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Five Lessons Small Business Owners Need to Learn about E-commerce 

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It is probably no longer news that the e-commerce industry in Nigeria is not as glamorous as we have been made to believe. Recent data released by Swedish investment firm, Kinnevik, gave us a sense of just how well Konga – and the e-commerce sector in Nigeria in general – is doing. The investment firm owns 34 percent stake in Konga.

Investors and stakeholders had very high hopes for the e-commerce market in Nigeria and (by extension) Africa. In fact, Jumia and Konga were built on the premise of becoming the “Amazons of Africa.” Apart from the fact that there has been a deficit of adequate data and information concerning the e-commerce sector in Nigeria, it is evident that we have not been paying close attention to the sector. While it cannot be disputed that data is key in knowing the state of the sector, frequent tracking and monitoring of progress is important.

This is not so much an economic analysis as it is an attempt to map out some key lessons that small business owners can learn from the “giants.”

1. Piggyback on the Big Players

As a small business owner, rather than create your own e-commerce store and have to bear the cost of marketing and other associated costs, it is wiser to leverage existing online platforms like Konga, Jumia, etc to gain access to a wider market. Smart business is about optimizing your resources to drive the greatest results.

Konga and Jumia are already transitioning to the Alibaba model by providing a commission-based marketplace for third-party retailers. Sites like Jiji and Efritin also allow placement of free classified ads.

For every offline market, there is an online market, and your goal is to be where your customers will find you. The new battleground for brands is what Google calls “Micromoments.” Your customers are not loyal; they go for whoever meets their needs in the moment. Therefore, the key is to always “be there.” That brings me to my next point.

2. Do not be Online-present and Offline-absent

As much as we want to believe that everything is shifting “online,” there is really no “one-way” approach to reaching your customers. Let’s think about it: an e-commerce store is not so different from an offline business; the only distinction is that you’re selling your products online, rather than in a store.

You can easily implement successful strategies that have already worked for your offline businesses in your online store, and vice versa. Retail stores like Walmart and Shoprite have leveraged on omni-media platforms (digital marketing inclusive) to drive sales in offline stores. So, it is not really about whether there is a “shift” or not. It is about using different channels to meet your customers wherever they are.

Taking a cue from the Nigerian gaming industry, brands like Surebet and Nairabet have been able to appeal to different segments of the local market by integrating a WEB, SHOP and MOBILE strategy. This has turned out to be a very effective strategy as they have achieved massive penetration in the Nigerian market. A customer can place bets from his mobile phone or decide to go to a nearby shop. Hence, you can use offline channels to convince customers to buy from your online store and vice versa.

3. Focus on a Niche

Jumia and Konga are ecommerce stores that sell everything – or at least almost everything. This allows the e-commerce giant to budget substantial amounts in marketing each product segment. But for you as a small business owner, it is best not to try to sell everything – focus on a niche market, and be known for a particular product.

4. Social Media

You cannot afford to be absent on social media. There are about 16 million Nigerians on Facebook alone and 44% (7.2 Million) of them use Facebook every day. People no longer want to talk to brands; they want to talk to people. Therefore, your business has to be social. A lot of interactions are taking place on social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Snapchat. Business is literally going social, and a lot of sales are also taking place online that are not tied to any (e-commerce) website.

However, in using social media, it is important you identify which platform works best for your target market: Facebook is good for community building; Twitter is best for conversations, while Instagram is for pictures and stories. Make sure your content is useful, interesting and shareable – people always share things they find interesting and useful.

5. Always Deliver

Finally, trust is a fundamental factor in the whole e-commerce/online shopping experience. Many people have bad experiences shopping online. Therefore, you need to gain the trust of customers. Ensure that your word is your bond. Avoid giving any surprises and leave a lasting positive experience.

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