It's official. E-commerce is where it's happening right now in Nigeria. It's not like it's news, I'm just saying it for the benefit of those whom the memo might have somehow skipped their desks.
But even those of you who think you've seen everything can't afford to so much as blink just yet, because things are still happening. Big things. New e-commerce websites launch every other day, but the impending arrival of Shopp!ng -- www.shoppi.ng -- onto the scene is well worth a mention.
If you're wondering at the name, you're in good company. The .ng domain hack was the first thing that piqued my interest when I first came across it late last month/last year. It says a lot about the people behind it -- anyone who's got the clout and is motivated enough to not mind the cost of snagging one of these elusive domain suffixes must mean business, right? It would seem so. From what I've gathered so far, there are some pretty influential legal and financial entities backing this venture.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. First, what is Shopp!ng?
Shopp!ng is a service that wants to help businesses set up online versions of their stores and offices. By taking advantage of the Shopp!ng platform, a merchant can sell their products and services to anyone who has access to the internet, and do so without the associated costs of technology and development. In geek speak, we'd call it e-commerce as a service.
But this is not merely about creating digital clones of offline stores. What Shopp!ng looks to be aiming for is more along the lines of a massive shift from offline retail to online retail in coming years, by helping merchants discover that they can run their businesses much cheaper and efficiently online, while overcoming the limitations of a traditional, physical setup.
Online means a business can grow really fast without needing to acquire more space, hire more staff or incur more overhead. Doing greater volumes of business at a lower cost also means that they can delight customers with lower prices, which in theory should translate to even more customers. And unlike an offline store or business which depends on foot traffic, and can be open for only so many hours, an online shop is accessible from anywhere and open 24 hours a day.
Shopp!ng seems to have thought of everything. All a merchant will need to start? A mobile phone. There are pre-designed templates and things to get you going. Payments are fully integrated -- Shopp!ng is said to support Visa, MasterCard, Interswitch and even m-Pesa payments (hmm...). Merchants gain access to online and social media marketing incentives as well as analytics to help them track how they're doing. Security appears to be engineered deeply into the whole of the stack. And if you get stuck at any point of the way? Shopp!ng's got an army of independent business consultants, ready to give you a hand.
However, there are other things that an offline merchant who wants "go shopping" should also know.
Unlike most other platforms in the Nigerian e-commerce-as-a-service business, creating a webshop on Shopp!ng isn't free. It requires an annual subscription that comes in three tiers -- N49,000, N69,000 and N99,000 -- with varying features, functionality and perks.
Also each merchant on Shopp!ng is responsible for their own shipping, logistics and customer relationship management.
Again, asides from the subscription, there are transaction charges involved. But the charges aren't taken out of the merchant's price. Instead, the merchant sets their own price, and Shopp!ng adds their own margin -- about 8 percent, I hear. The sum of that is the eventual price that is displayed to the buyer. Shopp!ng hopes that merchants will realise that the physical operation costs they can shave off by using the platform can enable them price their products and services more competitively, while still increasing profits.
E-commerce as a service, as I've been referring to it, isn't making its Nigerian debut a la Shopp!ng. There's already other players in that space -- Egole Shopping mall, Traclist, Webmallng...however, Shopp!ng appears to be bringing in a whole new level of scale and sophistication to the game. For one, it's obvious from the fact that it supports m-Pesa payments, among other international payment options, that Shopp!ng's ambitions go way beyond the Nigerian market.
Platforms like Shopp!ng will allow offline businesses get out of the path of inevitable disruption, and better still, become disruptors themselves. Brick and mortar business won't die out overnight to be sure, but as consumer habits shift towards the internet, the wise ones will see the writing on the wall and adapt accordingly.
Shopp!ng was supposed to have launched since the 15th of December, but for some reason, it's still being kept under wraps. We'll keep you up to speed with the latest developments in that regard. In the meantime, here's an introductory video that explains what Shopp!ng's all about.
Will the likes of Konga and Jumia have to move over, give up some of the spotlight to this latest entrant? Do you think Shopp!ng could be the next big thing to hit Nigerian e-commerce?
About the author."My name is Bankole. For some reason, people call me Lordbanks. Stay with me for practical, no frills, hard-hitting, in your face African tech talk. Follow me on Twitter here."