By Ayo Alonge

Business, according to the Chief Executive Officer of Adiba Online Shopping Limited, Chris Udeji, only thrives if government provides the enabling environment to international standards.
In this interview, the Enugu-born businessman who chairs one of the leading online shopping malls in the country, fields questions on e-commerce shedding light on the administration  of his company.

What motivated you to incorporate your firm?
First of all, we discovered a vacuum in the industry and you know once there is a dream, you now begin to think about  how to actualize it. This dream doesn’t materialize until you  have a vision to  drive it and then wait for the right time to actualize it. We looked at the industry and our  target customers, the value we planned to  bring to the table and the nation’s economic polices. We wanted to deliver better service  by doing things differently. E-commerce is about rendering services to the populace and I am passionate about it and I can do it free. Most times, things like this are  not done for money. It is basically about the beauty of service.

Could you comment on the administration of  your company?
We run on a very small blueprint because we realized the importance of working with a very slim budget. I am not a CEO you would need to pass through one thousand secretaries to access. We have organized young people comprising a CFO, strategist and business developer. Each of them can act as the CEO  anytime. Legal matters, auditing, healthcare and some other aspects are contracted out. We value effectiveness and efficiency and our top management staff are all CEOs in themselves. We have been together for long and it’s easy for us  to share the vision.

What’s your perception of e-commerce in Nigeria in terms of the level of consciousness of Nigerians?
Well, like we all know, e-commerce is relatively speaking, a new business and it has come to stay. It’s different from traditional commerce and has only come to add value. People now understand business better and it would continue to grow, because it has the potential of taking over the market. Between 2016 and 2020, we expect to record more growth. Currently, we have over 42 percent of Nigerians buying online and awareness is also growing. It’s a huge industry like  banking especially with early players like us. People want to be in their homes and have goods delivered to them. E-commerce allows you to choose from a variety of brands  and  even return unsatisfactory merchandise.

What are shortcomings of e-commerce and  areas we are lagging behind in Nigeria?
E-commerce commenced in Nigeria in 2012. Unlike the professions, not many were really interested initially. You look at the products and how they came into the system. Manpower shortage was a huge problem because nobody had ever chosen e-commerce as a career and we had to invite skilled hands from abroad. Another challenge was logistics. We established our own mini delivery companies and started educating people on the delivery of their orders and it became a problem to manage the daunting challenges ahead. We didn’t want to have anything to do with delivery any longer  and had to contract that to a core delivery company. There were basically few people who understood how it worked and we had to take on the challenge. Almost all existing logistic services providers were not configured to collect cash on delivery since they were operating a prepaid mindset. It’s difficult  convincing most Nigerians about reliability and pay before delivery was difficult. What we did was to set up our small delivery department to deal with that and that was a huge challenge. Another challenge was in educating vendors that we can actually deliver to their customers’ doorsteps.  Most of the stock belong to  third parties. We don’t even need to own a warehouse in most cases.

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It’s a multi-million dollar business in Nigeria, no doubt. What’s your firm’s market share?
We have over 1,000 e-commerce companies in Nigeria. First of all, this environment is not friendly for business but it’s our country and we have to be proud if it. We are not in the top three but we are among the top 10. The top three won’t remain there forever. It’s just about the capacity of their funding and that makes them control about 45 percent of the market. It’s difficult to say what our  market share is but we are determined to be among the top three in a few years to come.

What are your strategies for achieving that feat?
Like I say, if you don’t understand your past, you won’t know where you are going to. We are  competitive and  working out different plans from what others are doing. First, we have a very customer-friendly site and our application would be ready before the end of the year. We have also developed tailor-made offline shops, which we sat down and analyzed and discovered  that the  average Nigerian wants to hear about the product, wants to see it and probably touch it before he pays and that is the essence of the pay-on-delivery strategy. What we decided to do was to have strategic retail malls in cosmopolitan areas. At present, we have a mall at Lekki and another at Victoria Island. Another two are coming up in the mainland, before a couple of months time. What we are trying to do is to assure people  that we are close to them. You can begin to see us as a traditional shopping mall and that elicits  confidence. See what is happening in the banking sector where you can do almost everything online but you still see physical structures where you can complain. As time goes on, we may not need it but because of the peculiarity of our people, it makes a lot of sense to have a platform that can make customers comfortable. Shoppers’ comfort is very important to us, because there is a place to go whenever you are dissatisfied. Our vision is to have at least one traditional mall in each state of the federation.

Nigerians  complain about global recession and that may be affecting patronage, leaving one to wonder if people still shop. Do people still shop as often as  you  expect?
I am glad you said it is a global thing. We are not the worst hit. Yes, we are currently going through recession but we are still one of the best. Every country, at a point in its history, has had to go through such recession. I so much believe in this country that the future is so bright and I need sunshades to protect my vision from the brightness.  Yes, fluctuation of the naira exchange rate is a huge problem and even some of our foreign suppliers are affected. This only motivates us to develop the local market as 70 percent of what we sell are consumables.

Are you saying your company will weather  the storm if the recession persists?
Yes, we are expanding daily. It’s just that the rate has dropped but  not significantly. The truth is  we are not struggling and I strongly believe in the potentials  of this country. Only Nigerians  can fix this country.

In what way can government aid the sector to measure up to international best practices?
We go as far  as selling produce and with good roads,  farmers in  rural areas can easily transport their produce. We can even sign an MoU with these farmers, the same way we do with our international suppliers. That would definitely help our business. Second is arresting the fluctuation of the naira. I would be deceiving myself if I say it’s not affecting us. We also want stability in the country. Let us see the need to come together as a country and work out things. That is when we would be proud of the country and call it our home. America, today, was not built by the government but by individuals like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, you  name them. All we want is an enabling environment that would be close to the ideal. These are people who wanted to deliver the system. We need security, efficient transportation facilitated by much better road networks and a defined strategy. With these, we can encourage entrepreneurs. We are employers of labour and government must continue to encourage us through tax incentives too. We are not asking them for  funds; all we ask for is the enabling environment that would make us competitive with our foreign counterparts.