START-UP GIVES COAST ITS FIRST ONLINE SHOP IN KENYA

Digital Content

As more people turn to the Internet to transact business, the upsurge in online shops has spread to the Kenya’s Coast. Pwanitech, a company based in Mombasa, has launched onlinebiashara.com, an Internet marketing web site.

Besides listing company contacts and physical address, the site also provides a town guide complete with maps, safety tips for travellers as well as police, hospital and ambulance hotlines. There is a host of information about where to stay, travel directions and a shopping guide complete with location of outlets and prices of various items and hours of operation.

"We have listed major companies in Mombasa so that those who log onto the site are able to get these contracts," says Juma Mitsumi, 26, an IT specialist and co-director at Pwanitech. He explains that the web site has a bias for tourists because Mombasa is the country's tourism hub.

"To find their way around town, tourists will only need to check into a cyber café, log onto the web site and print out the map of the town. They may not have had a chance to obtain the maps and other vital information at the time of departure and this is what we are taking care of," says Mr Hassan Sumba, the site's marketing executive.

Going by the excitement shown by the business community and local leaders who attended the launch on April 7, the service is likely to be a hit Mombasa. The choice of the historic Fort Jesus for the launch could not have been more apt. In fact, onlinebiashara.com is the first e-commerce web site at the coast.

The launch was attended by Heritage minister and Likoni MP Mr Suleiman Shakombo, who was chief guest, and Changamwe MP Ramadhan Kajembe. The tourism industry was represented by Mrs Saada Khamis, the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHC) Coast executive officer and Mr Zul Harunani, Kenya Hotel and Restaurants Association chairman. They all pledged to support business.

"The web site will go along way to market tourism products and we commend these young men for their efforts," Mr Shakombo said, pledging that his ministry would use it to market historical sites. "We believe that the web site will go a long way to cater to the needs of modern day tourism," Mrs Khamis said.

According to Mr Mitsumi, who designed the web site, onlinebiashara.com will initially deal with marketing and advertising before expanding to buying and selling section. It has been in operation for the one month.

Pwanitech started as a networking and hardware maintenance company, and later turned into a web designer and software developer. Some of their clients include Datoo Kithiki, a land company, Czar Motors, Ruth Crafts, Smart Force Traders, which deals in car accessories, and Ketty Tours among others.

And with this stable of clients, the company's director, Mr Mabarak Salim, is optimistic that selling will commence soon. "Our sales people are in the field recruiting companies and since the annual fee of Sh500 is quite low, we are talking of having all businesses around here being listed. The web site is also expected to charge for advertising."

"We want the Coast to be at par with the rest of the county," Mr Salim says, pointing out that it was time the region discovered its potential while exploiting opportunities in tourism.

Indeed, according to Mr Sumba, it wasn't easy convincing Coast business people to be listed, let alone pay for advertising. "Most people have not embraced information technology and do not even appreciate the power of the Internet in business," he says.

Seeing the site live after six months of labour is one thing, but maintaining it to appealing standards is quite another. "The site has an appealing interface and a user-friendly menu and we intend to keep improving it in terms of appearance and content," he says. On tourism, he plans to work with writers who will provide features for inclusion on the site.

Despite the challenges, there is hope - the numerous comments he has received since the shop went live. The site has attracted over 22,000 visitors in a span of only a month, which is "quite overwhelming. I think we are headed somewhere," Mr Mitsumi says.

"This is an excellent web site where one can get everything concerning the coast," one of the visitors commented, writing from Nairobi, "and you have linked us with Mombasa. I was able to get all the contacts I needed."

Which brings Mr Mitsumi to the next level: online selling. "We are also aware of the challenges especially with regard to selling and buying online and we are prepared for that." he said. "We will liaise with other partners who offer credit to make the shop a reality."

The Nation