Kenyan Classifieds Underdog Pigiame Bets on Quality and Safety in Battle for Customers

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E-commerce has been one of the fastest growing sub-sectors in Kenya and it continues to attract different players in this space. From those providing online classifieds to online retailers and even auction sites, this is a space with immense potential. Noting the importance, the Communications Authority of Kenya has been quick to issue guidelines on the same particularly on payments and delivery side of things.

One of the most visible players in this space has been PigiaMe, an online classifieds company which launched in Kenya in 2011. Pigiame has been part of Ringier Africa that also owns Zoom Tanzania. Ringer Africa will soon be merging operations with One Africa Media that owns Cheki, Buy Rent Kenya, Brighter Monday and others. There should be exciting opportunities for Pigiame going forward.

We recently had a sit down with Francois De Chalendar, Head of Classifieds at PigiaMe where we talked about the company and how they want to ensure small businesses and entrepreneurs across the country get more visibility online. “PigiaMe has been in Kenya for a while now and we have been focusing on giving merchants and buyers a great platform with security at our core,” he says. “At the same time, we have been working to give small businesses visibility online, which is what we are good at as a company and so far we are excited about what we have been able to achieve,” says Francois.

PigiaMe as a platform allows merchants, entrepreneurs, and anyone to sell their products for free via the platform. “We have two kinds of users on our platform: the buyers and the merchants. We ensure the merchants gets leads on their goods while we also ensure that the buyer quickly and effectively gets to see what they are looking for,” he says. “We want to make it easy for anyone who informally forms their business today to be visible tomorrow in search engines and sell their goods to as many people as possible,” he added.

According to Francois, uniqueness, quality and safety are the three tenets of PigiaMe. As far as uniqueness, PigiaMe wants to offer entrepreneurs and small business unique solutions such as online shops within their website, where they can sell their goods. These dedicated micro-sites allow the business or entrepreneurs to share information about themselves, their products and even contact information, making it easy for interested customers to get in touch with them. “A small business owner wants to make a sale and our platform has the unique ability to generate leads for them. This is something we take pride in,” says Francois.

Quality has been emphasized as one of the focal points of PigiaMe through which the company has sought to improve the authenticity of the listings. The company has for instances instituted reviews of all ads using tech and human checks to weed out duplicates or false ads. They also ensure they deal with wrong categories to ensure each product gets posted correctly. Misplaced words, spellings and descriptions should also meet a certain threshold of quality to be listed on PigiaMe. The checks also ensure the pricing of the goods is right meaning customers only interact with products that match the site’s standards.

On security, PigiaMe has been working to reduce the cases of fraud on the platform entirely. “We receive around 5 cases of fraud on the site every month”, says Francois “Our job is to ensure that there is totally no fraud on PigiaMe but when that happens, we have taken critical measures to prevent buyers and merchants alike from losing,” he says. PigiaMe has been engaging with law enforcement officials to deal with these cases by ensuring they get reported and followed up. “To scale, especially in this segment a business needs to build their safety fully and the police have been important in helping us deal with these fraud cases,” he added.

PigiaMe is also taking other critical measures to combat fraud which includes offering some its vendors the verified seller badge. The company selects a few of its top customers who for a fee get a verification badge, meaning they are more trustworthy to the company’s customers. “The verified badges have been very important in inspiring buyer confidence as to be enlisted, one has to offer documents including the KRA pin and must have been involved with PigiaMe for quite a while,” says Francois. Stress tests have also been important, where the staff at the firm conducts mystery shopper tests by calling some of its listed merchants to verify if they are indeed true and offer the services they list. Often, the untruthful ones bolt off the platform or get nabbed and are kicked off altogether.

Monetization forms an important component of the whole E-commerce ecosystem, especially in the classified space. Olx, one of the largest players in the space has been running advertisements across various platforms which aroused the curiosity as to how exactly the platform makes it money. For classifieds, the profits and returns may not be immediate but the runs could be huge in the long-term. We posed the same question to Francois, on how and when PigiaMe will begin to make a return on its investment. “We have very interesting and understanding investors who see the long-term play in the idea and are not in any way seeking short-term returns but see the long-term view of things,” he says.

PigiaMe has been making strides in its monetization efforts which include a new feature that allows merchants to elevate their listings. For a fee, a merchant can have their product rank on the first page of a product for a limited period of time. The merchants can also sponsor a category within the site for a period and this gives them more visibility. This model is well supported by the search results within the site which favour the most recent entries at the top.

Going forward, PigiaMe will concentrate on both online and offline to monetize. Its online efforts will include the launch of a revamped site towards the end of the year, which will give merchants more advantage in terms visibility. “If a small a merchant sells say Powerbanks and they open a page on PigiaMe called The PowerBank guy Kenya, their address will be Pigiame.com/PowerBankGuy Kenya. This makes it easy for them to be seen even in search results,” says Francois.

An interesting thing about the Kenyan market has been the fact that people use eCommerce for search, get to view products and then they want to walk into a physical store and make the purchase themselves. PigiaMe wants to take advantage of this by ensuring they brand their merchants offline to let users know that this business has an online presence. “We are also looking towards creating localized campaigns to basically tell users in a specific place, that this business within your location is on PigiaMe. So go do your search online and make your purchase here,” says Francois. “I believe harnessing the power of online discovery and then converting the same into leads for businesses is real value creation and this is what PigiaMe is good at,” he added.

Social Media has slowly become an influential part of eCommerce. Google launched collections, which is a Pinterest type of feature that allows users to view goods and services in various categories and then make purchases. Facebook groups have also emerged as powerful tools to sell online especially in Africa. Does PigiaMe see this as a threat? “For us, Social Media has been a key driver of growth in our business,” says Francois. “We run one of the largest Facebook groups in Kenya where people buy and sell things.  It also serves as an important indicator of trends and what people want,” he says.

Francois says even with the massive numbers, social media lacks several core features that classifieds have including search and categories, which makes it easy for one to view what they want. Social media has a shorter lifespan as everyone is trying to post and sell at the same time, which makes it difficult to actually view products. “Social media is also hard to scale for a small business owner or an entrepreneur”, he adds.  PigiaMe has been quick to marry its site and social media, where they run regular ads on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. “A person may view something on social media and then next point of landing to get more information on the same will be on our website. This is a win for us and has been important for us as a firm,” he adds.

Going forward, PigiaMe wants to be the platform where a small business or an entrepreneur seeking to grow or scale their business thinks about. The firm is working to deploy analytics using the data from the site, which it will offer them to identify where they are doing great and which core areas they need to improve on. The analytics will be offered every 10 days as an added knowledge transfer service to help them grow better. “We are just getting started and there is a lot of exciting things not just for merchants but also for buyers.”

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