November 19, 2015
About the author : Edward is one of Africa’s young software entrepreneurs. He is a co-founder of an Internet start-up in Ghana and loves poetry.
Before you go on to the next sentence, take in a deep breath….can you smell and feel it? The X’mas flavour. Decorations in banking halls, a barrage of X’mas jingles and promotions on radio and Tv and if you in my part of the world, the dry harmattan wind blowing off the effect of the pomade on your skin. For most people Christmas is the best part of the year. For the people of Accra, this season comes with an extra challenge – the incomprehensible traffic jams that choke the streets of Accra during the yuletide every year.
Every December, perhaps in response to the many promotions and discounts offers thrown at Ghanaian consumers, most families go shopping. This trend increases the number of vehicles on our roads leading to what is usually an uncontrollable congestion on our roads. Though most employees take advantage of holiday period to visit places outside the city, it seems many more transition into the city to temporarily spend the season with friends and family. With the many e-commerce players in Ghana’s e-trading space, can we invoke the advantages such platforms present to help reduce the trips we make during Christmas?
To achieve this goal, consumers need to trust the platforms available. Furthermore, the e-commerce websites advertising their services need to live up to expectation. Do consumers trust the e-commerce platforms enough to stay home and just order the items they want online and get such items delivered? If this trust existed, instead of seeing fifteen or twenty private cars loaded with families on their way to buy toys or dresses for the kids, we would simply have one delivery van moving from community to community delivering the items ordered by these families. Or is it a problem with the reliability of these e-commerce platforms? Speaking to some online shoppers, I have identified two major challenges these shoppers face. First of all, there is no guarantee the item the consumer selected is available (although these items are displayed on the website), this is because some e-commerce platforms, especially the aggregators, find it challenging to track inventory. In this same line, there have been some occasions when the items ordered appear to be different from the item finally delivered at the consumer’s doorstep. The second challenge is the time of delivery of the item. Because many of the e-commerce merchants or aggregators do not control the fulfillment or delivery aspects of the transactions, they have little control over delivery times and thus cannot promise or guarantee a period within which your item will be delivered. This becomes a pain for consumers who are used to more sophisticated options which enable them to track the packages they order at every point of the way.
With the above listed challenges and issues, can we patch the crack to make this Christmas a congestion-free one in Accra? Yes we can! How? By committing to relying on the available e-commerce platforms. According to Interpay Africa, all 27 commercial banks have altogether issues only 500,000 electronic cards (Africa Tech Summit 2015). This number compared with Ghana’s population is very small. I however want to believe the holders of these issues cards are the very people who will be tempted to congest our streets this Christmas with shopping lists in hand. Considering With the long list of e-trading websites, it is almost certain that whatever item such consumers would want to purchase in a store, will be available online as well. Will it be easier to stay home and get the items delivered to at home by van or bike? Most probably!
But wait, there is one more problem! How does the consumer know the merchant will deliver the ordered item on time? This is a tricky and sloppy bit of the trust element I am advocating for. I recommend the following
1. If you are about to use a particular e-commerce website/merchant for the first time, consider opting to pay on delivery. In this case, you don’t part with your money unless and until the item delivered was exactly what you ordered and came within a reasonable time. I am a strong advocate against CoD (Cash on Deliver), so I would recommend you ease yourself into the practice of using the available electronic payments options to pay for goods and services once you build trust after your first few purchases.
2. Ask the friends about which e-commerce platforms have an almost excellent record in terms of customer service, delivery and return policies. By asking your pals, you will get to know which merchants/websites are reliable and which ones are just in the space to add to the numbers.