BY TIMI OLUBIYI, PhD
In recent times, we have seen more businesses reporting low or no profit and, in some cases, no revenue. The case of business failures is equally high and prevalent, which could be attributed to the changing landscape with the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, high inflation, poor supply chains, high exchange rate regime, and a host of other struggles. Despite the coronavirus pandemic radically altering business operations and customer experiences, many businesses in Africa, particularly Nigeria, have stuck to the prevailing old pattern of customer service, which frequently involves poor customer convenience and low customer satisfaction. Though we have seen more innovations around technology adoption in businesses to improve performance and retain customers, little is noticed in small businesses and large firms in Nigeria, despite changing business models all across different industries around the world to meet current realities and customer expectations. Consequently, businesses that wish to maintain survival need to adjust to the realities around customer expectations, preferences, and convenience without further delay. If small businesses fail to recognise these changes in customer expectations, they may face a business continuity threat rather than just poor performance, likewise large firms.
The majority of business advances in recent times have been inspired by technology, noticeably in service businesses and food-service sectors, particularly restaurants and transportation. For instance, considering the case of Uber, the car hailing business and the likes, the business model was driven by changes in consumer behaviour and convenience was the major driver. The success of the business model does not rest on a deep emotional connection with customers but the success may be summed up in a single word: convenience. Also, based on my observations around Lagos State, the adjudged economic capital of Nigeria, I have seen a restaurant with multiple outlets offer a single meal, rice with boiled egg, for N500. That is less than a dollar for the meal, noting that a $1 is around N600 in the country. Similarly, banks provide mobile banking software applications (apps) through which accounts may be opened online and transactions can be completed, even to borrow funds, without having to enter the banking hall. Another example is the sudden deployment of point-of-sale (PoS) terminals to agents throughout the country, with the agents executing some banking transactions nearly everywhere outside banking halls. Further to this, in Somolu, a Lagos State suburb, I have also seen that a local café (Amala joint) opens on Sundays when competitors are all closed, and chooses to close on Mondays to observe the one day off per week. With this idea, the local cafe operator can give a lot of customers the flexibility and convenience they need on Sundays while also making a premium on the business gains. All these concepts are intended to capitalise on customer convenience and the current realities.
Therefore, business owners and SME operators should understand this and know that when it comes to the most crucial aspects of customer needs, convenience is supreme. Each customer, though, may have different ideas of what constitutes convenience, from pricing to the business location, payment options, ease of shopping or making transactions, business opening days and time flexibility, customer experience of ordering, delivering, and the likes. It is important to note that most consumers are price sensitive and base their purchasing or service decisions on it.
In my observations in Lagos State, despite a lack of solid business concepts and knowledge, the numerous neighbourhood corner-shops, traffic hawkers, and businesses without recognised classification, operate on this convenience model. Though it may seem to be an insignificant way to operate a business, the turnover, revenue, and profit could be sufficient to sustain the operators. The expectation is that customers will hurriedly need items or products, and such businesses exist on this premise. Whereas I see major enterprises with a brick-and-mortar retailing strategy still paying exorbitant rent to maintain a physical presence without operating online or adopting technology for convenience; ignoring the digital age that has changed the retail industry, and indeed most sectors of the economy, where businesses can relate with customers anywhere and at any time.
Therefore, structured enterprises, retail outlets, and large businesses should adopt the convenience model in order to improve business sustainability and profitability. Convenience is more important to consumers than ever before, particularly in terms of pricing, (i.e., affordable services or products) and location that is easily accessible (physical or online). What matters to most consumers is the time and effort they have to expend because they are largely impatient – the less time, the better, and the less amount, even much better.
To use an illustration of how convenience can make a business more profitable; in the case of a superstore, patronage can be increased by having a good and convenient location, reducing expensive, specialty, or high-end products and exponentially increasing convenient goods. Convenient goods are items or products that customers can easily afford and frequently buy on impulse without much thought. Such items are groceries, eatables, detergents, toothpaste, paper products, and emergency products, such as light bulbs and so on. The idea is that a large volume is likely to be sold within a short period, and repeat purchases will happen continually and such business will be active and performing. Furthermore, technology too can greatly help in this instance, that is where e-commerce comes in. The extra levels of convenience where customers can effectively use their phones with seamless payment platforms or gateways to effect purchases or transactions will help a great deal, no matter how small. For micro businesses, social media platforms and WhatsApp status can equally help with cheap advertisement and keeping customers updated.
For other forms of businesses, particularly large firms, a business model can be designed or redesigned around convenient solutions. To create convenience, firms must find ways to eliminate any “friction” that may arise when a potential customer interacts with or purchases from their business. Such convenience can be designed around packaging, delivery, usability, automation, and product variety. Providing convenience can actually increase repeat purchases of any form of business, which in turn helps increase and grow the profit margin. Any strategy to boost the convenience of customers can also give brand loyalty, which will give a competitive edge and market-dominance. Therefore, providing convenience can be the key to business success at this time of high inflation, low disposable income, and weak purchasing power of the majority, who are the masses. Because by saving customers’ time, money, and energy, businesses can also make more income.
Significantly, market survey and customer research may assist in determining which solutions will enhance business service, and overall, provide a high degree of ease. Quite often, I have noticed that businesses do not leverage on feedback from customers. It is good to have present customers submit comments or reviews highlighting instances in which particular business (or rivals’ business) failed to meet their ‘convenience expectations, and this may be a pointer to what needs to be addressed. It takes more than pricing to outperform competition, so consider how to integrate convenience into a designed business model. Who says customers cannot order a haircut, photo shoot, home-cooked meals, or even a manicure directly from their mobile phones for a convenient home service? All that is needed is for the vendors or business owners to think critically and carry out research about the ways things should work.
In conclusion, to effectively engage with today’s hyper-connected, technology-savvy, and impatient consumers, businesses must be preoccupied with offering quick, convenient, and simple solutions. In short, nothing pays more for businesses at this time than being more convenience-oriented because it could be the shortest path to increasing customer retention, loyalty, and business profitability!
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