“Order anything you want”

Kigali, as an innovation lab for CanGo, is all about learning. The primary purpose of CanGo Rwanda is to track customer preferences and trends to learn which services are most popular, scalable and profitable. We also want to see if there is anything individual consumer sentiment surprises us with. While we were not the first on-demand delivery service in Kigali, we aspire to be the most innovative in bringing services that are tailored to the unique case study of a middle class / lower class African end user. What we asked ourselves was: what if customers had always wanted to order particular items on demand, but just never had the chance?

In light of this, we decided to launch a service where customers could order absolutely anything they wanted (as long as it could fit on the back of a motorcycle).

We quickly concluded that the easiest and fastest way to start collecting real user data was to allow customers to order through WhatsApp, since it demands no app install and is highly prevalent in both Kigali and Kinshasa. We subsequently set up a WhatsApp Business account, an alternative version of the WhatsApp mobile application that was released in late 2017 solely for small businesses.

The primary benefits of WhatsApp for Business include the ability to:

  • Be seen as a legitimate business by customers
  • Set opening times
  • Create away messages and quick replies
  • Set labels to each conversation

WhatsApp Business allows us to manage every stage of an order process seamlessly, whilst we are also able to offer extremely personalised customer service in comparison to a mobile application or website.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The customer sends us a message on WhatsApp telling us what they’d like to order
  2. Our customer service team enquiries about the availability of the item(s) and tells the customer the total cost of the order
  3. A WhatsApp group is created with the customer and a delivery pilot where both are asked to share their live locations
  4. The pilot rides to the store and pays for the item in cash
  5. The pilot delivers the item to the customer, and the customer pays the pilot for the cost of the products and the predetermined delivery fee

So far, customers have been using us to order food from restaurants, groceries or alcohol from supermarkets, and products from other stores and markets around Kigali, such as electronics, clothes and beauty products. Many people and businesses have also been using us as a courier service to pick-up and/or send items to friends or customers. 

But the real beauty of ‘order anything’, and of using a WhatsApp number rather than a website or mobile application, is that customers can order anything that pops into their head at that moment in time. There are absolutely no restrictions, as long as it can fit on the back of a bike!

Getting started

Starting was easy. We hired several of the best drivers who had worked with us previously at SafeMotos and set up a small customer service team to handle orders. In terms of marketing, we started a Facebook ad campaign, showing off how customers could ‘order anything’ and posting photos of food, groceries and alcohol to wet their appetites. Our call to action seemed simple and effective: “WhatsApp us now on 0789397682”.

Gaining traction, however, was not so simple. Following our first week of operations, we had only completed 4 deliveries. We were also not even receiving many messages on WhatsApp, despite our Facebook ads reaching over 7,000 people and receiving hundreds of ‘likes’ each day.

So, we decided to offer a promotion. It read something like this: 

“Today we’re giving away FREE cupcakes. Just send us a message on WhatsApp! Soon we’ll start charging, but for now we want to see if you like our service.” 

Yet still only 4 customers asked for the free cupcake…

Who wouldn’t want a free cupcake?!

If I was in the U.K. and saw an advert on Facebook of a company giving out free cupcakes, I would definitely give it a go. What would I have to lose? It’s free! If it never arrived, then I lost absolutely nothing. Either customers didn’t trust us or we were offering the wrong gift.

Whilst I was almost certain that people didn’t yet trust our service, in this case it turned out to be the latter. On the weekend, I met a Rwandese in a cafe and asked him if he would like a free cupcake. His response: “What’s a cupcake?”

So instead, after a quick discussion in the office, we started offering free sandwiches. And just like that, people started messaging us. In fact, during our second week of operations, precisely 266 people reached out to us, and in turn, we completed a total of 114 deliveries to some very happy customers.

With all these new customers, we felt like we were close to unlocking the market in Kigali and gaining some real traction. But could we convert people who had ordered a free gift into repeat customers who would actually pay for our service? This is precisely the question we planned to answer in the following days.

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