Disruptive e-commerce venture in Zambia: Meet 360 Deals

According to a report conducted by HootSuite, 435 million Africans use the internet today. This has accelerated the rise of e-commerce websites across Africa to cater for the ever-growing need to access products conveniently. Zambia’s Mweshi Chilima and David Maina realised the power of e-commerce during one of their travel expeditions and this steered them to start their own online shopping business, 360 Deals. Both having not ran a business before, Mweshi narrates to us their challenges in setting up the business, achievements and future.

Mweshi Maina- Co-Founder of 360 Deals

Background of 360 Deals
It is quite easy to pick up Mweshi’s passion for her e-commerce business right from the onset of the interview. She doesn’t withhold her deep conviction of 360 Deals spreading its wings across Zambia and other African countries. Just to shed light, 360 Deals is a daily deal e-commerce site. What this means is that it is an aggregate online market platform that links merchants and customers. Mweshi’s preference to use the term “360” is inspired by her desire to give the customer a holistic experience on their platform.

The concept of an e-commerce platform was birthed when Mweshi and her husband realised that in Zambia, people relied on third parties to purchase online. This contradicted their prior experience in different countries they had travelled to where they had access to online shopping and prompt delivery.

They understood that addressing this gap would not only cater to many other Zambians in the same dilemma but also create a sustainable source of income for them. The idea of an e-commerce website was satisfactory to them since it helped cut on warehouse cost they would have incurred in case they opted to set up a physical shop only. They registered the business in December 2015 and spent most part of 2016 deeply involved in market research, validating business viability, compliance procedures research and website design essentials.

Who are your customers?
360 Deals is mainly involved in selling baby, beauty & wellness and travel range of products. Besides this, they also sell house & home and electronics products on a smaller scale. Their target market is comprised of two sets of customer profiles, that is, B2B and B2C. They believe that their favourable prices, high quality products, convenience and time saving offering of their business keeps their customers loyal to them.  Currently, they reach their customers through digital marketing, word of mouth and in malls or locations that attract a lot of human traffic.

Why is your business unique?
Mweshi’s strongest skill which she transferred into the business is customer service. “Customer service is embedded in everything in our business process,” she stated. As a business, they maintain high customer service skills by taking the time to walk customers through the entire purchasing process. Mweshi ensures that her whole team understands the importance of this skill by constantly monitoring the process, training the staff on trends and providing incentives to the best performing team member. Aside from customer service, 360 Deals is a hybrid e-commerce platform that operates both offline and online. Being a new concept to Zambians, they set up a physical office in Lusaka for their offline customers who preferred viewing and paying for the products in cash at a physical location.

Exciting experience in building and growing the business
360 Deals, like any other growing business celebrates several milestones they have made along their journey. One of the most exciting experiences for Mweshi was the first time they made a sale through their website and delivered the product. She was also keen to highlight that signing their first deal with a merchant whose products were featured on their platform was a thrilling experience. Mweshi was keen to applaud her team for joining her to steer a business that’s unfamiliar to most Zambians.

How they financed their business
The initial capital injected into the business came from personal savings and a bank loan. Mweshi’s advice to entrepreneurs when it comes to financing the business is; validate the business, get advice from financial experts and get into an acceleration programme that will help them access finance. She added that since sometimes accessing loans can be difficult for startups, they can engage angel investors. However, with the rising of mobile lending apps like Zambia’s Versara, it is getting easier for entrepreneurs to access loans. Read Versara’s story here

Strategic changes the business has undergone
One of the major strategic changes for 360 deals was incorporating an offline strategy for their customers who didn’t want to purchase online. They came to the realisation that most potential customers would select an item, add it to the cart but never purchase. They collected feedback and observed that some people preferred going to a physical to make the purchase. They needed a bigger office space for this. In 2018, the business got into Zambia’s first GrowthAfrica Acceleration Programme to help in scaling – another strategic change.

Challenges faced and solutions
The current biggest challenge for 360 Deals is maintaining operating cashflow since they lack access to funding. To address the challenge of cost incurred to hire talent, Mweshi and her Co-founder engaged in learning and training courses where they gained skills and knowledge in IT and Digital Marketing.

Looking at the e-commerce industry in Zambia, she mentioned that the most pressing challenge is the high cost of internet data and its unavailability in the outskirts of Lusaka.

Interesting experience of impact
“An Australian company came into Zambia with the intention of selling baby products. Despite having great products, after two years of testing different avenues to sell, they still couldn’t boost their sales.” Mweshi stated. 360 Deals had just set up their online platform when they ran into this company and after convincing them to come on board as their first client, they agreed to give them some of their products to sell. Within the first week, these first batch of products was sold out and what followed was a fruitful business relationship that even saw the Australian company close the physical shop since online sales were performing better.

Advice and future direction of the business
Her advice to entrepreneurs is that they should stick to the vision, be determined and surround themselves with like-minded people.

Mweshi intends to extend her business’ geographic footprint in Malawi. “Mozambique and Botswana are also potential countries we shall be expanding to in future,” she stated.

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