Bankole Cardoso is the Managing Director of one of Nigeria’s fastest growing e-commerce firm; EasyTaxi while his colleague, Marek Zmyslowski is the Managing Director, Jovago.com, an online company specialized in hotel booking. In this interaction with Jonah Nwokpoku, they argue that with increasing challenges of e-payments for online companies in Nigeria, strategic approach is required to stem the tide. Excerpts
What do you think is driving the growth of e-commerce in Nigeria?
I think that the rapid expansion of GSM, data services and Smartphone penetration has provided Nigerians with access to a lot more information and commerce. I think that this lifestyle change has resulted in a sophistication of tastes of the average Nigerian consumer who is now exposed to a wider variety of world-class products and services. Two years ago, phone applications like the Easy Taxi app which enables people book for taxis conveniently from their smartphones, could not have successfully operated.
One of the major growth drivers of e-commerce in Nigeria is the middle class. As internet access is rapidly becoming common place, the middle class is getting more tech-savvy and so is it’s purchasing power. Another strong growth driver of e-commerce is the demand for high quality goods, innovative products, services and platforms such as online hotel booking platforms like Jovago.com and mobile applications.
I would also say that the democratization of the Internet has also provided an avenue for Nigerian entrepreneurs to leverage the global village online. They have played an important role in harnessing local talent to provide unique solutions for consumers such as payment on delivery. Consequently, this has resulted in a quick and embedded uptake of e-services and e-commerce is no exception to this rule.
Giving your experience so far in the industry, what would you say about the payment system and what has been your greatest challenge?
There are payments options available to e-commerce clients- Pay on delivery, and online payment with credit cards. However from my experience, Nigerians prefer the payment on delivery system, an offshoot of the fear of potential internet fraud. With Jovago.com, our travel portal which allows clients to book hotels all over the world online, most of the customers prefer to pay for the booking upon arrival. However that creates additional risk of a customer not showing up, which might pose as a challenge. This is why building brand loyalty is crucial to building sustainable business.
Trust is a key component in any system that entails monetary transactions. This is even more important in the Nigerian ecosystem where the average Nigerian is largely apprehensive of his neighbour (in matters concerning money and other finances). However, Nigerians are quick to learn and are always on the quest to improve – so this is promising for the e-payments space in the industry.
Mobile payment solutions, which are largely powered by our commercial banks and some independent players, are springing up left, right and center. More Nigerians have debit cards, which they can use to shop online and there are some other electronic payment alternatives. With awareness and education (aided by the CBN’s Cashless policy) there has been significant uptake. Notwithstanding, Nigerians are still most comfortable with the cash-on-delivery option.
Talking about my experience with my company, Easy Taxi is a new innovation that provides a safe, convenient and free medium between taxi drivers, operators and their clientele. By nature of the product, payment transactions between clients and taxi operators are not handled on the platform. So, payment has not provided a significant challenge for us yet. Regardless, as pioneers in the industry, Easy Taxi is consistently innovating and finding better ways to serve our customers and safer, more convenient payment options are always being explored
An online retailer, Kalahari recently pulled out of Nigeria citing payment challenges as reason; do you foresee other e-commerce operators closing shops in the absence of effective solutions to e-payment challenges in the country?
I highly doubt that this would be the case. The Nigerian market that Kalahari operated in is significantly different from today’s e-commerce market. . Right now with the ubiquity of the mobile phones and significantly cheaper and more affordable Internet access across socio-economic lines in Nigeria, e-commerce is positioned for a more favorable uptake. There is immense potential in Nigeria and I cannot imagine that any investor would want to miss out on it.
What do you think can be the best approach to the e-payment challenges in Nigeria?
Builidng trust for the brand and its services is the first necessary step. Educating customers about the comfort of e-payment alongside building rational awareness of the threats posed and how to overcome them is the second. This however cannot be done without a strong and reliable payment operator.
I think we need a holistic approach to tackle the e-payment challenges in Nigeria so I cannot pick out a single best approach. There’s a need to create awareness of the ease and convenience of e-payment options and eradicate ignorance. Consumers need incentives to try out e-payment options. Majority of the time, a consumer’s first experience with a successful end-to-end e-payment transaction is the most critical. The same can be said of introducing ATM cards into the banking system or even GSM phone adoption. These were new technologies that people were once not familiar with but a consumer’s first positive experience is all it takes to convert them.
Lastly, I would say that the product must work! There is nothing more annoying, frustrating and in fact, harmful to your brand/product than a botched attempt at proving its efficacy and usefulness.
Do you think pure-click e-commerce companies pose a real competitive threat to traditional retailers i.e, brick and mortar companies?
E-commerce definitely redefines offline commerce and takes away a large portion of its customer base, however it could never replace offline commerce because they serve different purposes. For instance, sometimes you just fancy going to a shopping mall by yourself and touching the actual products, talking to the sales representative in person, e.t.c. Just like TV didn’t kill the radio, e-commerce couldn’t kill offline commerce.
I am certain that they pose a competitive threat to traditional retailers. The cost-saving and synergies enjoyed in the online space cannot be beat! People shop online because of the convenience, choice and timesaving it affords them. However, I foresee a future where brick-and-mortar and online stores work hand in hand to ensure the best and most complete shopping experience for the customer.