. The President recently extended the lockdown by a two-week period which ends on Sunday.

A barber from the town, Mr Philisani Nkomo said using digital platforms to market his business had helped him raise some cash during this difficult time.

“I have been a barber for 11 years and this has been my main source of income for these years. With the prevailing lockdown things have been tough for me as we were ordered to close our barber shops. For the first few days of the lockdown I was just seated at home until some of my customers started calling me on my cellphone asking if they could get haircuts.

“I then decided to collect my equipment from the barbershop and took it home which is where I’m now operating from. I have been making follow ups with my clients whose contacts I have checking if they need haircuts. I normally communicate with them on WhatsApp, when I find a client who needs my services I go to their house or they come to mine. I have also used WhatsApp to advertise my services. I advertise my services through my WhatsApp status and I also send to my contacts. In this process I advise my clients that I also do house calls. I have secured a number of bookings from clients that will be responding to my adverts on WhatsApp,” he said.

Mr Nkomo said the business he was recording now was a bit lower compared to when he was operating from his more strategically-located shop. However, he said this was better than not working at all during the lockdown.

Mr Nkomo said he was sanitising his clients as they came into his house and he was emphasising that they put on masks in order to be attended to.

Ms Monica Moyo who is a hairdresser in Gwanda said she had turned her home into her work station during the lockdown. She said two weeks after the lockdown started she realised that she had to improvise in order to fend for her family.

Ms Moyo said she started making follow-ups on her clients using WhatsApp and got a number of positive responses. She said she went on to place adverts on that platform, inviting her customers to make bookings.

“After realising that the lockdown will drag on for too long which would cost me money I decided to collect some of my equipment from my shop and placed it at my home and I started to hunt for clients. I first made follow ups on my clients and I went on to advertise my services on WhatsApp. I managed to get a number of positive responses though it wasn’t a great response since most ladies were not doing their hair as they were not going to work.

“Despite these challenges I had no other option but to soldier on as being a hairdresser is my source of income. This past week I started recording an increase in my clientele as most companies and institutions have resumed operations as the President announced that we were now at level two of the lockdown. Now that some ladies have started going back to work they are coming to me for their hairdos,” she said.

A local tailor, Ms Nqobile Dube said she was producing reusable face masks and using WhatsApp to market them.

Tailors have taken advantage of the law by Government for everyone to wear face masks to produce reusable face masks in order to raise income.

Ms Dube said customers were responding and placing their orders and after she was done they visit her home to collect.

She said she was however observing the rules to curb the spread of Covid-19 while conducting her operations as she was sanitising her customers and urging them to wear masks when visiting her home.

“I have a family and I’m aware that I shouldn’t compromise their health and mine in pursuit of making money. I sanitise my clients as they visit my home and I don’t attend to anyone who doesn’t have a mask on,” she said.

Ms Dube said she relied on her work as a tailor to earn a living and with the prevailing lockdown it was difficult for her to fend for her children as she is a single mother.

Businesses have been urged to embrace Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to trade during the Covid-19-enforced restrictions.

In an interview Ministry of Industry and Commerce Matabeleland South provincial deputy director, Mr Richmond Ncube said companies had to be innovative and also identify potential markets. Mr Ncube said these measures were necessary for both small and big businesses as Covid-19 had brought negative impact on the entire business community.

He said businesses however had to ensure that their measures were in line with the Statutory Instrument 99 of 2020 order number five which talks about the testing and sanitisation of workers and even ensuring the working environment is conducive.

“It’s not going to be business as usual in the current scenario and even after Covid-19, businesses will never be the same. It therefore means that businesses should think outside the box and think of other ways to survive.

“Any business that will survive out of this pandemic is supposed to look beyond the traditional means of transacting.

“In other words they must embrace electronic platforms where they can market, define their products and come up with appropriate pricing models that will attract the consumers.

“Most of the consumers at the moment don’t have money and any business intending to succeed will have to come with proper pricing models and proper quality considerations that will ensure their customer base is maintained or even increased,” he said.

Mr Ncube said a number of businesses had started using digital platforms to advertise their products while some have gone on to give certain incentives to their customers as a way of luring them. He said high cost of data was however hindering businesses especially emerging ones from fully utilising digital platforms.

Mr Ncube said this strategy was especially difficult for businesses in the rural areas, especially in remote areas that did not have access to local networks.

A business analyst based in Gwanda and former Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Matabeleland South vice- president, Mr Nqobizitha Sibanda said while Covid-19 had brought with it challenges, businesses had to explore opportunities which exist at the moment.

“SMEs should utilise ICTs to expand their businesses. Phones are a powerful tool to grow businesses but they are being underutilised.

“There is need for training of business people in a bid to empower them on how to use technology for the growth of the businesses.

“We have to move away from traditional way of doing business where they have to operate in their business premises to a level where business can be done from the comfort of your home.

“In this era there is no need to drive from place to place soliciting or marketing products as we need to ensure that we provide online services, do marketing online and get orders online and only go out to deliver.

“In some countries people do not need to go to the shops as they can buy their groceries online and get them delivered. This is the direction we need to take. As a country we need to realise that we are far behind when it comes to the technological revolution,” said Mr Sibanda.

He added: “We need to be in a position to navigate our phones so they can give us money. Some companies have gone under as they did not want to embrace change. These strategies will help us grow our businesses.

“There is a farmer who is selling her chickens online and delivering them to her customers. She is not waiting for her shop to open in order to make money. We have to be part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need to be innovative and come up with strategies to survive.” —

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