Angie Chimaliro Banda is a well- known cross-border businessperson on social media platforms. She has been successful through using social media to market her products.
Her firm, Legacy Bride and Fashions, is one of the many businesses benefiting from the use of social media.
“I started using social media for business purposes in 2012. Although by then it was only on a small scale, today, my business has grown,” she says.
Today, she is a member of five Facebook groups, namely Business Women in Malawi, Let’s Do Business, Zaukwati and Chinkhoswe Fashion, Malawi Fashion and Accessories, Lilongwe Business Google as well as her own Legacy Bride and Fashion.
Banda says her business has grown to unimaginable levels through the use of social media groups, which has enhanced its visibility in the country.
She says using social media has enabled her to overcome the challenge of attracting customers to her business. But social media works the same as the power of word of mouth as customers share the products online.
But dealing with online customers can sometimes be tricky.
“Some people will order items, but by the time you want to deliver them, they are either not reachable or they do not pick your calls.
“In some cases, competitors will use your pictures to advertise as they have the same products. It is very difficult to control,” says Banda.
She, however, says despite all the challenges that these platforms bring, doing business through the social media has always been affordable.
“Not all of us would have managed to go into television and newspapers for advertising, but using social platforms, we reach as many people as possible,” says Banda.
Small and Medium Enterprises Association of Malawi (Smea) president James Chiutsi agrees with Banda, saying traders should embrace new media technology to stay ahead of competition.
He says just like Banda, a lot of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country have found social media to be an ideal tool for selling their products, thereby cutting on costs.
“It is now easy for SMEs to advertise products and share information, both locally and internationally. It has also become easy to produce advertising material,” says Chiutsi.
Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism spokesperson Wiskes Nkombezi says the social media has provided seamless opportunities to businesses although the pace at which Malawian businesses are adapting to this technology is not convincing.
“For instance, we rarely see big companies taking the social media seriously, but this is where we are heading to. I think we can do better,” he says.
Data backs Nkombezi’s assertions.
According to the 2016 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) Business-to-Consumer (B2C) Index—an assessment on the readiness of countries to engage in online commerce, Malawi slipped eight steps to 129 out of 137 economies.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) experts believe low use of social media by businesspeople can be attributed to high Internet tariffs in the country.
Malawi Internet tariffs remain one of the highest in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region, according to ICT expert Maxwell Phiri.
“Currently, our Internet prices are high and this means that we only have few people accessing the Internet and because they [the tariffs] are high, we also have only few people using social media for business purposes,” says Phiri.
But Nkombezi says government has intensified efforts to ensure that there is an enabling environment for doing business on social media by enacting the Electronic Transactions Bill.
At least there is hope because the use of electronic payments systems such as TNM Mpamba and Airtel Money for business transactions are gaining ground.