A 10-year walkthrough on ecommerce in Nigeria

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It was certain that businesses had to evolve — however small a measure — to accommodate the nuances of the times. Instant responses to instant messages sent in by prospective customers through mobile message applications like BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp & Viber. Emails, also breezing past, made all too easy through push applications on smartphones, required some measure of promptness from business owners and minders. This was 2010, and the action theatre was Nigeria.

While internet use and access was swelling due to the increasing number of internet service providers, so was content demand among users. Virtual payments infrastructure were also burgeoning too, transitioning minutes spent in the banking hall scribbling on bank slips to simple button clicks on web portals that eased the sorting of bills and utilities. This alchemic mix of events opened up what was to follow:

The Pioneers: Wakanow, Obiwezy (2009)

After a successful sponsorship outing at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Wakanow sought to consolidate on its gains by detailing its online offerings in Nigeria. Flights could be shopped, booked and paid for easily. Site visitors gave off whiffs of their activities that helped the platform build robust user data. The new clime indeed looked lush. Obiwezy, a mobile gadgets retailer, sold phones, tablets and accessories through its listings. It also opened auction channels for users to trade in their devices and offer a market segment piqued by such.

First-of-its-kind products and service marketplace. If you were looking for language schools on the cheap, milliners, confectioners or grocers; you had a place you could always go to check — and get at huge discounts. Dealdey’s all-inclusive product content made lots of vendors visible. Their escrow settlement style protected buyers from losing their monies to defaulting vendors while also committing same vendors to service completion. It went bust in 2017 and sealed an era it ushered in —or so it seemed.

Retail Behemoths: Jumia, Konga (2012)

Starting off as grocers, these two organisms endured attritive turf wars for market dominance over the next half of a decade, polarizing an ambivalent market through a barrage of over-competitive policies and approaches. Price and discount wars, logistical brawls, advertising salvos and a host of many other interesting events all aimed at outdoing one another were rife. Jumia prevailed. Konga was sold.

The Also-rans: Obaoja, Kaymu, Adiba, Payporte (circa 2012–2014)

These entities entered, felt the waters, scaled a little and went bust. Obaoja never hit market-readiness due to marring backend tensions. Kaymu was collapsed into its parent company Jumia in 2016. Adiba offered a wide range of retail products but never really grew on the public, probably due to a lack of speciality or novelty. In 2020, it’s site was no longer running. Payporte on the other hand, grew so much public clout, many thanks to its title sponsorship of the 2018 Big Brother Naija reality television show. It still thrives today, but endures cut-throat competition from a number of other players.

The Big Brick-and-Mortars: Gtbank, UBA, Flutterwave, Slot technologies (circa 2014–2018)

Because the ecommerce is continually replete with opportunities, big businesses which already enjoyed market success outside the internet, arrived with their armoury under a cloud of many battle tactics. GTBank unrolled the SME Markethub that brought the institution very close to its business customers. UBA did the same with its UBA Marketplace in 2018. Flutterwave rolled out its marketplace infrastructure in 2020, offering merchants channels to receive payments from any part of the world. SLOT technologies transcended its physical stores to float a 100% online presence that allows users shop, buy, pre-order and obtain delivery of their purchases across the country.

What the future holds:

It has become glaringly apparent that the industry has not touched its limits. The entrance of newer marketplaces all poised to give businesses the opportunity to transact online, demonstrates this truth. The current pandemic further stresses the need for online businesses — and more secure virtual trading spaces for everyone. This is giving rise to more payment solution providers, marketplaces, virtual banks and logistics businesses.

Where would you fit in this new mix of things?

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