VICTOR AFOLABI is the Chief Executive Officer, Eko Innovation Centre, and founder, Retailar Merchant. In this interview with Business A.M.’s Hamid Ayodeji, he speaks on the crucial role e-commerce platforms play towards enhancing the business activities of the ecosystem, by enabling fast moving consumer goods access to consumers, as the global economy tackles the COVID-19 pandemic. He also explains how his firm has been able to infuse technology in order to help manufacturers reduce distribution costs.
What sort of services does Retailar Merchant deliver to customers?
We are a business-to-business e-commerce platform designed to help solve the retail supply chain challenges across Africa. We remain dedicated towards breaching the supply chain challenges from the very first mile to the last mile, for companies playing in the retail space. We believe that helping them solve retail challenges would boost their ability to attain more feasibility in retail activities; improve access to market; help gather useful data and analytics that enable the product manufacturers and product distributors make better decisions.
We believe there are greater values that can be harnessed by having technology drive distribution to the last mile, which is where every product needs to be as it is where their products interact with consumers.
With the implementation of technology we have been able to reduce the cost of distribution for manufacturers. We have been able to enhance the entire value chain by taking the products from the manufacturers to consumers. Our services also tackle the issue of speed to the market as we reduce the volume of middle men, and this generates quicker cash circles.
We deliver fast moving consumer goods to retailers at their convenience on or ahead of due time. Our objective is to make sure we efficiently connect the informal retail outlets to the product manufacturers. In order to achieve this we get products from the manufactures and then sell them to the informal retailers who are at the last mile of the value chain, for affordable rates. This sort of synergy enables us to gather adequate data and present it to the manufacturers of the goods.
Being in the e-commerce service delivery business of fast moving consumer goods, over time we have realized that most retail stores experience challenges whilst stocking up, thereby causing inefficiency regarding meeting the demand of every customer.
Hence, our dedication towards creating an ecosystem with the support of technology driven initiatives, whereby people can purchase more goods and services at their convenience.
Also, we recognize that the world is currently going through a pandemic and manufacturers are finding constraints regarding getting their goods to the market and then customers. Thus, our technology driven solution helps the manufacturers tackle such issues as we connect fast moving consumable goods from the manufacturers to shelves of stores and then consumers.
How accessible and affordable are the services Retailar Merchant provides?
We have created a lot of channels for our consumers to reach us on, such as, a mobile application and web application which enables people to shop for the sort of goods they want by placing orders.
We have also created USSD codes for those of our customers who possess mobile devices that are not smart. This code would enable them to have seamless access to our services at their own convenience.
What sort of initiatives is Retailar Merchant executing in order to expand its operations and harness the enormous opportunities the Nigerian market presents for the e-commerce sector?
We believe understanding and working towards achieving the vision and mission of the firm is very crucial. From understanding the problems we are solving in society so we can harness more opportunities and reach more consumer demands.
In addition, thus far, we have been partnering with various manufacturers of products regarding the distribution of their goods to markets. We understand that every business and sector faces its own fair share of challenges and obstacles. But, we understand that as a company it is our responsibility to overcome them if we intend emerging as a sustainable developed brand that is capable of experiencing growth in its capacity and operations.
In addition, we are already working towards expanding our operations to other parts of Africa by the end of 2021.
Also, in the course of the next three years we are going to develop four more new modules; and then by the end of this year we would be launching Retailar Xssential; which was birth from our findings that there are households who are bulk buyers. Hence, we are going to create a group of wholesale buyers, who would get their essential goods at distributor prices. All they need to do is to register on our platform.
What are the biggest challenges the firm has had to deal with during a global Covid-19 pandemic which has put a dent on the world’s economy?
That would be the fluctuation and inflation of prices of the items. There are no regulations on the price rate of goods which lead to frequent changes within a short period of time. This then makes it difficult for the informal retailers to monitor prices. The sudden increase of price does not usually please consumers, as sometimes it causes decline in purchase volume.
Seeing to it that we deliver the goods as fast as possible to our clients every time is also one of the biggest challenges we face as also a technology driven logistics service provider. However, we are delighted to announce that we have been able to tackle such constraints.
How has the firm been able to utilize technology in order to gather and accumulate efficient data in order to ensure the safety and accountability of the products and services it supplies consumers?
Our operations are driven by technology so we have created software that helps our cluster of agents collect merchants’ data. Upon the collection of data we store their information with the use of a device we have created which also creates a Geo coordinate of the merchant; and then we capture images of the stores with a camera, which is followed with a voice call confirmation to the merchant.
We have gathered that possessing accurate commercial data is crucial towards thriving. Hence, we ensure that we aggregate these retailers as it enables us to have more effective access to them in order to enhance the credit and support we provide to them.
With the infusion of technology we were able to emerge at the forefront of delivering goods and essential services to consumers as the world goes through the covid-19 pandemic. We have been able to ensure the safety and well-being of our employees as they carry out their duties by providing them with the required equipment and information they require.
Technology has also given us the ability to be the most cost effective platform currently as we do not include delivery charges on the goods we deliver, thus, creating a profitable situation for our merchants.
This keeps them motivated, it gives them a feeling of being part of a great initiative, whereby they support and sustain the development of the society by being part of the solution to a problem.
How has Retailar Merchant been able to contribute to the society in terms of its corporate social responsibility?
We observed that it is a challenge for some of the informal retailers to expand their budget due to the minimum profit margin on their sales. Hence, we have looked into partnering with financial institutions that are willing to help the informal retailers grow their brand.
This partnership with the finance sector has been able to make soft loans available to the retailers, so as to help them boost their operations. We have been able to support start-ups and stimulate their business activities, by giving them access to finance, thereby enhancing the sustainability and growth of the enterprise.
We remain committed towards creating shared prosperity among all the stakeholders in the value chain. The organisation was not built to solely generate revenue, rather to also impact the society positively as we enrich the livelihood of the people at the bottom of the socio economic pyramid.
How can manufacturers and the distribution value chain create an efficient synergy in order to produce and supply consumers with better goods and services consistently?
I see crucial benefits in the distribution and supply value chain collaborating with the manufacturers because one of the factors we drive is the spread and sales of their products across the various locations in which we operate. On the aspect of the wholesalers, we are creating a platform whereby they can be connected with manufacturers and also purchase goods in bulk from us like they do from manufacturers if they need to.