Over the last ten years, I have witnessed family members and friends shop online for items ranging from cakes, food and clothes to larger electronic devices such as fridges, and washing machines, among many other products and services.
This is due to the advent of the internet and online business (electronic commerce), which has made scouting for items, different sampling dealers, and analyzing product features and prices easy and with the click of a button.
More than a decade ago, online shopping was considered a luxurious activity for those with large disposable incomes. Not so today. Whether ordering a premium item from an overseas dealer, your next meal, or a basket of fruits and vegetables from a market a few blocks from your home, internet platforms have made life easier.
“I don’t see any value in physically walking into a market,” says Yvonne Kawira, a business lady based in Nairobi.
“Online shopping is convenient. I get to compare prices from different dealers, analyse their features and finally, make the payment online or upon delivery,” Kawira says, adding that she lets the traders do their thing and deliver the products while she engages in other personal projects that bring in money, such as promoting her online organic business which includes selling honey and Shea butter.
The growth of e-commerce in Kenya
World Trade Organization (WTO) defines electronic commerce as the “production, advertising, sale and distribution of products via telecommunications networks”.
E-commerce, also referred to as internet commerce, includes all businesses conducted via ICT networks, which include the internet. This paradigm shift has been brought about by developing technologies and the growth of the knowledge economy. This is according to a white paper commissioned by the Communications Authority of Kenya in 2014, which also identified two enablers of e-commerce: the availability of internet services and access to financial services.
Since 2009, access to the internet in Kenya, especially via smartphones, has become cheaper and faster. With mobile network operators extending up to 4G coverage to their customers and a decrease in smartphone prices, more and more individuals can now go online and shop.
Today, being an online trader or digital shopper only requires one to have a smartphone, internet connection, a convenient social media platform and some products to sell or to buy.
One of the major hindrances to e-commerce across the world is inadequate online payment systems. In Kenya, however, mobile payment platforms have placed the East African nation at the top of other global economies. For this and many other reasons, Kenya is ranked third in Africa after Nigeria and South Africa, in terms of online shopping volumes, according to an article published in the Daily Nation last year.
All said and done, while you enjoy the convenience of online shopping, doing so comes with risks that can frustrate the modern way of shopping, leaving consumers and dealers vulnerable to the antics of online criminals.
Read Also: Digital payments to drive African economies
The risks and responsibilities
As already established, online shopping can be and is extremely convenient. But it can become extremely bad and dangerous if proper precautions are not taken. Using the various smart methods to shop and pay for goods and services, you also open yourself to cyber criminals who can use your online data to defraud you or your business.
Here are some ways you can fall prey to scams:
- Viruses, adware and spyware
Using social networking sites or online stores exposes you to links, sites and advertisements that could easily infect your gadgets with viruses and malware. Another growing risk is phishing where people send emails pretending to be companies, family or friends and ask you to reveal your passwords and credit card details. As an online user, avoid clicking on or providing personal information to untrustworthy sites or individuals. Respond only to emails or calls from known contacts. Install effective anti-viruses to help prevent malware attacks.
Some retailers are dubious. They appear genuine, but once you pay for a service or product, they fail to deliver. To be safe, ensure that the available payment options can be recovered should the services or products not meet your expectations. Only work with reputable dealers.
- Overpayment and fake online stores
Sometimes, a consumer may end up paying more for a product due to hidden charges such as duties and/or shipping. As a buyer, cross-check charges and contact the dealer before making the payment if unsure. Unscrupulous people also create fake online stores, which could trick you into purchasing non-existent products. Watch out for names that appear to be what you are used to, but have slight changes that can easily be missed.
- Credit card fraud
This is a common risk associated with online buying. Some malicious users and apps intercept online stores at the payment level, collecting credit card details. This is done so subtly that one could miss it when a buyer is redirected to the user’s site instead of to the legitimate payment platform after making payment for the products or services. The malicious users can get details from the card and use it for themselves. Be careful while using online payment options to avoid exposing yourself to such risks.
While shopping online, ensure that the site has a padlock symbol in the address bar on the identified website. The symbol shows that such a site is secure (encrypted) to use your credit card safely.
Also, avoid using public WIFI when making purchases—they could be susceptible to cyber criminals.
Consider setting up a separate email account for all your online shopping and product registration from your day-to-day account. Make sure that your accounts have strong passwords and enable two-factor authentication. There are applications that can also help you with managing passwords.
What is more, only use secure credit cards that are fraud-protected. Some banks also set expiry dates for such cards or can avail you of a temporary or reloadable prepaid credit card. Finally, only give information when you absolutely have to and do not submit any passwords or pin numbers to anyone.