Why are Kenyans spending peanuts to shop online?

Shot of an attractive young woman shopping online while chilling at home on the sofa

Online shopping was born in the US and I went to the christening and have been reaping the benefit of convenience ever since.

It cannot get any easier than sitting in your pyjamas and ordering a suit via the internet, and waiting for it to arrive at your door.

No getting dressed, no expense on transport and spending time at a store. E-commerce is such a monster that brick and mortar stores have actually gone out of business.  

In fact, retail e-commerce sales was $322 billion dollars in 2016 alone. E-commerce is not happening in isolation, it is a global phenomenon.

Kenya is a player with mobile transactions leading the way with Sh4.2 billion in 2014.

The other day, I put e-commerce to the test when I decided to purchase some items from China with my US-based credit card. No matter how globally tied e-commerce is, cyber fraud trumps a lot of the convenience.

But it is the price we pay today. After calls to China, calls to my credit card company, I had one more call to make when my credit card was refused by PayPal, the platform I selected for my transaction. My purchase was for Sh90,000, a great price for what I was purchasing.

 I did not think that the amount was extraordinary, but PayPal did and instantly rejected my attempt. So I called customer service in the US to find out why, why, why.

I was informed by the kind agent who was probably sitting in Mexico, that my transaction was flagged because the amount transferred was not reflective of the spending habits of their consumers in Kenya.

The agent continued, “You were making a payment of $900, and that is considerably more than our clients in Kenya. “ I had to ask what the average transactions of Kenyans on PayPal. He responded, “For 80 per cent of Kenyan users, rarely are their transactions over $100 (Sh10,000), and normally they range between $5 - $20 (Sh500 - Sh 2,000).

Then I understood why my transaction was like wearing a red flag at a bull fight, and wondered what were these people buying through PayPal with these Mpesa -type amounts?

After a long conversation, PayPal worked with me and my transaction succeeded despite time, language and continental differences. E-commerce has truly shrunk the world.