Globally, business conduct is no longer what it used to be; thanks to the impact of digital technology. The influence has become so eroding and enormous, such that digital revolution and digital wave have become buzzwords in today’s business world. Be it large or small enterprises, business owners are left with no choice than to integrate digital technology into their strategy. If your business is not in the digital space, you are simply not fit for today’s competitive market dictated by dynamic customers. The market is no longer waiting for customers, as products and services are now tailored to meet the customers where they are located.
This, to a large extent, is why the e-commerce ecosystem is growing exponentially. Technology has successfully established a virtual market where millions of sellers meet consumers. In return, the ease and convenience of the shopping endears the medium to customers. It has thus become imperative for product manufacturers to embrace the digital space if they are to fully exploit their target market.
Covid-19 and the restriction it imposed on global logistics showed manufacturers the effectiveness of the digital space. It is therefore not surprising that the wave of business-to-business e-commerce is sweeping through the informal retail sector and making a notable impact in the Nigerian space, with a number of companies such as Alerzo providing suitable channels. The informal retail market had existed for ages amidst loads of challenges, such as lack of investments, disruption and innovation. It is a cash-based market that is largely unregulated and renowned for its unstable market prices. The role of several intermediaries also creates complexity across the value chain, the brunt of which is felt mostly by the retailers. Manufacturers, on the other hand, cannot reach retailers in every nook and cranny. Hence, the market has several challenges begging for solutions.
Adewale Opaleye, the CEO of Alerzo Limited, one of the major B2B e-commerce players in the country, said the market holds enormous potential, but the problems need to be addressed with technology to fully open up the sector. As a market aggregator with manufacturers and distributors as partners, the services of Alerzo have far reaching impact and benefits for all stakeholders in the value chain. Their intervention is making the market more effective and robust.
The implication of this on the market is that, with the technical facilities of the likes of Alerzo, and other e-commerce market players, FMCG products have safer, faster and more effective routes to informal retailers who are the primary market targets. Suffice to say that global manufacturers such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Reckitt Benckiser, Dangote, Dufil, PZ Cussons and others are able to reach a wider market through digital technology.
E-commerce companies, by their nature of business, are asset-heavy which makes them part of the solutions to the perennial infrastructure problems in the sector. Market scan showed that the majority of the companies playing in the Nigerian informal retail markets provide warehousing and fulfilment solutions to suppliers. Some e-commerce companies have said they own hundreds of vehicles and warehouses which are open to serve thousands of retailers and suppliers on their platforms.
Coupled with their ability to penetrate rural communities, manufacturers and distributors can also benefit from the increasing investment in logistics by b2b e-commerce firms. These platforms transport the ordered goods from manufacturers’ and distributors’ warehouses to the target retailers, scattered all over the country. In many cases, the service comes at no cost to the manufacturers. Though they mostly roll out in regional markets, it has been observed that some e-commerce brands are expanding their reach to other regions of the country. This makes them a veritable vehicle through which some product manufacturers can make in-road into other regions of the country.
The activities of b2b e-commerce companies are complementary, and highly needed in a market that had been hugely underserved for decades. This holds true as both manufacturers and distributors can take advantage of the opportunities B2B e-commerce companies provide.
With both digital and physical routes now open in the informal retail market, this sector of the Nigerian economy is surely one to look out for, as Nigeria strides towards achieving the digital economy projections of 2030.