The Chief Executive Officer, Awoof-Dey Online Portal, an e-Commerce outfit, Mr. Peter Elofusim, spoke with Dele Ogbodo on the need for government to set up an independent regulatory body to monitor the activities of online shopping businesses in Nigeria, insisting that the body will help guarantee trust and confidence in the sector. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of e-commerce business in Nigeria?
Well, let me start by saying that Nigeria as a country has great opportunities for growth in virtually all the sectors of the economy. I can equally assure you, with due respect to my background as telecommunication engineer of several years experience with MTN, that certainly a lot of companies will spring up to do e-commerce business across the country. At the same time, it also suffices to add that about half of them will fold up in five years time.
What would be the defining point for all players is the issue of trust. To me I see that as an opportunity also to make my own mark because we are putting every process in place to make sure that trust is earned and it is paramount to our business. We have been having meeting also among some of us that are into the business about regulating it because it is yet to be regulated.
I am actually championing this course. So I am hoping that somewhere there is going to be some form of intervention from government in setting up a regulator to make sure that trust is earned by everybody operating in the industry.
The apathy from Nigerians through the survey we conducted revealed that there is need for trust before the sector can actually thrive at optimum level. If there is no trust a lot of people are not likely to expose their bank details online for fear that somebody is going to siphon their funds.
Now if the government sets up a body to regulate the practice of e-commerce such that if you feel riped off there is an organisation for you to report to, I believe that is going to help the e-commerce business to move to the next level. Right now it is all comers' affair. Again, that body is also going to be like a rating agency that will be able to audit the owners of the company and set up process and procedures for activities to be carried by that company.
So if the government is able to set that commission then it would just look like the Consumer Protection Agency (CPC), so that somebody would be able to say that I was ripped off when I put out my credit card details and somebody behind that is listening to you should be able to say okay, this money was taken out of this account and was not credited to the account.
How will you rate the development of online shopping in the country?
e-Commerce is still at the nascent stage of development. There are lots of things like the issue of regulation and compliance. Presently nobody is looking at what is happening. Even in advanced countries there is still issue of trust because the websites that you are ordering from, you don't even know whether, they exist in the first place.
But I believe that the steps being taken to regulate e-commerce business will expand our limit, because very soon a lot of traditional shops are going to close. That will give way to online business because in the first the cost of renting shops in a city like Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt is on the high side like paying N2 million to rent a shop. I do not see the wisdom in that because an online shop is such a good channel that if it is well managed you don't need a warehouse, what you need is an e commerce robust website that can take about 20,000 simultaneous bits to pick. Sorry to say a lot of plazas are going to close shop.
How is Information Technology (IT) tools driving e-Commerce in the country?
It is true that for e-Commerce to be alive and active, you need a good and seamless internet transmission network. Today we are in 2014, and today's technology and services have changed, unlike the services that we used to have five or six years ago. Information Technology (IT) infrastructure is actually and constantly being deployed across the country by quite a number of companies that are coming into the industry. Today we have several providers of fibre optic backbone services. Now the major backbone that provide internet service into the country are MainOne, MTN, GLO and now Phase3 Telecom.
What Awoof- Dey will be doing differently is hosting our service with triple redundancy in the sense that every time that we are on and alive, we are not getting service from only one operator. So we are getting our service not just from say GLO, we are also getting from MTN, MainOne and we know that three or four of them cannot fail at the same time. That solves the backbone issue, but again another issue has to do with the devices which has to do with the IPads, mobile phones, among others. it depends on the quality of the network that you are using but again once you have internet on your iPad, it may be slow but it will connect eventually.
The broadband plan penetration by government is in quantum leap because it is something that about five years ago the internet facility was not as accessible as it is now. And with what is happening now and the initiative of the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), under the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), you will find out that a lot of penetration is happening across the country now and also with the drastic reduction of mobile devices that can access internet, and of with the Android and I think that with what government is doing it is going to be very good for e commerce to thrive.
How is Awoof Dey going to lower the cost of its services and products?
As we speak, we have concluded and firmed up an uninterrupted collaboration with seven warehouses both in the United Kingdom and United States of America. I see a lot of opportunities in the industry and in the economy. As a group I have been able to get young professionals of like mind to work with me and to try opportunities that I have seen in other area other than telecommunications.
Awoof Dey as a marketing brand is a platform that synchronises with about seven major warehouses around the world. The major reason for this is to be able to offer to the final consumers these products prices that can only be offered to a wholesaler. We are looking at a market of retailing to 160 million individuals. So effectively we will be able offer these products at whole prices to individuals rather than small businesses.
Secondly our motive is to use the engine of E commerce technology to make life easier for everybody. We don't want to reinvent the wheel as we find out that there are value additions we can bring to practically every industry or every business in this country.
For example, in the hospitality business, instead of people setting up a restaurants just any where. What we have decided to do is to create a portal where we have a term of experts in food business to go round and say audit 5 to 10 restaurants of different nationalities in Abuja that are of high standards, like Lebanese, Chinese, Urhobo, Igbo, Yoruba or even Indian restaurants that have high standards, and every other menu that you can think of and have them come together under the portal, this we have branded city chop. So what you can instead of you going to restaurant XYZ say you want to get Indian flavor, you can sit in the comfort of your office go to our website and pick about restaurant and pick any of the meals and place an order.
Now these warehouses in the first place do not belong to us, they are warehouses located in US, Europe and Asia and in these warehouses; you have every type of product that you can think of from households to automobiles. What we are saying is this, since we have the inventories and the chunk of inventories in the house and the pictures of inventory that they have, we are in a better position to lower prices of out products and services.
We have a tunnel to their website and with our own platform we are able to mirror what they have here so we have a choice of about 7 warehouses now sitting on our own platform so that you can from Nigeria pick one item instead of a dozen, and get it a price of a dozen.
What are the issues with the logistics side of e-commerce business in Nigeria?
By the time e-Commerce becomes fully operationalised in the country, it will led to the growth of the logistics industry and this will further create more jobs for the citizens.
Here the value addition part of it is that there is the delivery part of it that is the logistics part of the business which we believe will be of great benefit to everybody. We are going to create another value chain in the logistics in the management as there is the delivery part of it which we have to take off and we are going to be partnering with a lot of logistics outfits to make sure that that comes to fore. So we are technology people partnering with logistics companies to brining value addition to the industry.
Also interesting I see a lot of opportunities in Nigeria and by the grace of God, I have been able to identify these opportunities with the help of experts by taking advantage of them, and then again sometime last year, we discovered that when somebody starts and that person is doing well, another person will move closer to go and start the same shop, but instead of starting another shop what we are saying is that there is another way by which you can become part of that business without necessarily duplicating what that person is doing.
Are Nigerians actually embracing live-streaming services in online business?
We are stretching our ingenuity in telecommunications services to also provide streaming services. At the moment there are only few companies offering this in the country, but what they have not been able to do is that they have not been to identify or sell streaming services well, the way it would actually catch up.
For example, in occasions like your wedding or birthday anniversaries where friends cannot make it to the venue, we are ready to come with our equipment and stream it so that your friends can watch on their their iPads or mobile phones. Interestingly the trend is catching on. You will be given the URL link that you can use to watch the wedding just in case you are not able to make it to the venue. We have done about 100 since last year and everybody is happy about it.