Almost every month, Kigali resident Yves Ishimwe would order products from China, usually electronics but also lady's handbags. The 23-year-old graphics designer started doing this in 2019 after a friend recommended him a cross-border online shopping platform, KiKUU.
Headquartered in east China's Hangzhou, KiKUU focuses on cross-border e-commerce in Africa. Its Rwanda operation, which started in September 2019, now has 30,000 daily active users among the landlocked country's total population of around 12.3 million.
The platform, with both a web version and mobile app versions, gives Ishimwe a sense of comfort when he shops from overseas, because it facilitates delivery of reliable products from China to his home, in Nyarugenge district, "very fast" and for much less than shopping in local markets.
KiKUU offers him hundreds of thousands of products so that he didn't have to choose from a few available ones sold at local shops that may not suit his taste, Ishimwe said.
Edson Mucyo, also a resident of the Rwandan capital, concurred.
Convenience, fast delivery, more affordable prices and much wider choices are what attracted him to shop with KiKUU, the 22-year-old student said.
E-commerce has been booming in Rwanda in recent years, with many startups venturing into the market, but they mainly sell products that can be found domestically.
While Rwandans can purchase overseas products on a number of foreign platforms, they say slow delivery, absence of local branches, and high shipping fees are among problems marring the shopping experience. They also want better safety and reliability.
LOCAL, PHYSICAL PRESENCE
KiKUU is seen as doing a better job in addressing those issues. Its logistics team usually delivers products from China to a location designated by the customer within 15 days. For some hot-selling items, Rwandans can even get them within days after they place the order, as KiKUU has its own warehouse in the central African country.
With a local branch in Rwanda, KiKUU offers after-sales services, which enables exchange and return of goods that have been sold. It also has physical stores for Rwandans to experience its online services on site.
"KiKUU is growing fast in Rwanda mainly because, comparing with local shops, it provides customers with more options and gives them better price for products of the same quality. In addition, young people who like fashion can find more fashionable products on KiKUU," said Tim Wu, who heads KiKUU operations in Rwanda.
According to Wu, Rwandans' rising acceptance and the government's staunch support mean great potential for online cross-border shopping in the country.
"Given that Rwanda is a landlocked country, online cross-border trade is building new opportunities for Rwandans to sell beyond borders as well as to shop beyond borders," Alex Ntale, ICT chamber CEO of the Rwandan Private Sector Federation, told Xinhua, noting that digital platforms remove barriers created by borders, whereby people can buy what they need from anywhere and sell to anywhere around the world.
However, he said, online shopping in Rwanda still faces challenges in building trust and growing customer base as the emerging sector takes on traditional brick-and-mortar businesses.
The ICT chamber, working with the government, the private sector, and development partners, has taken steps to include more small and medium-sized enterprises and micro businesses to enhance trust in and boost awareness of cashless economy, especially in line with the national development agenda, Ntale said.
Online shopping in Rwanda "is bound to grow," he said.