By Muthoga Kioni (Published in the EAStandard 16th July 2008)
Shopping is supposed to be a pleasant experience. Hardcore shoppers maintain that it is therapeutic and contributes to their emotional and physical well-being. This is debatable.
There is however no denying that the thought of going to buy something you have been craving for (or need), has a thrill to it. This also includes the mundane household shopping.
Research claims that we get a ‘high’ when we see new and thrilling products. How many times have you walked through Nakumatt’s floors admiring items that you cannot afford?
Millions of shillings have been invested by our supermarket chains to enhance our ‘highs’ and thereby ensure we spend more time on the shop floor. The dynamics of physical shopping means that it will be with us for a long time to come.
Our shopping experience is, however, primed to be digitized when our local ICT infrastructure finally attains decent penetration in 2009. We will discover convenient shopping. Instead of pushing, shoving and waiting in supermarket queues at the end of an office day, we shall realize that the online Uchumi or Nakumatt can serve us faster and minus the sweaty stress.
It will be easier to tick off the items we need from the comfort of our offices and have them delivered home. We shall also be able to compare prices with comparative ease. How much is my favourite bar of soap in Uchumi, Nakumatt or Tuskys? It’s just a click away.
We already have accomplished Kenyan virtual online stores. Mama Mike’s is a famous and reputable online shop that caters for Kenyans and Ugandans who are located abroad. It allows them to purchase gifts, vouchers, and services for their family and friends based at home. This proves that online shopping will thrive once the infrastructure is in place.
Although shopping by computer (or mobile phone) will become a habit, it will unfortunately be particularly unsafe for the unwary Kenyan shopper. Avoiding the numerous online shopping minefields will require considerable technological dexterity.
To ensure we can shop unscathed, we need to adopt several measures. The first one is shopping from online stores that you know or are recommended by a friend.
The first time shopping experience in a new shop is usually filled with apprehension. Various doubts swamp your mind, namely on the quality of the products and pricing. In a virtual shop the products are not tangible. So apart from not been able to ascertain whether what you are buying is of dubious quality, you are also not sure whether the goods will be sent to you. So buy from sites that you know.
Another fundamental of online shopping is to be extra vigilant when you give out your credit card information. It is sometimes tempting to go for that bargain from an unknown web site. Apart from making sure it is a trustworthy site, you should ensure that the site and payment process are certified by a known web authority for example the BBB (Better Business Bureau). There is need for a Kenyan version of this organization that will act as a mutually trusted entity between online shoppers and businesses. Its main function would be to act as a stamp of approval for Kenyan online shops. Virtual stores that you can safely transact with.
The prudent online shopper also needs to watch out for phishing. This scam involves the sending of an email that falsely claims to be from an established legitimate company. The objective is to scam the recipient into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. You could for instance receive a “marketing” email from a well known “brick and mortar” supermarket that invites you to update your personal information in your discount card. The web site you are directed to looks like the legitimate one but is actually bogus. If, for instance, the bogus email directed you to Uchumi, and your address bar reads www.uchuami.biz/uchumi, you can be sure that you are in the wrong website. So it makes sense to counter check that address bar.
On a whole good old fashioned sensible buying will save you considerable heart-ache. It is also advisable to keep both anti-virus and anti-spyware current on you computer. Back-up your data regularly and if possible use a dedicated debit/credit card, with a modest balance, for online shopping.