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How B2B e-Commerce Platforms Digitization Aid Nigerian Businesses

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B2B e-commerce platforms

The sale of goods or services between businesses, utilizing any of the various online or electronic channels, referred to as B2B e-commerce, is on a steady rise in Nigeria.

This rise, both in the volume of transactions and the number of operators, is prompted by the success recorded by the B2C e-commerce operations, especially during the covid-19 quarter in-place (lockdown) period.

Just as in the B2C, the B2B e-commerce hinges its operations on digital processes to deliver on its promises to the other players in the e-commerce value chain.

The B2B e-commerce platforms deploy digital solutions in their operations to streamline their processes in order to achieve improved efficiency as well as an improved business experience for the retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and distributors on their platforms.

While all platforms develop their digital solutions in their operations according to their needs and capabilities, B2B e-commerce players like Alerzo have distinguished themselves as leaders in the digitalization arena. Their digitization process, relying on superior data quality – collection and structuring – has enabled them to achieve a level of automation in their operations in Nigeria.

For instance, retailers on Alerzo’s platform can order products via the internet, short messaging service (SMS), voice and WhatsApp and have such products deliver to their stores in less than four hours.

Additionally, Alerzo’s digital app, Alerzoshop, allows the retailers on its platform to buy their products at cheaper rates, enjoy huge discounts and have their orders delivered to them at no extra cost. The app has taken the Nigerian retailer to a whole new world of opportunities with a lifeline of numerous mouth-watering incentives. It also helps these retailers in inventory management, guaranteed product quality and time savings.

B2B e-commerce players also boost the profitability of retailers. One of the ways they do this is by taking the burden of logistics off the retailers on their platform. While retailers who are not on the platform pay the logistics costs of hiring a ‘carrier’, paying market exit fees, and getting public transport to carry their goods to their stores, Alerzo for example delivers the orders to the informal retailers on its platform at no cost.

Also, the company recently launched the Alerzopay – its cashless payment and lending platform – to provide informal retailers with working capital to keep their stores running and to drive financial inclusion. Additionally, the company advances POS terminals that run on the Alerzopay platform at no cost to interested retailers who want to act as agents.

Digitization of customer data such as order history and order status can substantially increase the customer’s satisfaction. Through the digitization of orders, the B2B e-commerce platforms have made it possible to keep the customer in the know as to when his or her order will arrive.

Alerzo and its peers have gone along to digitize product information, customer order, and stock to generate new insights for the manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and their businesses. Such in-depth analysis of data can unlock a huge potential for businesses that make use of them. These digital products also help manufacturers and distributors get feedback on consumer perception, product preferences etc.

Alerzo and other frontline B2B e-commerce platforms are also empowering manufacturers, distributors and retailers by digitising the value chain and enabling efficient factory-to-retail distribution for food and consumer goods companies. They facilitate faster and quicker inventory movement for FMCG companies to help bridge possible disruptions in the supply chain.

The rise of B2B e-commerce in Nigeria is going to gather momentum in the coming years, given the ease that comes with increased digitization of operations of the platforms as well as the increasing number of other players – manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers – that are coming on board the sector.

Feature/OPED

How Standard of Living in Africa is Making Start-Ups Innovate Around Disposable Income

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disposable income

By Otori Emmanuel

An organisation in its early phase of existence is referred to as a start-up. Entrepreneurs that desire to create a product or service think there is a market for launching start-ups. Because start-ups often have high startup costs and low revenue, founders frequently look for money from a variety of internal and external sources, including personal savings, loans from family and friends, business venture capitalists, and crowdsourcing. There are start-ups in different industries like Information Technology, agriculture, communication, health and other sectors.

Start-ups and Innovation

Establishing a start-up takes careful planning, including consideration of factors like business location, cost of goods or services, product packaging, and supply efficiency. Start-ups frequently run the risk of failing because of unfavourable environmental and industry conditions. Embracing new opportunities and focusing on innovation, among other methods, are accelerators for a business’ survival and growth.

Although, it is true that established businesses also frequently collapse. Technology has advanced throughout time, and many start-ups are combining the cutting-edge idea of tech into their respective fields.

For example, tech is now being used to improve education as in edtech, finance as in fintech, and more use cases are being introduced to daily activities. Statistics show that start-ups are expanding most quickly globally in the technology sector. Over the past few decades, Africa has seen an exceptional number of start-up generations.

The State of Start-ups in Africa

The phrase “start-up” became more common in the 1990s as the number of enterprises centred on technology and the internet rapidly increased.

According to an analysis, African start-up marketplaces hit historic heights in 2021 at over $4 billion, representing a nearly 20x rise since 2015. Start-ups have been increasingly popular in Africa due to various factors, including drawing on previous success stories from the west, attempting to address grassroots challenges, adapting global content to local quirks, and adhering to supportive policies. In terms of current economic events and cultural developments, numerous different facts are at play here.

In terms of living standards, the rate of extreme poverty in rural areas in Africa was close to 50%, which was far higher than the rate in urban areas, which was about 11%. According to the conference board’s Global Economic Outlook, the pace of global GDP growth will reach a recessionary level in 2023 after starting to decline from 3.1% in 2018 to 2.7% in 2022.

Africa has clearly also been impacted by the global economic downturn, which has resulted in a sharp decline in living standards, lower-quality goods, higher costs, and inflation. When prices increase generally, yet fewer goods are available for the same amount of money in an economy, this is called inflation.

When there is inflation, sources and forms of income are affected, from passive income to investment income to disposable income. Our focus here is the disposable income which is the money left to take home after tax and other deductions. Most households depend on disposable income for survival, and the trending inflation gradually steals from this income of an individual in the form of increased grocery prices and the cost of feeding. This has led to the term “sachetization”.

Startup business owners use this approach to satisfy declining demand and maintain operations. Sachetization is the idea of distributing products, which are typically sold in greater amounts, in smaller quantities using sachets in an effort to increase sales. Sachetization helps consumers purchase what they can afford. When only a small amount is required, consumers do not need to buy big quantities of the commodity. So far, this has appeared to be sustainable, with the exception of its drawbacks, where it has been observed that sachet items are of low quality, contain fewer items than is indicated, and even defraud the consumer into purchasing smaller packages when, in reality, a larger package would have been more appropriate.

Reduced disposable income has also affected start-ups in maintaining production costs, purchasing raw materials, increased interest rates on loans, market instability and declined demand.

Therefore, to get through the process of inflation, individuals, households, and businesses seek sustainable measures to meet their needs. A few include:

  • Cost efficient purchases
  • Budgeting
  • Opportunity cost methods
  • Valuable investments etc.
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Upskilling Young People to be Entrepreneurial in Digital Age is Critical

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Didi Onwu entrepreneurial digital age

Africa’s young people are undoubtedly one of the continent’s greatest resources. As other regions battle with ageing populations and declining birth rates, Sub-Saharan Africa can lay claim to a median age of 19.7 with around 70% of the population under the age of 30. Those young people are increasingly well-educated and connected. 

But all that potential means nothing if they aren’t getting the opportunities needed to fulfil it. And in many countries, it’s clear that they aren’t. In South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, the unemployment rate sits at  63.9% for those aged 15-24 and 42.1% for those aged 25-34 years. In Nigeria, meanwhile, the rate among people aged 15-34 is around 42.5%. And in Kenya, the lobby group, The Youth Congress, claims that seven out of every 10 unemployed people are aged 35 and under. 

While there are a number of interventions that could, and should, be made to help reverse those figures, perhaps the most important is to ensure that young people have the skills they need to be entrepreneurial. Indeed, research has shown that innovators can create significant wealth and have considerable developmental influences on society.  

It’s even more critical at a time when technology is accelerating so fast that jobs can quickly become redundant.    

“Fostering entrepreneurship among young people not only enables them to create their own opportunities and employment for other young people,” says Didi Onwu, Managing Editor at The Anzisha Prize, an organisation born out of a partnership between African Leadership Academy and Mastercard Foundation that seeks to increase the number of job generative entrepreneurs fundamentally and significantly in Africa. “It can also help them recognise and pursue employment opportunities that they might not have been able to otherwise.” 

Yes, entrepreneurship  really is a skill 

Before digging into exactly what kind of skills can help foster entrepreneurship among a whole continent’s worth of young people, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a pervasive myth that needs to be busted. Over the years, glowing profiles of entrepreneurs (particularly in the tech space) have convinced many that entrepreneurs are born rather than made. 

But, as Onwu points out, that’s simply not true. 

“The idea of the brilliant innovator turned billionaire makes for a good story,” she says. “But dig a bit further and you’ll see that most successful entrepreneurs were given the tools they needed to succeed from a very young age.”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, for example, was given extensive time with his high school’s computer at a time when having one was still a rarity. His mother also sat on the board of a non-profit with then IBM chairman John Opel, and helped the then fledgling company score a contract with the computing giant which ultimately proved crucial to its future success.   

“While we can’t give every prospective young African entrepreneur a family connection, we can help them develop critical entrepreneurial skills that will serve them well in the future,” says Onwu. 

The right skills matter most  

While there are obviously a number of hard skills, such as those that concern technological proficiency, which are important to being an entrepreneur, the really valuable ones are a little more intangible. And equipping young people with those skills requires more than a straightforward curriculum. 

Take network building, for example. While you could teach the basics in a course, establishing real networks takes time and consistent effort. The same is true for pitching to investors for funding. Other skills, such as mastering the fear of failure, can only be learned through practice. 

“It’s something that we thought hard about when we redesigned the fellowship programme from the ground up a few years ago,” says Onwu. “We wanted to ensure that our fellows were holistically building a broad range of entrepreneurial skills throughout their fellowships and beyond.”

Fellows are, for example, given access to communities of fellow entrepreneurs, introduced to a wide network of stakeholders and business experts, and provided with the opportunity to shadow successful entrepreneurs in their sector. It’s an approach which makes a great deal of sense when you consider that research has shown that exposure to innovation has a significant positive impact not just on the kind of innovation that young people produce, but also on their overall ability to be innovators.    

Upskilling, now and forever

It should be absolutely clear that Africa needs its young people to be equipped with entrepreneurial skills if they are to meet their full potential in an age of accelerated technology. And, as Onwu points out, efforts to ensure that this is the case need to be made at every level of society. 

“While we’re incredibly proud of the work we do at the Anzisha Prize, along with our partners, no single organisation can provide all of Africa’s young people with the skills they need to thrive as entrepreneurs,” she says. “It needs buy-in from governments, NGOs, the private sector, and a variety of other stakeholders.”

Moreover, these efforts cannot simply be short-term and instead need to be sustained over a prolonged period.

“The factors that make upskilling Africa’s young people to be entrepreneurial so important now aren’t going away anytime soon,” she concludes. “It’s therefore critical that all efforts are made to ensure that any initiatives aimed at building entrepreneurship are sustainable and capable of adapting to a constantly shifting business and technology environment.”

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Why Collaboration Tools are Critical for Organisations in the Age of the Hybrid Workplace

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hybrid workplace

By Hyther Nizam

The workplace today is vastly different than it was a few years ago. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by businesses, both for their customers and employees.

Today, the majority of businesses operate on a hybrid model, and as a result, internal collaboration—both digital and in-person, has become critical for business success.

When it comes to creating an environment that supports online and offline employee collaboration, many businesses continue to fall short and work in restricted silos.

In today’s age, companies need to think about implementing effective collaboration platforms that facilitate team communication regardless of whether employees work in-office or remotely. With the necessary tools in hand, developing a strong digital collaboration culture becomes significantly easier.

The importance of collaboration

Before diving into what businesses should look for in collaborative online tools, it’s important to understand why collaboration is so effective. Research shows that high levels of collaboration result in more engaged employees, who communicate openly and don’t fall prey to bottlenecks (such as managers taking overly long to sign off on projects). That, in turn, results in better service delivery and improved customer experience.

Besides the increased employee engagement mentioned above, effective collaboration also improves the flow of information across the organisation and fosters better communication. That, in turn, results in faster problem-solving. Employees recognise this too. According to a study, 86% of employees pin workplace failures on a lack of collaboration and ineffective communication. When people collaborate, they’re more likely to see a project through to the end. In other words, collaboration is important for any organisation seeking long-term success.

Finding the right tools to digitally recreate organizational cultures and improve collaboration

As many organisations have learned over the past couple of years, the general assortment of tools that they previously relied on simply won’t cut it anymore. Hopping between different instant messaging services, meeting platforms, and productivity solutions means that vital information is bound to get lost at some point. Context carry-over, informational continuity, and service uniformity become challenges for employees when they are forced to use a bunch of non-integrated tools for their everyday work. When digital employee experience drops, it has a direct effect on customer experience.

As the virtual world increasingly infiltrates the workplace and becomes a permanent fixture, organisations should consider implementing a company-wide collaboration and connectivity platform that enables inter- and intra-team communication, eliminates silos, and assists employees in maintaining productivity levels. Especially, productivity platforms or suites that leverage tight integrations and consistent interfaces to combine essential office productivity needs such as email, instant messaging, internal forums, A/V conferencing, and word processors with live-collaboration features, for example, enable these applications to become even more powerful and contextually relevant across services.

For instance, when email and instant messaging applications work together, employees have an easier time converting email conversations that warrant live discussions into chat threads and porting relevant information into the chatbox. Based on chat discussions, employees can also add final deliverables as personal tasks directly from the chatbox. And online word processors that facilitate live collaboration, allowing multiple people to contribute and comment simultaneously, can be convenient and life-changing for remote workers. Not to mention the version control issues that can be averted by freeing employees from having to email documents back and forth.

Another aspect to look for in collaboration suites is the ability to fold this internal collaboration into business applications like CRMs. For instance, the capability of an instant messaging tool to contextually integrate with an organisation’s CRM platform will enable executives to discuss a certain ticket via chat or a quick audio call before responding to the customer. Collaboration-conducive elements like these can further elevate productivity levels and get work done faster as well as make the experience of working across multiple services a smooth-sailing experience for employees.

A change in mindset

To help fuel the mindset shift needed to ensure that digital collaboration becomes ingrained in a company’s organisational culture, it’s equally critical that managers adopt, and are seen to adopt, the platform. If they’re getting full use out of it, their team members will also be spurred to. At the same time, employees all over the world are also experiencing digital burnout and virtual fatigue as their entire work schedules shift online. So it’s vital that managers balance empathy and humaneness with the usage of such tools in a non-intrusive way.

A virtual world of work

Businesses must adapt to the new virtual working environment. This requires re-evaluating processes and prioritising online solutions that facilitate collaboration, all while maintaining a focus on company culture. The customer experience begins with employees, and businesses will ultimately benefit from improved teamwork and communication.

Hyther Nizam is the President in charge of MEA at Zoho Corporation

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