A FREE tool for micro retailers to sell better through Whatsapp, Instagram Facebook, and Twitter

Sara Drawwater
Product update
18 September 2020
We're launching Free, a free service for micro retailers in Zambia. It solves the poor user experience and growth limiting challenges faced by micro retailers selling through Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Here's how it works and how to get early access.

Understanding micro retail in Zambia

There are many faces of retail in Zambia, from the established retailer in the gated shopping mall to the micro roadside seller. In between, there is a sizable group of micro retailers who sell through social media and Whatsapp.

We see and admire the many innovative retail businesses created by the entrepreneurs, the side hustlers and the start ups in the informal sector. This group of people are hand making, independently creating, importing, selling and reselling. They are doing this alongside jobs, studies, family commitments and all kinds of challenges like load shedding, poor internet, COVID-19 and an unfavourable economic climate.

This group of retailers are showing a can-do attitude, doing the best they can with the systems they have available to them.

What is Free Free is a free service designed for micro retailers in Zambia — it is for the entrepreneurs, the side hustlers and the start ups in the informal sector. It is for the creators, the importers, ther growers and the resellers. Free solves the poor user experience and the growth limiting challenges faced by micro retailers when selling through Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We see the problems and are so excited to be able launch a solution that better supports the dynamic and multi layered retail sector that is found here in Zambia. We’re giving small and start up retailers a route to market that is scalable and easy for their customers to use.

We want micro and small retailers to sell online effectively because it dramatically increases opportunities for the kind of growth and scalability that we need here in Zambia. We are delighted to be able to support micro retailers to more easily and efficiently sell their fresh, local, handmade and unique products. Through people will be able to discover quality products they didn’t know existed.

What’s the problem with using social media and Whatsapp to sell and how does Free solve it?

Social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were not built to be selling tools. Whatsapp is not a selling tool either. Since the tools you are forced to use are not built for what you are using them for, the process of buying and selling is not efficient for either the seller or the buyer.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Whatsapp were built as communication tools that encourage interaction, the sharing of content and collaboration. Although it is getting harder to be seen on overcrowded social media channels without paying for ads, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are great tools for you to market yourself and Whatsapp is a powerful messaging tool.

But Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Whatsapp fall down on a handful of highly important features for micro retailers. These are

  • No discoverability
  • No simple way to show your product range
  • No ordering system
  • No payment system

Let us run through each of these problems and the solutions Free provides in more detail.

No discoverability

The only way for people to discover you on social media is if you appear on your customers' feed. You are relying on people following you; people saving your content and then finding it again later; someone sharing your profile as a recommendation; and social media algorithms.

The truth is that when you use social media channels as your primary route to market, there is no easy way for a customer who wants what you sell at a particular time to find you with ease. Although there are search facilities on social media channels they are not as sophisticated or as intuitive as Google search is for websites, and it is near impossible to find and compare potential suppliers at the right time on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Being free, and easy to set up, every micro retailer can sell better through Free — whether that is someone making handmade soap, someone bringing in a suitcase full of clothes from China or South Africa, or someone growing fresh vegetables.

Because this is a free service that solves the key problems micro retailers currently face, word will spread and very quickly there will be one place for micro retailers to sell effectively in Zambia. This is what will give micro retailers discoverability. will become the ‘one place’ to discover anything available to buy in Zambia.

This is much better than the possibility of people finding you on social media, or having to pay for people to find you.

No simple way to show your product range

Any kind of retailer needs to present the products they have for sale, whether that is in a physical shop, on the roadside or in your home.

When selling through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the only way micro retailers can show their products is via multiple posts or albums on social media channels, links to additional information, like for Instagram, or through downloadable documents like pdf’s.

There are a number of challenges with this scenario,

  • It’s not possible to present your complete range in a way that enables a positive and exhaustive browsing experience that encourages cross-selling and up-selling
  • If you update your prices or product descriptions you have to republish your posts, links or documents
  • It’s very difficult for you to communicate stock levels that tend to be highly volatile in the world of micro retail.

Upload your entire catalogue of products so your customers can view your full range, photos, descriptions and prices, in a simple easy-to-follow format.

If you need to change a product's price, description or image, or remove it from your range because it is now out of stock, simply update the item, without having to republish it. Links you previously shared to your online shop, either via Whatsapp or a social media post will still work and show your customers the latest most up-to-date information.

No ordering system

When you sell through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Whatsapp, there is no intuitive ordering system for you or your customers.

Your customer faces these challenges which results in a poor customer experience,

  • They have to manually type out, copy and paste, or take screenshots of the items they want to order
  • After seeing your public posts, they have to private message you their order, or they may have to keep switching from one app to another so they can message you via WhatsApp
  • Hopefully they give you enough of the right information for you to know what product they want, otherwise the order process may become a frustrating, inefficient and tedious back-and-forth conversation. What colour/size/quantity do you want? Do you want brand x or y? Is that the 4 pack or the 6 pack?

You face these challenges which result in a time consuming business that you can’t scale

  • You are depending on your customer to manually provide you with the right order information
  • You have to repeatedly ask the same questions about size, colour, quantity, etc, again and again so you stand a chance of getting the order information right
  • You have to keep track of incoming orders and incomplete sales conversations on multiple communication channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Whatsapp.

With Free, when placing an order your customers simply browse your full range and select the items they want in the size, colour and quantity they want. This generates a list of their order which they send to you via a unique order link.

This is no longer a manual process that relies on the customer. You can simply copy and paste all incoming order links to one spreadsheet, so you can record the stage of each order — picked, payment received, delivered/picked up. This order process is simpler and less frustrating for your customers. It is also significantly faster and easier to manage for you, giving you a retail business that is much easier to scale.

No payment system

When you sell through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Whatsapp, you and your customers have to manually finalise the order (as outlined above) so you can conclude on the price. The lack of clarity on the impact variations (like size and quantity) can have on the item price leaves room for discount requests, inconclusive sales and difficult conversations about price.

When you do finalise the price, your customer has to go to another platform, like a Mobile Money account, to make the payment. Then they have to screenshot the payment or supply a payment reference. Or you have to accept cash payments on pickup or delivery. Both scenarios are not the easiest option for your customers and leave you vulnerable to non payment.

With Free, the order process is significantly simplified so the total order price is automatically finalised without your intervention. Your customer can see your full range and the associated variations and prices. They select what they want and they are given a total price. They can then add or remove selections depending on their budget.

When we launch Plus you will have the option to accept online payments on the same platform via Mobile Money or bank card integration. This means that the payment will be managed in the same place that the customers browse and order, so they don’t have to go to another platform or arrange to have the cash to make the payment. It also means you can be sure that you can release an item for delivery or pickup as soon as you receive a confirmed order.

The new way of selling in Zambia in 3 easy steps

Overall, we say that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Whatsapp are great tools for marketing and communication but not selling. But by using social media channels and Whatsapp to sell your products, you are forcing these marketing and communication tools to be retail tools. But because they are not built for retail, they don’t provide a positive buying experience for your customers and they stop you from scaling your retail business.

Why make do with them when Free gives you a free alternative that solves these problems? Why hack your way to a sale when there is a free tool that you can grow with?

This is the new way of selling in Zambia:

  1. Upload your digital product catalogue for free on Free
  2. Market your digital product catalogue on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Whatsapp
  3. Your customers view and select what they want, and you receive complete orders via a unique link

Time frame

You don’t have to wait forever for these services

  • Phase 1, September 2020: Transition online shop to
  • Phase 2, September - early October 2020: Launch Free for micro retailers
  • Phase 3, October 2020: Launch of Plus for growing micro retailers

Get early access

Visit our new website: to get early access and other treats.