E-Commerce in Action

I don’t know about you, but grocery shopping in my home city, Lagos is touch and go due to inconsistent global supply chains. Hence, I am forced to shop in person, visiting up to 4 supermarkets to fulfil the preferences of my housing unit.

I must confess, online grocery shopping is not an experience I can boast about. And I’ll tell you why… During that household shopping blitz, it is easier and more efficient to whizz a shopping cart through supermarket isles than search for each product on a website. Then comes Covid-19 that warrants a change in behaviour. So I completed an online shopping cycle or the order-fulfilment cycle in supply chain lingo.

Not by choice, I tried out online grocery shopping or the order-fulfilment cycle in supply chain lingo. And because of Covid-19, I was not the only one in this category. The store in question advertised a surge in orders that could affect delivery times but promised same-day delivery for orders received before 12:00 pm. So my early riser myself placed an order and paid by 08:51 am.

The website or e-commerce store was OK. I could navigate the site, select items and put them in the shopping cart. Just before checkout, as we all do I had forgotten some items and ran back into the store and added them into my cart. But this time around, I forgot to increase the quantities, so I ended up buying 1 of each item instead of 6! The store also requested consent to substitute if items were out of stock. Being a fusspot about brands, my response was No. I received a prompt order confirmation email detailing the order items and the payment and fulfilment status.

The debit card payment option was flawless although the interface between the payment processor and the store never confirmed the payment, I received an email from the processor before I attempting to repeat the order.

At 10:33 am, I received a notification email changing my fulfilment status from awaiting processing to processing. It excited me that within 2 hours, my order was undergoing processing and the delivery will happen today! Within the hours of 16:45 and 16:48, I noticed 4 missed calls and my attempts to return the call between 17:19 and 18:29 were unsuccessful. So I guess the same day was not happening!

At 10:32 am on Sunday, the number called back, informing me they were from the store and admonishing me for not answering their calls yesterday. I apologised and informed them of my good intentions and attempts to return the calls. Anyway, the reason for the call was that an item I had ordered was unavailable, and I was being asked to select a substitute. We agreed on the replacement item and I guess they had forgiven me.

At 11:42 am, an email updated my fulfilment status from processing to shipped and at 14:38, the logistics company confirmed the delivery was on its way! I received my order at 15:10.

Other than the individual packaged cartons, my other groceries arrived in 2 boxes. I had ordered eggs and the sales invoice attached to one box read “Very Fragile. Eggs on Top”.

In another grocery shopping spritz, I used another service, and the experience was similar. On this site, my chosen communications tool was WhatsApp and in processing my order, I received two polite messages informing me that 5 of the items ordered were unavailable, offering substitutes. Because of pricing differences, the store deposited my unused balance into a new wallet account (they had a mobile money license and operated a wallet).

On receipt of the goods, instead of 4 units of an item, I only received 1! This warranted an additional credit to my wallet! Once I made the complaint (via email).

E-commerce experiences differ from their traditional brick and mortar equivalents. In conclusion, I will summarise e-commerce in Africa from the business lens focussing on the technology pieces and business practices.

First, let’s look at the technologies - the web storefront, shopping cart, payment systems and notifications. Despite some clunky user interfaces like the difficulty in selecting quantity, the technology pieces were functional - they got the job done. However, stability improvements of the integration between shopping cart and payment providers and feedback on the order process are necessary.

Next are the business practices, their supply chain management and logistics practices. My first observation in this is inventory management. One of the major advantages of visiting a physical store is what you see is what you get. You see it; you grab it. In an electronic store, that’s not accurate. You see pictures of as many items as the store owner can illustrate and that has no bearing on what is available. The inability of a store to complete an order after payment is very problematic. In the first store where I selected an alternative item; otherwise I am not sure how they will have treated the overpayment since they do not operate a mobile money scheme. However, it’s not about the money issues, it’s about not selling goods that are not available and failing to meet expectations. Some e-commerce merchants have overcome this barrier with pay-on-delivery options, there are attendant costs when customers reject the order and the goods returned. Manual operations or low levels of automation, systems usage (data updates) are reasons stores seldom have real-time inventory levels; businesses with e-commerce aspirations need to address this business practice.

My last point is on the logistics, not the physical delivery of the goods that’s now done through third parties, but the packing and packaging of the items, like my eggs! In this dispensation, attention to packaging is important. For food and beverages, it’s the use of tamper-proof packaging; in others, it’s handling fragile items like eggs!

A positive Covid-19 outcome is the increase in electronic services and transactions. As businesses seek to continue operations and expand their reach, they should not overlook the digital customer experience, from product display and order taking to packaging and delivery.

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