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9 Crucial Steps to Set Up Your Kenyan Business for eCommerce Success In 2023

Launching a Kenyan eCommerce business may seem daunting at first – which is why we created this guide to help you focus on the most important things to get your eCommerce shop up and running.

While the goal of eCommerce success is straightforward for most Kenyan businesses, the journey is fraught with numerous tiny but crucial decisions.

The ensuing confusion and decision fatigue, coupled with a shaky foundation on eCommerce principles, means that most Kenyan eCommerce brands don’t really take off.

We created this guide to solve this very problem. It will help shorten your learning curve drastically and give you a template for what you need to do when setting up your eCommerce shop.

You will also benefit from the lessons of our failures without necessarily incurring those losses.

We aim to help business owners like yourself get started on the right foot, keeping in mind what is important, with a keen focus on growth.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How to create an eCommerce shop
  • How to get customers to your eCommerce shop
  • The most important features that your eCommerce shop should have
  • How to choose an eCommerce CMS
  • The marketing channels that you should have for your online shop
  • How to make more money for every user that visits your online shop
  • How to get paid from your eCommerce activities

Here are the 9 crucial things for your business to do in order to reap benefits from your eCommerce efforts:

1. Make your website fully eCommerce–ready


For your eCommerce website to be fully eCommerce-ready, it needs to have the capability for users to make purchases without requiring the input of another human being. 

At the very least, users should be able to:

  • identify the product/service they wish to purchase
  • add the product to their shopping cart in quantities of their choosing
  • add details for how they will receive the products
  • make use of a portal/mechanism through which they can consume their services
  • make payment for their purchases

The most convenient and pocket-friendly way for most businesses to implement this is to use an eCommerce CMS.

What is an eCommerce CMS?

A Content Management System (CMS) is software that enables eCommerce shop owners to easily create websites in an intuitive way without needing to know to code.

Most eCommerce CMSs come with ready tools for all the basic needs of an eCommerce store and offer the ability to tweak them to fit a website’s needs.

What kind of eCommerce CMS should I get (Hosted CMS or open-source CMS)?

eCommerce CMSs can be classified into two categories:

  • SaaS (hosted) CMS: these are cloud-based software solutions that don’t require the shop managers to set up a separate server. Usually charged on subscription basis, all the website file setup, storage, and updates are handled by the provider. It is also common practice for them to offer customer service. The most popular hosted CMS providers are Shopify and BigCommerce.
  • Open-Source CMS: provide shop managers with full control over the website’s functionality. Being open-source, they are often free to download, and admins can then host them on their own server. Managers are responsible for maintenance, updates, and can ultimately modify every part of the shop. The most popular open-source eCommerce CMS solutions include WooCommerce and Magento.

Why do I need an eCommerce CMS? 

An eCommerce CMS solution allows you to create your website without using code for the most part. The CMS provider is responsible for maintenance of the software, optimizations, and updates on matters such as security. In the absence of an eCommerce CMS solution, you have to maintain all these functions yourself. 

As a day-to-day user of the eCommerce CMSs, get a CMS that:

  • reduces the need to code the website from scratch
  • is easy to use (especially for non-techie users): adding products, order fulfilment, customer management, etc.
  • has standalone product pages (unlike an individual catalogue-style product page)
  • offers plenty of integrations – these enable you to add additional functionality to your eCommerce website that is not covered by the CMS. e.g., customer support, automation, lead generation, cart abandonment recapture, promotions, upsells, etc.
  • has swappable themes
  • has integrated audit logs

Factors to consider when selecting an eCommerce theme

Regardless of the CMS that you pick, your UI/UX will most likely be dependent on the theme that you install.

A theme is the foundation for the complete design of a website. It is responsible for the layout of your content and pages, typography, colour palettes, and headers and footers.

As a day-to-day user of the eCommerce website, get an eCommerce theme that:

  • is mobile-friendly
  • gets updated regularly
  • uses minimalist design – cluttered websites tend to distract the user from the intended goal
  • is easily navigable – by using menus and breadcrumbs
  • is compatible with all popular browsers

Above all else, ensure that your eCommerce CMS is SEO-friendly, thus making your website easy to find on Google.

The benefits of having strong SEO for your website are undisputable: you will be able to reach potential customers who search for your brand or products on Google.

2. Optimise for mobile


There are numerous reasons why you should implement a mobile-first approach to designing your eCommerce website:

  • Mobile commerce sales reached $3.56 trillion by the end of 2021.
  • More than 1 billion global smartphone users use them for banking
  • Mobile is responsible for over 72.9% of global e-commerce revenues
  • Over 69% of the global population owns a mobile phone in 2022.
  • 79% of smartphone owners made an online purchase using their mobile phones in 2021.

By taking mobile users into consideration, your website should:

  • offer users a consistent experience across different devices
  • be able to resize and reorganise content depending on the size of the screen/window on which it is being viewed. This is known as responsiveness.
  • Optimise images and content to load on mobile using as little data as possible
  • use no flash animation

You can also take advantage of other mobile features in the design of your website:

  • GPS-positioning for entering physical addresses
  • Augmented Reality (AR) for product fit previews
  • Progressive Web App capabilities – enables your website to run as an app on mobile devices

Let’s take the example of a guitar shop in Nairobi looking to start selling online. Their website would need to enable users:

  • shop while browsing on a phone, computer, or tablet
  • identify the product (guitar) they like
  • chose the customizations (if any) they would like
  • add their delivery address
  • make payment for their purchases

The following features will give the guitar shop’s owners a boost in the performance of the website:

  • the ability to cross-sell and upsell certain products. e.g., when a shopper buys a guitar, prompt them to also buy a guitar case or guitar bag
  • run limited-time offers and promotions
  • create customised discount offers based on set criteria. e.g., 5% discount on orders above Ksh 10,000, free shipping for orders above Ksh 5,000.

3. Run traffic to your website

Web Traffic

A website with no visitors isn’t really a website at all.

Ultimately, a significant part of the success of your online store will hinge on the number of people that see it. 

Simply put, the more eyeballs that see your products, the higher the chances of them buying from you. 

The practical ways for you to run traffic to your website (ranked from highest ROI) are:

  • Social media influencers

With plenty of Kenyans amassing tens of thousands of followers online, the opportunity exists for you to pay a handful of these influencers to associate your brand with theirs and hence monetize their followership. 

For as little as Ksh 50,000 per month, as long as you are smart with your deployment of that budget, you can get your brand seen by upwards of 500,000 people monthly. If only 1% of such an audience visits your website, that’s 5,000 web visitors. 

The proprietors of the guitar shop may use Wowzi to reach out to rising TikTok stars in Kenya. The kind of TikTokers they’d use are popular creators who use musical props in their content or create original music for the platform.

If our guitar shop’s website is able to convert 1.3% (global eCommerce average) of the 5,000 visitors from TikTok to paid customers, they would bring in 65 new customers every month.

Supposing that our guitar shop has an average profit margin of Ksh 5,000 per guitar, that translates to Ksh 325,000 gross profit from influencer marketing alone.

How do you find freelancers in Kenya?

The process of finding a freelancer for your business in Kenya has been made very easy thanks to Wowzi, “Africa’s most powerful influencer platform”. 

Simply create an account, set up a campaign, and get connected with influencers who fit your criteria.

  • Social media marketing + contests and giveaways

Here’s the secret to all social media success:

Our guitar shop can create social media content for guitar lovers. Here are a few themes they could run:

  • Guitar maintenance tips
  • Lessons on how to play the guitar
  • Interactive Live sessions where followers play specific songs together

Beyond simply posting on social media, they can also conduct giveaways and contests. These are themed competitions where participants get the chance to win unique rewards from the guitar shop after meeting certain criteria.

The appeal of running social media contests is that the brand can reach thousands of people quite easily without a significant upfront investment.

  • Paid ads

Compared to tv, radio, outdoors, and print media, most internet ads are a steal. Not only that, but the most popular internet advertising platforms offer mechanisms to run your ads to a specific hyper-targeted audience.

With a budget of as low as Ksh 50,000 per month, you can reach up to a million potential customers every month. These users are hyper-targeted, meaning that they are likely interested in what you’re selling.

In our guitar store example, they would run ads on Facebook, Instagram, Google, and YouTube that would only be seen by guitar lovers who live in Nairobi. These ads would be the same content that they created for their social media – content that is geared to ultimately provide value to the viewer in some way.

4. Retarget your website visitors

Web users

Most users hardly buy the first time that they visit your website or see your products. With some subtle intelligent nudging, you can get them to think more about buying from you and ultimately make a purchase.

This is the purpose of retargeting. For users that express keen interest in particular products, you can be able to follow up with them using ads of the same product even after they have left your website.

Retargeting for eCommerce can be done through the same platform that you used to place ads – Google Ads or Facebook Ads Manager. 

The first thing that you need to do is install some code from them that allows you to track the activities of your website’s users. Once ready, generate traffic to your website and give it some time for the cookies to collect data.

After enough time has passed and data collected, you can start running retargeting ads. These ads are usually highly customised to the user’s experience, meaning, the viewer of the ad will only see an ad for what’s relevant for him/her. 

If a user spent 6 minutes on the product page of a particular guitar, for example, and scrolled the entirety of the page, it shows that they have an affinity for it, which makes them a potential customer. 

Next time they’re browsing Instagram, they’ll see an ad for that particular guitar, as will they when they’re reading an article on their favourite news website or the millions of other websites that display ads by Google and Ads by Facebook.

This is part of the importance of having individual product pages – the analytics gleaned from that page are specific to the product. It would be much harder to conduct retargeting if the product pages contain multiple products.

5. Recapture cart abandonments 

Shopping Cart

Similarly important as retargeting is the need to convert those users who start the checkout process but don’t complete it.

Oftentimes, users tend to add products to their cart, add their personal details, only to not complete the order. In such a scenario, it is up to the website admins to nudge the user to finish the process. Luckily, this is not a very difficult thing to do.

This is how it works: once a user starts using the website, it drops a cookie in their browser that contains data about their activities on the website. Should a user begin the checkout process and not finish it, the system automatically prompts them to do so after a set amount of time – this can be done severally, like 6 hours after they left the site, 24 hours later, and 48 hours later, should they fail to take action after the preceding reminders.

These notifications can be done in several ways – if you’re using Facebook ads, Facebook sends a notification to users reminding them to exploit your offer. You can also send such users browser notifications, but the most effective is usually via email or text– which is why most eCommerce websites usually begin by collecting the user’s contact information as soon as they click on ‘Checkout’. Of course, the biggest bonus of owning user information is that you can then use it to create lookalike audiences for your customers and serious prospects. 

Should users not respond to prompts to finish their checkout, try attaching promotions or discounts in the reminders – e.g., Get 5% off your order if you complete your order in the next 3 hours.

If you’re using Shopify, there are a ton of cart abandonment plugins that you can get to automate this function for you.

6. Streamline payments process

Payment Method

After all the effort of setting up an eCommerce shop and acquiring customers, you deserve to get paid. 

You need to set up systems for how customers will pay for their purchases. This should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as each business has different dynamics. 

At the very least, your business should be able to support at least one payment gateway.

Most businesses starting off without a very strong brand like to use the Payment on Delivery method – it puts most customers at ease especially if they don’t know the business.

While convenient in the beginning, you want to automate every step of the customer journey – the fewer things that require human intervention, the better. This includes payment and billing.

As a Kenyan business, you cannot avoid having Mpesa payment integrated on the website – this is the bare minimum.

You may also want to set up payment processors for cards – which can be done using PayPal or PesaPal.

While setting up billing, pay keen attention to delivery fees. You may want to introduce region-based pricing for delivery fees if you don’t have a wide supply and delivery network.

7. Streamline order fulfilment

Family shopping

Once customers make purchases, they need to have their goods/services delivered. 

For services, this can be as simple as an online portal to interact with what they purchased, or physical meetings.

For products, you need to put in place a system for how the goods will be shipped from your suppliers to your customer. Luckily, this process can be outsourced. 

The good thing is that you don’t always have to take physical custody of the goods – and deal with the headache of storage – the dropshipping model has proven this to be true.

The one thing that you need to be keen on, however, is for your brand not to be diluted. Ensure you instruct your suppliers how you’d like the product packaging to look when shipping out, as well as details on what should (not) be contained in the package.

Whether you decide to outsource order fulfilment or do it yourself, you’ll need to give great thought to the impression that your customer will have when they finally receive their purchase.

8. Set up customer service

Customer Service

If you’re running a proper eCommerce shop, most of your processes will be automated, leaving the bulk of human input to deal with customer service.

While there are a ton of customer service automation tools and plugins, nothing quite beats the human touch when dealing with a customer complaint.

Some elements of customer service can be automated, though – for example, issues that come up frequently, or channelling issues to the right department. Ultimately, you will need trained humans to deal with these customers and help them with their queries. 

All serious companies have exemplary customer service – your eCommerce business needs to be the same. This starts with a simple chatbox on your website with predetermined FAQs and extends all the way to a full Support section on your website. At the very least,  customers should be able to find your Support section and Customer Service contacts with ease.

9. Set up marketing channels (create a community) 


In today’s digital marketing climate, there is no single fix that cures everything. Your sales can come from multiple channels, meaning that you may be limiting your potential by not exploring more marketing channels.

Yes, influencers may bring you a significant ROI, but there may be more opportunities for you to reach more customers brought by retargeting ads and social media contests.

This means that your marketing activities will extend beyond social media marketing. You’ll need to finesse your SEO as well as streamline your conversion rate optimization. It may also be of benefit to you to integrate your website’s shop with Facebook and Instagram Shops.

The most overlooked audience for a lot of businesses is often the one with the highest affinity for their products/services – past customers. They know the brand and trust it enough to buy from it – why not ask them to buy some more or give a testimonial?

This is why email marketing is so potent and a must-have for all eCommerce brands. 

Owning your customers’ contact data also enables you to create a community for your customers/fans. This can be done through social media, specialised forums, or through an app. Over time, this creates a feedback loop that makes customers love the brand more, and actually save on resources through time saved in addressing customer queries.


What are the most popular eCommerce categories in Kenya?

Electronics & Media is the largest segment in Kenya, accounting for 40% of the eCommerce revenue in Kenya. This is followed by Fashion (32%), Furniture & Appliances (14%), Toys, Hobby & DIY (8%) and Food & Personal Care with the remaining 6%. Source:

What is an eCommerce CMS?

An eCommerce content management system (CMS) is software that enables eCommerce shop proprietors to create, publish, and manage eCommerce websites without writing any code.

Why do I need an eCommerce CMS?

An eCommerce CMS solution allows you to create your website without using code for the most part. The CMS provider is responsible for maintenance of the software, optimizations, and updates on matters such as security. In the absence of an eCommerce CMS solution, you have to maintain all these functions yourself. 

How do I set up an e-commerce shop in Kenya?

You’ll need a website (domain name), as well as an eCommerce Content Management System (CMS). With these, you should be able to create a functional eCommerce shop. You can find tutorials on how to set up the shop with your chosen software online.

Should you need help with developing the website, reach out to a competent eCommerce website developer.

Which is the best SaaS (hosted) eCommerce CMS?

The most popular hosted CMS providers are Shopify and BigCommerce.

Which is the best open-source eCommerce CMS?

The most popular open-source eCommerce CMS solutions include WooCommerce and Magento.

How do I run eCommerce ads in Kenya?

You’ll need to have an account with an advertising provider – the most popular are Google Ads and Facebook Ads, Manager. Once your account is funded, you’ll need media (photos and videos) to run ads to your detailed target audience. 

Which is the best online business platform in Kenya?

This ultimately depends on a business’ needs and budget. For cash-strapped businesses, classified platforms like Jumia, Jiji and Pigiame can help them reach the awareness of new prospects. 

Ultimately, the biggest gains are made from owning your own platform instead of relying on another brand. eCommerce CMS like Shopify and WooCommerce help businesses in creating eCommerce shops on their websites.

What online shopping trends in Kenya should I be aware of?

  • Social media has become an integral platform for connecting consumers to online businesses.
  • 79% of Kenyan Consumers are Shopping More Online Since the Start of the Pandemic.
  • Kenyans are buying FMCG online at an increasing rate.
  • Delivery times are getting increasingly shorter – for foods, drinks and household shopping. Sparked by the efforts of companies like Dial a Delivery, Glovo, Carrefour and others that offer same-day delivery, usually taking less than 2 hours to deliver an order.
  • Use of chatbots and automation of processes such as customer service and order management.
  • Mobile commerce accounted for over 67% of global eCommerce revenues in 2021.
  • The use of video content in customer outreach and product demonstrations is growing in popularity, thanks to the penetration of fibre internet and cheaper mobile data rates.