We’ve heard all the talk about entrepreneurship and innovation. We’ve also heard that women should take an active role in driving the economy of a nation. Now you’re going to hear about two amazing women who founded an online store called Shopzed to fulfill a necessary gap on the Zambian Market. The company was founded and is being solely operated by Cassandra Mtine and Victoria Mzumara.
Having stayed outside Zambia for over a decade, the founders identified a need to help their families with direct impact. When you are living abroad, questions such as “was the money sent used for the intended purpose? And how can I practically help my family from across the world?” are quite thematic. This conceived a passion within Cassandra and Victoria to find a viable solution rather than continue asking the same questions over and over again. Thus, Shopzed.com was born in 2008 under the Green & Beyond Corporation. Since then they have been delivering goods to families on behalf of their clients from across the world.
I met up with the power duo to ask some unconventional questions like:
What is Shopzed? It is a multi-vendor website that allows different products to be sold in one place.
Is it like amazon.com or ebay.com? Not quite. The shipping and delivery aspect of it is Amazon like. However, what makes Shopzed different is that our primary service is groceries delivery. This was our original “baby”. There are still other products being sold like electronics and other categories.
Why do you have a website when most businesses in Zambia don’t function online? Our business is online because, without the website there is no business, there is no shopzed.com. The business is online for the customers’ convenience. To shop wherever they are, regardless of location.
What makes your website different? We always have the end-user in mind. It’s about what works for our customers and not necessarily what works for us. Although, we try to strike a balance. Therefore, we keep an ear to the ground and listen for what works and what doesn’t work then make the necessary adjustments.
What challenges have you encountered so far especially after returning to Zambia to run Shopzed? The procedures of running a business are hectic. There is a lot of paperwork to deal with because of the lack of e-services. Current regulations are not in favour of Zambian online shopping businesses because of the lack of a Zambian based payment gateway. Right now, we use PayPal but this means that the economy is losing money because PayPal or Visa do not have to pay taxes to the Zambian government. The e-commerce sector is seriously handicapped and needs a serious boost for a functioning economy. The banks are comfortable because they already have a working system that they are fine with. Implementing online payment gateways will be something completely new that requires a lot of commitment which the banks may not be ready to do.
What exactly are you trying to push for with the banks? Well, we want Zambian customers to be able to widely use their debit cards for online shopping regardless of whether they have a chip card or just standard magnetic strip. If this can’t work, then the banks need to phase out magnetic strip cards and introduce chips cards for anybody who has a bank account. After all, chip cards are more secure than magnetic strip cards! At the moment only those with Visa-debit chip cards are able to shop online. Other banks even go as far as allocating two debit cards for a single bank account where one is enabled for e-payments and the other one is for regular banking.
Why are there no regulations (from Bank of Zambia) enabling what you are asking for from the banks? Because there is a disconnection between professional and personal life in Zambia. When somebody works for a regulator they neglect to advocate for rules which make their personal lives easier and manageable like online shopping. Unfortunately, that’s not happening in Zambia at the moment.
Why do you have a .com domain as opposed to a .co.zm? A .com domain is easier to remember and it is more universal than .co.zm. Since we are serving an international community we wanted to be accessible to everybody everywhere, if need be, and they need to easily remember the website and how to get there for us to get the desired traffic.
Did you register your domain in Zambia? No. Only because we did not want our business to ever come to a standstill and we confidently rely on U.S. based servers to keep our domain registered and to manage our hosting. This has worked 99.9% effectively for us.
Which company do you look up to, if any, or individual to help you drive your vision? We look up to a few companies that have embodied various principles we aspire to including a productive and influential work culture, leadership, and teamwork. Regarding the e-commerce business side, we look up to eBay because of how it was able to create a culture of trust and efficiency with its customers.
Honestly, I don’t blame Cassy and Vicki for registering their domain abroad (online). Considering how much of a headache our own ordeal was in trying to register a .co.zm in Zambia. We really have a long way to go.
The absence of a robust e-commerce sector is quite worrisome and perhaps detrimental to our economy. There is a lot of money which could be collected in terms of tax that is just being left to slide off to other markets outside the country. Zambia needs to step it up for some of these things to happen. Is innovation that scary? Or is it just an inherently mediocre mindset? If the telecommunication companies wanted, they could totally own the e-commerce sector by revamping mobile money to link to people’s bank accounts. That way, there will be no need to find a vendor to deposit or withdraw your money. We would be one-step closer to a cashless society. Banking would truly be revolutionized. This would spell out less petty theft and definitely tighter security.
All in all, the interview we was great with Cassy and Vicki being completely open and honest. Our discussions were pretty loaded with topics ranging from business, tech, economics, law and so many other things. Duty called however and we had to part ways for the mean time. I look forward to catching up with Shopzed regularly. Until next time… Adieu!