The influx of Business-to-Business shopping platforms into the informal retail sector is attracting attention and generating discussion. They are offering a new perspective in a sector renowned for its traditional business model. Deploying technology, brands like Alerzo, are connecting retailers for easier inventory, by further opening up the hitherto rigid distribution chain.
For retailers who are key beneficiaries of this innovation, it's an era of improved market experience. Having an alternate route to the market makes business much easier. "The most important thing for me is to get my goods and to get them at the cheapest prices available because that is how I make my own profit," said Bokola Moshood, a retailer in Gbagi, Ibadan. "Now we have options on how we restock goods which is good for the business. You can now get products depending on the one convenient and profitable for you. That for me is the most interesting aspect."
On her part, Aminat, a retailer in the rural part of Challenge, sees online marketplace as faster and more cost effective for her small business. "I used to spend up to N3,000 on market trips and I do go to market at least three times a month depending on speed of sales. I was introduced to online shopping in December. It really helped me during the Christmas period when there's usually product scarcity and things are usually expensive.
"For us who are in this part of the state, we do suffer different things from some distributors who force some products on us. For example, if you need three crates of Pepsi, and they have a product that is not moving in the market, they will force you to buy at least one crate of that product. So you will be given two crates of the product you needed and one crate of the other that customers don't usually ask for. In the end, your money is tied down with that unwanted product for months.
"That is one of the benefits of this online shopping for people like us. Now I shop for goods on Alerzo through WhatsApp. I am able to get what customers want, not what distributors force on us. Another good part of it for me is I am able to save more on transportation, because I don't have to visit the market every time," Aminat said.
The informal retail market is big, and many e-commerce platforms have sprung up and are helping to facilitate the estimated $100 billion market in the country. Investment in the market keeps growing, as African B2B e-commerce brands attracted over $256 million funding in 2021. If the recent chain of events in the industry is anything to go by, the next few years promises more exciting experiences for retailers who join the digital train.