From Chamas to Online Shopping: Kapu’s Social eCommerce in Kenya

Kenyan social ecommerce startup Kapu aims to alleviate the impact of rising food prices for Kenyan consumers by offering groceries at lower prices through online and offline channels. Kapu enables group bulk-buying of groceries and claims to help consumers save up to 30% on the purchase of fresh produce and packaged consumer goods.

Kapu operates through more than 1,500 agent collection centres across Nairobi, and it plans to expand its local network to fully penetrate Kenya’s capital before eyeing new markets. The company is also expanding its network of local agents who take orders from consumers, and it will soon support WhatsApp orders too. Customers receive a notification from Kapu and its agents to collect their goods, with many agents also offer home delivery.

Kapu said its offline channel and online direct-to-consumer models are designed for the Kenyan market, where e-commerce has not taken off, but social commerce shows potential. Kenya has one of the highest percentages of monthly WhatsApp users globally, according to Global Web Index’s 2020 Social Media User Trends Report. The popularity of the social commerce sector is surging in the region as the shift towards online shopping continues post-Covid pandemic.

In Kenya, group-shopping and pooling money to buy items in bulk from wholesalers is a common practice, where friends celebrate their haul in “chamas,” house parties where the items are distributed on selected dates. Although this cultural practice is well-known, it is not typically used for everyday shopping. However, start-ups like Kapu and their competitor TuShop, can leverage this existing cultural awareness and expand the social circle to offer group-buying options to a wider audience.

In China, the social buying model has garnered significant popularity. Ecommerce firms, including Shihuituan, have tapped into this trend by offering consumer goods such as fresh produce, vegetables, and packaged items, with a focus on lower-tier cities where competition is less fierce.

The success of the model largely hinges on the community leader, who plays a central role in placing orders, receiving goods, and handling last-mile delivery. These leaders are typically stay-at-home mothers or local neighborhood stores, acting as influencers and community marketers, and earning an average commission of 10%.

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