Armed with a Bachelor of Education degree from the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rivers State, L.P. Hope at different stages of her professional career has served in diverse capacities.
She is the founder and CEO of Lawfactor a thriving online retail store that deals in trendy wears and basic tech solutions. She spoke to LAWRENCE PAULon the intrinsic world of ecommerce, her online brand and the way forward for the Nigerian online retail business.
To many out there who are yet to come to terms with it, what is e-Commerce and what does it entail?
E-Commerce refers to any form of business transaction conducted online. The most popular example of eCommerce is online shopping, which is defined as buying and selling of goods via the Internet on any device. However, eCommerce can also entail other types of activities, such as online auctions, payment gateways, online ticketing, and internet banking.
What are the Benefits of eCommerce?
There is a reason why eCommerce has demonstrated such explosive growth in the past couple of years. Indeed, with the internet becoming an essential requirement of everyday life, businesses are learning to take advantage of the numerous benefits of eCommerce. They’re numerous but I will highlight a few of the most notable benefits, which include that firstly, you have access to a Global market. A geographical area it can serve will always limit a physical store. An online store, or any other type of eCommerce business for that matter, has the whole world as its market. Going from a local customer base to a global market at no additional cost is really one of the greatest advantages of trading online.
Another great benefit of running an online business is that it is always open. For a businessman, it’s a dramatic increase in sales opportunities and for a customer; it’s a convenient and immediately available option.
Unrestricted by the working hours, eCommerce businesses can serve customers 24 hours,7 days a week,365 days a year. Furthermore, eCommerce businesses benefit from significantly lower running costs. As there’s no need to hire sales staff or maintain a physical storefront, the major eCommerce costs go to warehousing and product storage.
With access to such a wealth of customer data and an opportunity to keep an eye on customer buying habits as well as the emerging industry trends, eCommerce businesses can stay agile and shape their marketing efforts to provide a better-tailored experience and find more new customers.
Just consider for a moment that you have a chance to address thousands of your customers by their first name; that is something already. By just using online search capabilities, customers from any corner of the world can find and purchase your products.
Working from anywhere.
Often, running an eCommerce business means that you don’t need to sit in an office from 9 to 5 or suffer through a commute day-in and day-out. A laptop and a good Internet connection is all it takes to manage your business from anywhere in the world. Indeed ecommerce is the future of business.
How do you start up and ecommerce or online business in Nigeria?
It’s really quite simple. Firstly you will require a well-optimised website.
It’s not enough to have a website, you must ensure you have one that not only ranks well for Google searches, but is also designed in a user-friendly way. Customers shouldn’t waste their time whenever they visit your website. You will also need a good and well-stocked inventory. If you don’t have a product but put it up for sale, that is fraud and could land you in big trouble.
So ensure that you have the products before displaying it for sale with pictures of course and price as well as product description among other details. Then you need to create a Safe and Secure Payment System.
You will ask yourself the following questions; If your customers pay for your goods would they lose their money? Can hackers access your database? Will their transactions be secure? If you can safely answer these questions and win their trust, you’re good to go.
In addition to the above, you will need to set up an effective delivery system. After paying for your goods, would they be able to get prompt delivery – not when you claim state delivery within 5 days on your website but in reality it takes 2 weeks for it to reach the customer.
What are some of the things you stand to gain from owning an online retail store in Nigeria?
At the forefront of all the gains is surely that of low overhead cost. You don’t need a sales boy/girl, a cashier or even book keeper with an online store that means less money paid as salaries, no need for rent as you can keep your goods in your house. It also runs on autopilot except for the part where you have to answer customer enquiries or deliver their goods.
This of course immediately translates into higher profit margins. With less overhead costs your profit margins increase so you can beat your chest that compared to a competitor who owns a shop where he/she pays N300,000-N400,000 or even more a year as rent or hires a sales person to work with, you can keep that money for yourself as profit.
You can also explore the opportunity for strategic partnerships. Websites like Kaymu and Jumia, which have arrangements whereby verified merchants can actually sell their products online through their website. So you can benefit from that partnership and increase your sales potential.
It cannot be over-emphasised that this kind of business runs 24/7 so you can do other businesses too. When you’re doing this business you can diversify and run other businesses as well. You may have a regular job from Mondays to Saturdays and still run this business. The challenge though would only be with replenishing your stock.
Most of these are benefits and gains to the businessperson. What about benefits to the intended customers?
It is really a well-rounded package of benefits and gains to both sides. You would be amazed to see how ecommerce is gradually changing the shopping experience in Nigeria.
Nigeria is going cashless really fast. POS terminals are not the only cashless option available, there’s mobile money, internet banking, electronic funds through quick teller and now PayPal through first bank and the relief this has brought to Nigerian buyers are enormous. We can see that many Nigerian consumers have smart phones and mobile devices.
More than 60% of middle-income earners own and use smart phones in Nigeria and a very encouraging percentage of them are active online shoppers. Have you experienced the stress and traffic of Lagos state recently? It is unimaginable to assume that workers who get home from work can do anything else after work hours.
Indeed many Nigerian workers are busy during the weekdays and are also too tired to go shopping during the weekends, so they opt for the next best thing, which is online shopping, and It’s a trend that won’t die anytime soon. Seriously, to the consumer or buyer, there is nothing more attractive than convenience.
If all I have to do to buy what I want is to browse my phone and make a purchase on an online shopping website why do I need to stress myself driving from home or work through traffic, under the hot sun or in the rain, inside the congested market with so much noise and filth then return home again meanwhile my goods just arrive at my doorstep when I shop online.
Another thing the shoppers love is variety, they want to see as many available items as possible rather than be forced to make do with what is before their eyes. Online shopping gives a consumer plenty of options to deal with making him/her feel they’re getting value for money.
You’re a seasoned ecommerce and online retail practitioner. Can you tell us a bit about your business?
My business name is Lawfactor. Lawfactor is an e-commerce clothing brand. Our major products are T-shirts, Hoodies and Tank tops. We also sell authentic phone covers and cases for Apple and other devices.
Lawfactor as a brand is associated with trendy casual wear for comfort and fashion. We believe that looking good is not so hard and you don’t have to break the bank to look great!
Lawfactor is inspired by a lot of things and one of those is the fact that money should not be a barrier to a basic need such as clothing. No matter who you are, your class, race or lifestyle, there is something in LawFactor for all.
The name LawFactor is special because it says, Love. Acquire. Wear and that is a Factor for choosing your style. First you love it, then you acquire it and then you wear it.
You can follow us on Instagram @lawfacto303 and like our Facebook page @lawfactor brand and you can also visit our website www.law-factor.com
What challenges are to be expected in this field of business?
Well, one major challenge is choosing the right technology and partners. There are specific tools for every trade. Some online businesses in Nigeria struggle with expansion or growth because their technologies are limiting. There are millions of innovative individuals however, the digital backwardness of the nation at large, not only hinders the innovator, but innovative expansion. Also, the lack of knowledge or incompetence of practitioners to handle a platform is also limiting factors hence, when running an online business, be sure to choose the right technologies for your business and know how to use it.
Retaining customers is another prominent challenge of E-commerce in Nigeria because other online businesses providing the same products or services spring up every day. Most times with a better offer and better conditions, therefore being the first or the next organisation to do it, you must provide something unique to your customer.
In this vein, the use of promotion tools should be encouraged in the company to achieve customer loyalty. Also, your business must move with the tide, upgrade your services when you can, and reduce cost, however, not at the expense of quality. Generating traffic is one of the sole aims of an online business. Digital marketing is now a thing, believe it or not, and you can no longer rely on one channel or avenue to drive traffic to your online business.
You’d have to increase website traffic fast and this can be done by making effective use of specific tools such as email, social, display ads, retargeting, mobile, Google analytics, shopping engines, and affiliates. Your business must be visible to your target audience if not it gets challenging.
Tied with online trust is product delivery. This is the biggest fear of an online shopper in Nigeria. Knowing how fraudulent some platforms can be, the product or service delivered may not be what you ordered, and that is if it is ever delivered. At times it may not be the business, but the courier partner may be the problem. In Nigeria the issue of product delivery also spans across logistics, deliveries sometimes take too long, and tracking may be helpless because most online businesses do not offer that service.
This is a major challenge in the business. In my opinion, the solution for this is still to choose the right partners and technologies for the services you can logically offer given a certain period and available resources. Another challenge of e-commerce in Nigeria quality control. This is a challenge because some online businesses are service platform providers.
That is to say, they provide a platform with various services to help a partner or registered business provide their services or product online. An online business of this form cannot entirely control the quality of products uploaded on the platform by subscribers to the platform. Therefore, bad services experienced by customers will be attributed to the company’s name.
In view of the challenges you have mentioned, what can be the way forward?
One challenge the industry still faces is lack of trust. It continues to beat my imagination why the issue of lack of trust still persists, despite all the assurances. It is important that we must deal with the issue of trust and customer service in the marketplace ecosystem. Why do certain potential customers believe that what they see online might be different from what will be delivered eventually, hence, the preference to pay on delivery? Also, why do some check for prices online only to head to a physical shop to make purchases?
I believe that the challenge in cracking the Nigerian e-commerce market lies heavily on the approach or business strategy adopted by most players, many of whom fail to situate foreign business models, ideas and strategies within the culture of the people and Nigeria’s existential realities. Whatever be the case, the industry must work together to build trust, and some of the ways of achieving this is through user education and unparalleled customer service. The industry has to work closely with the media to ensure that this process is maintained.
Well, I believe that one of the ways of addressing the issue of fraud and promoting trust in online payment is to encourage strategic partnership and collaborations among players in the ecosystem such as financial institutions including FinTechs, logistic providers, suppliers and the platform owners. If speed can be achieved with the right synergy, then it will go a long way in improving trust. There is also a need to constantly innovate. Konga, for example, operates a hybrid model consisting of a unique option to either shop online or at a physical store dotted across major cities and this is the direction Lawfactor is heading.
One general point the industry needs to take seriously in paving the way forward is customer service. This ought to start from the moment a prospect or customer hits the e-commerce website and, of course, through every single stage of the transaction. In some cases, customer service is further extended to stages of inquiry, complaints and the return of goods. Each of these stages must be strategically and cautiously addressed to ensure excellent customer service experience.
Interestingly, I am aware of a number of relatively smaller e-commerce platforms that are doing just fine but these are largely niche-focused platforms. In most cases, the customers they serve are happy to pay a premium for what they sell. This is why I have long adopted the position that if you must play in the e-commerce space and you don’t have billions of naira to throw into the game, then narrow down to a niche, just as I’ve done and grow from there. When you stand out in that niche, the bigger online retail stores will come for partnerships.
Finally, my hope is that going forward, we’d receive only good news of how the industry is growing and winning more Nigerians over.
Any advice to business people who intend to diversify into e-commerce and online retail business?
I can only add that such a person should get some training to further help apply themselves fully in building their brand and medium of sale. Some aspects of digital media is just gaining ground in Nigeria and many are still yet to grasp the wide scope of digital media; hence it is necessary to learn the basics and tools of the job. Some business people who get into online retail business make the mistake of thinking that hiring regular writers and offline marketers will yield desired results. However, the business owner must be skilled in the field of digital media and marketing to fully utilise resources.
Capturing quality leads is very important to any online business. Generating leads will only help the company yield their marketing efforts. A lead is a potential client, and a quality lead has the potential of being converted to sales. There are lead generation companies that specialise in lead generation. Building an email subscribers list is key for long-term success and this is one lead generation technique that can be used. A lot of online businesses do not realise the power of leads, it is not all about getting social media influencers to talk about your business, or having fancy ads, there is a lot of work that goes into capturing these leads.
Building online trust is one of the biggest challenges that the online businessperson must strive to conquer because Nigerians find it hard to trust things they cannot see and touch. Online marketing is the future of economic development as every day there are new avenues to do business. Trust says a lot about your online business’s reputation, you are not entitled to it, it must be earned. Building online trust goes beyond saying your business is legit, or having one or two people testify, trust is when customers no longer need recommendations from others before patronage.
In a bid to build this online trust you must acknowledge that no two experiences will be the same, and there could be faults along the way. Customer trust can be gained by using authentic images. Don’t portray a product or service you’re not providing, enable reviews and testimonies, provide social proof and proper customer care, and content resources to help customers transact with your business.