Social media is no longer simply an online platform used to keep in contact with one’s friends and family.
Many African entrepreneurs are now using social media as an outlet to expand their consumer bases.
Instagram alone has 500 million daily users, which is larger than the population of the United States. The photo and video-sharing social network allows international audiences to find African fashion retailers.
Similarly, the instant messaging app WhatsApp is the most popular messenger in Africa. WhatsApp is popular for its cross-platform messaging, and it is also a very convenient way for consumers to reach e-commerce businesses.
Social media encourages customer engagement, builds trust, and creates an expansive marketplace for business.
Akhona Shuman-Cakata lives in a small town in the Eastern Cape and owns a successful vintage boutique thanks to social media.
Shuman-Cakata initially advertised her business on Facebook. From there, she garnered a large cross-platform social media following.
She utilizes Instagram as a window to showcase her pieces to a broader market. She not only sells her products within her small community, but she has sales coming in from South Africa’s biggest cities as well.
Akhona also uses WhatsApp as a way to facilitate “virtual fittings” and transfer of payments.
Finding Your Demographic
England native Davina Ebikeme is an up-and-coming fashion designer who has roots in both London and Lagos.
She has a seasonal pop-up for her boutique “Ebi’s” each Saturday in July in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood.
Ebikeme’s favorite social network to use for business is Instagram, because it allows her to reach her main demographic of young, urban Africans like herself.
Ebikeme stated: “It was important to me to represent something different, something more modern that reflected a shared experience, and to try to start having this conversation and elevating the viewpoint and preconceptions. What I’m presenting is part of that already existing wider conversation on Africa and the African diaspora.”
Online Versus Physical Shopping
Founder and creative director of “House of GDI”, Evelyn Aligba, launched her company in Lagos’ Lekki in 2017.
Her first products included one-of-a-kind sandals, sneakers, briefcases, and handbags. Her initial online marketing drew customers to her store’s physical location.
Aligba believes that African consumers feel more comfortable making transactions via WhatsApp or direct messaging because the apps allow them to gain more insight before making a purchase.
“We have serviced clients whom we have never seen thanks to the internet and who have also referred others as well, which has translated to more sales. The culture of having fun online and stumbling on a beautiful fashion item, reaching out directly on WhatsApp to negotiate or clarify the details is much stronger than intentionally going to an e-commerce website to browse through a catalog. We build our customer base into a community so it’s easy to have them back and have them refer others.”
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