Don’t have a job? All you need is a smartphone

Ruth Wambui knows for sure that she will never be employed again.

“No. No. Never,” she says, shaking her head and wincing at the thought of having to be at the beck and call of anybody.

“I was employed for one week, and I will never go back to employment. I can’t,” she says.

The 28-year-old mother of one is in the online business and arrived at the decision to never seek employment after realizing that her current line of work was a good idea.

She had been tarmacking for sometime before deciding to go full-time into the business in 2016.

Ruth used Sh13, 000 she had saved to buy 20 products and went back to a business she had ventured into in her younger days, using her house as a store and websites as a platform for advertising the products.

In her tiny shop at Elegant Exhibition on Moi Avenue in Nairobi are piles of products: a plastic container with blades inside that chops up vegetables when you pull on a string, a double-sided pan, blenders, shoes, serving spoons, a tummy trimmer, hair straighteners, handbags and digital toys.

The Economics and Sociology graduate is one of a growing number of youth who have taken advantage of increased internet access because of lower costs, increased smartphone penetration and advances in technology to become online merchants.

They hawk their products online, advertising on established e-commerce websites such as Africa Internet Group’s Jumia, Kilimall International, Safaricom’s Masoko, Pigiame and Sky Garden.

Majority of the online merchants advertise and take orders for their products and services via these established platforms.

They also advertise via their own social media pages, and especially on Facebook and Instagram.


There are lots of people looking there as Kenya has 7 million users on Facebook while Instagram has 4 million, according to a report by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (Bake) for 2018.

Bake says that more people prefer Instagram to Facebook when it comes to online shopping.

Current developments within the Kenyan retail sector and the digital space show that e-commerce has taken off, its momentum for growth seemingly unstoppable and the potential huge.

In Africa, Kenya is among the top three countries leading in internet connectivity. The high internet penetration is attributed to easy access to affordable smartphones. According to data from the Communications Authority of Kenya, the country doubled Africa’s internet penetration to stand at 67 percent in 2017 against an estimated population of 48 million people as the continent commands only 34 percent internet penetration.

These statistics aside, Ruth’s experience gives her confidence that the sector is poised for more growth.

“The online platforms are growing and people are going online. I don’t think any business that will not be online will be better off in five years,” said Ruth, who is looking forward to the size of her business increasing.

On a bad day, she said, she makes a profit of Sh3, 000. On a good one, this can go as high as Sh10, 000.

“I make sure I have a large assortment of products, like over 100 so that when you come to my shop, if you are looking for one product and you don’t like it, I make sure you’ll find another product, either what you are looking for or a different item. A great assortment for me works well,” said Ruth.

It is not always necessary to have a shop.

26-year-old Jane Munyao said she does not find it necessary to have a permanent space.

While the retailers might be a happy lot, not all customers are usually happy with their online shopping experience.

When Terry Mwangi first took to a website to place an order, she bought a sufuria (metallic cooking pot) but the retailer delivered a plate. She returned it and demanded a refund and after a month, got her money back.

“I was so disappointed and I decided that I will never buy anything else online,” she said.

She later met someone, a friend, who had successfully bought a phone from an online store.

She decided to try again and was successful and took to making purchases online.

Online vendors have also improved since her first attempt in 2015 and there are of course more reviews online that one can use to gauge the credibility of the retailer.