Enter the “micro-e-entrepreneurs”
Naseema Adams has had enough. She has decided to close her women’s clothing store after four years.
“The rentals and operating costs are insane. It’s just not worth it any more,” she says. Adams has decided to become part of a global movement that is taking the world by storm: she is joining the ranks of what I call the “micro-e-entrepreneurs”.
These are people from all walks of life, from college students to housewives, bakers, teachers and artists, who sell their products online using a multitude of different platforms to market and sell their wares.
Some set up fully-fledged online stores complete with payment gateways, using services like Shopify, which allows anyone to set up a store within minutes. Others go more basic: they simply post pictures on social media and get by without checkout pages or payment gateways. Customers just place orders by direct messaging.
Payment is made via electronic funds transfer (EFT) or eWallet, and the products are shipped via postal services. Still others use nothing more than WhatsApp to market their wares. To order, clients simply send a direct WhatsApp message, and then the process begins.
These are people who, like Adams, have realised the power of technology, in particular the social networks, in getting their products to a potentially global market. More importantly, they have realised just how easy and cheap it is to get started.
Over the years Adams began to post pictures, descriptions and prices of her products on Instagram and Facebook under her handle, @modesty_on_crescent. In time, she began to build up a fairly large following, mostly from Durban, where she operates. “I immediately realised two things: first, there was a huge market out there in the world, and second, the vast majority of these people could not come to my store because they were from all over the world,” she says.
At the same time, fewer and fewer people came to her physical store, and her turnover took a dive. That, along with the soaring costs of running a physical store, prompted Adams to take action. She decided to go fully online and take advantage of the massive e-commerce market.
Her business model is simple: she goes to suppliers, chooses items she feels will sell, takes photos of those items and posts them, along with brief descriptions and prices, to her Instagram account.
She then uses the digital marketing skills she gained from the workshops and training courses she attended to promote her posts.
Customers order via the direct messaging feature built into Instagram, make payment, and receive their goods within a couple of days. Things are already starting to take off. More and more people are taking notice of her Instagram posts with the attractive images and low prices, and sharing them with their friends and networks.
Sales numbers are growing steadily, and it’s safe to say that her business is on its way.
Adams believes it is her strong focus on service that has been the secret.
“South Africans are still a bit suspicious about buying things online. But by focusing on service, we make them comfortable.”
Global e-commerce is growing at a remarkable 18% a year, with online sales in South Africa going mainstream with an amazing R14billion in revenue in 2018.
With numbers like that, it is not hard to see that there are certainly a lot of opportunities out there.
Adams may or may not know it, but she is part of a global retail revolution that Alibaba Group’s founder, Jack Ma, refers to as “new retail”, where everything imaginable will be sold online by enterprising entrepreneurs who have a strong focus on customer service.
“New retail” may be one of the fundamental causes of the “retail apocalypse” affecting so many traditional retailers, but on the other hand, it is also creating countless new opportunities for micro-entrepreneurs.
Never before has it been so simple for anyone to start a business: all you need is a cellphone, some data and a great idea, and you are in business. And the potential for growth is unlimited.
After all, when a young man by the name of Jeff Bezos decided to start a little website selling books from his garage in 1994, I don’t think he could have imagined his company would grow to become the trillion- dollar global online retail giant, Amazon.