Kenyans turn to e-commerce as coronavirus pandemic fears grow

The coronavirus has spread to dozens of countries across Africa within weeks, with the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that the continent should prepare for the worst. The virus has so far claimed more than 6000 lives across the globe with more cases being recorded on a daily basis.

Coronavirus has brought an economic shock in most countries, including Kenya. Schools have been closed with most organisations having their staff work from home. 

As the virus continues to spread, movement has been limited and people have now been forced to turn to e-commerce retailing.

While most stores are closing, e-commerce platforms are reporting a rise in the number of people visiting their platform to shop for household essentials. 

According to Jumia Kenya MD Sam Chappatte, most consumers are buying products such as rice, sugar and oil and sanitisers online.

“We have seen a shift in sales in the past one week. Customer consumption behaviour has changed. Apart from foodstuffs, we are recording high sales in hand sanitisers, masks and household cleaning products,” he said.

In the wake of increased online shopping, Jumia recently entered into a partnership with global health products manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser, to help consumers access hygienic products at the lowest price. The partnership will provide a steady supply of hygiene products such as soap bars, disinfectants, and liquid hand wash at affordable pricing. These products are facing a growing demand as consumers are taking hygiene precautions to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.

Jumia also announced that it had stopped the use of cash for payments with all customers now having to pay via mobile money or bank cards via JumiaPay platform.

“This is according to Central Bank of Kenya guidelines that we deter from use of cash as it has been found to be a major vector for Coronavirus infections. You can pay upfront or await delivery to make payments via mobile cashless platforms,” Sam Chappatte said. 

Jumia donated 100,000 masks to the ministry of Health, to fight the coronavirus pandemic

Concerns are however being raised on how this surge in online shopping could overwhelm logistics providers and workers. This move might require e-commerce companies to rethink their strategies for order fulfilment in order to keep up with surging demand as well as keep workers safe. 

“We are closely watching the developments and engaging the support of our logistic partners,” added Chappatte.

Jumia says it currently works with 15 retail outlets but would scale up anytime if the demand calls for. This week, the company also donated 100,000 masks to the ministry of Health, to protect the front-line heroes from the coronavirus.

Delivery firm Glovo also announced a new partnership with Naivas Supermarkets to provide free deliveries. The partnership will see Glovo offer free deliveries for orders above Ksh.1,000 from Saturday 21 March to Sunday 29 March 2020, and a flat rate delivery fee of Ksh.100 on deliveries above Ksh.1,000 from Monday 30 April to Sunday 19 April. Tuskys supermarket also entered into a similar partnership with Sendy. Customers are required to order online, pay via M-PESA and then have their goods delivered to them.

Global e-commerce companies also announced that they’re scaling up their operations. On Monday, Amazon announced it will hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers in the United States to meet the increased demand for shipment.

“Getting a priority item to your doorstep is vital as communities practice social-distancing, particularly for the elderly and others with underlying health issues. We are seeing a significant increase in demand, which means our labor needs are unprecedented for this time of year,” Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said in a blog post.

This change in consumer behaviour will provide an opportunity for the e-commerce business to thrive over the next few months.  Consumers are purchasing house-hold essentials from the comfort of their homes and have them delivered to their doorsteps, hence avoiding crowded areas.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I track and report on tech and African startups. Founder and Editor of TechTrends Media. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to

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