SME Heroes: Kenya's Biggest Online Clothing Store Driven By Social Media [Ventures Africa]
(Ventures Africa Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) VENTURES AFRICA – Online retailing is rapidly taking preeminence over traditional marketplaces owing largely to a fledging ICT space an explosive adoption rate of Smartphones in Africa. One of such is Closet 49.
Closet49 is one of the leading online clothing stores in Kenya created by two friends; Sera Kanyua and Irene Abagi who had no prior knowledge of e-commerce. However, in September 2012, Closet49 received initial funding, its first, from an accelerator fund 88mph (WMAfrica 2011).
Its swift rise to prominence was however not driven by conventional marketing, they both relied heavily on social media, a cheaper and mobile platform. Since inception, Closet 49 has attracted over 24,000 likes on Facebook alone.
Why did you launch Closet49 and what has been the progress since you launched?
Closet 49 was launched to get accessible, fashionable and affordable clothing items. We started Closet49 having discovered a lack of trendy, affordable, accessible fashion items online. We believe looking good does not mean spending too much money or spending time going from store to store or hunting through piles of clothes.
Serah Kanyua (left)and Irene Abagi, founders of Closet49.
How will you describe what you do and what does your work entail?
Closet49.com is accessible 24 hours for viewing and ordering of clothes and accessories. In addition, we use the social media to promote and sell. Facebook is our largest platform with over 24,000 likes and we are actively updating, selling and answering customer questions and problems through this platform. We are also on twitter and Instagram.
Each week we send an email and text with the latest items, sales and affordable bargains from other people's closets.
Closet49 only handles a small part inventory at additional cost to the customer. We mainly manage delivery and pickup logistics. Deliveries are done on selected days and same day delivery attracts extra cost. We also have a drop off and pick up point within the city.
How does an online clothing store like yours function and why e-commerce?
We looked at the cost savings of buying online both for us and the consumer. Additionally as Kenyans became more accessible to internet, we were able to access a wider customer base, especially those between the ages of 18-30 who are open to online buying.
Additionally, with over 4 million people on Facebook in Kenya this represents a ready market that are willing to interact with your product and give your products positive word of mouth referrals that can even be more effective than the more traditional ways of marketing.
Running an online business helps curb costs such as renting an office space
Is it more expensive to manage an online clothing store than a conventional shop?
It's definitely more affordable!
What you simply need is an idea, identify how you shall source for products, get a domain, sign up for social media and create a strategy to attract customers. As long as your products meet the quality requirements, you are efficient, consistent to your customers and establish logistics operations, you will slowly build a reputation and base of loyal customers.
Also, you avoid the high cost of rental premises, especially payment of Goodwill, which a typical physical shop incurs. Tiny spaces in the CBD that can fit only 4 people can pay goodwill of Ksh 100,000 to 500,000 depending on location and when you think of High end Malls in Kenya that figure is in the millions. This is not cost friendly for up and coming youth.
How do you balance work and social life?
It is not as stressful and the great thing of having an online fashion market place is going out and being able to sell your business from how you are dressed.
How profitable is this form of business especially in a place like Kenya?
Huge opportunities, as with the right product, at the right price and good service, you attract customers who are more than happy to have the convenience of ordering online. This will save customers, hours of traffic to shop, both on fuel and time opportunity cost.
Online shopping is also catching on. It's faster, cheaper and due to huge traffic problems, this is becoming a very viable option especially as internet penetration has grown immensely and gets cheaper. This is where companies like ours are betting heavily on and are seeing a terrific response.
What do you consider the Unique Selling Point (USP) of your business?
We are majorly focused on the fashion marketplace, unlike other competitors. The fashion marketplace is our major support business enabling women to sell brand new, gently worn, or vintage clothing and accessories directly from their closets, and using the money they make for a great find from someone else's closet, a peer-peer style process referred to as "Trading". Consumers can enjoy the convenience of sifting through multiple closets anytime from the convenience of their phones or computers and using one simple checkout.
Will you consider Closet49 a successful business?
Yes, we are steadily growing and increasing revenue.
Closet49 has successfully carved a niche in an increasingly competitive e-commerce environment
Any plans for an expansion programme?
Yes, we are looking to expand as we have a lot more to bring to this online fashion market and are simply meeting with interested investors.
What are the challenges you have faced launching this kind of business?
The normal start up challenges of capacity building, working around the lack of a fully developed delivery logistics system in Kenya, and changing the mentality to shopping online as a more cost effective and convenient mode of transaction.
What tough lesson(s) have you learnt in this line of business?
Online business requires a lot of persistence and consistency to win over customers due to initial reluctance to transact online. Additionally educating customers on how to pick clothes that can fit them, as most customers do not know their sizes. Working through logistic problems with customers .Once you create a good reputation, this opens doors for more customers and referrals.
Can you share your "two-cent" worth of advice to other budding retailers?
Work through the challenges as there will be highs and lows.
Always listen to your customers to adapt your business s they tell you a lot on what you feature and you can tell if you are over or under pricing.
Monitoring the market trends to ensure you are always up to date and do not get left behind as this can lead to losses.
Having mentors and support system to work through it and help you where you are unable or simply need to brainstorm and get advice. Always being hungry and innovative to improve your business, if in doubt of a certain strategy, implement a small portion and monitor results.
What does the future hold for Closet49?
We believe, there is a lot more we can contribute to this online fashion space and are currently working on a few projects to make our marketplace more efficient, fun and fashion affordable.
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