Omolara Adagunodo is the Country Manager of Wabi Nigeria. Wabi is coined from a Japanese concept Wabi-Sabi which is a concept of imperfect beauty. Meaning that in every imperfection, something beautiful can be found. Wabi in Nigeria today is an e-commerce platform that is a subsidiary of Wabi BV, a joint venture between the Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company. In this interview, she speaks on a new e-commerce platform for traders to accelerate their business.
What is the scope and objectives of Wabi?
WABI is an Ecommerce ecosystem that seeks to transform the way consumers buy their products on a daily basis. By bringing the neighbourhood store to the consumer’s cell phone and giving them the ability to access their favourite brands in an easy and fast way. WABI is a tool that democratizes the market without intermediaries. Our services include Wabi2B– a marketplace that enables FMCGs to sell all their products directly to the Traditional Trade stores fulfilling through multiple channels and allowing them to know each customer, Wabi2C: software as a service that integrates Customer Packaged Good players to Wabi and WabiPay: an e-Wallet that enables integration of the value chain in a cashless and more cost-effective way. Wabi is present in 18 countries around the world. In Africa, we are in Kenya, Egypt and Nigeria.
The objective is to digitalize the traditional trade channels and basically help the small business owners to have the same leverage that the big e-commerce platform has by giving them the opportunity to buy and sell online. Last year during COVID-19, lots of Mom and Pop shops were at a huge disadvantage when people did not want to go out to buy groceries. What we are doing at Wabi is helping the traditional business owners, small businesses, the small neighborhood grocery shops, Mom and Pop shops that would buy groceries to remain in a digital network because we believe that the future is digital. We do not know what is coming next after COVID-19. But, whatever it is, we want to make sure that retail outlets are able to play online the same way as online business giants. So, they are not at a disadvantage when people are purchasing online.
If you commence business online for groceries, what happens to small business retailers on the streets?
It is those who are selling on the streets that we are bringing online. We are not creating a big shop online for people to purchase. And that is why I said, we are digitizing the traditional trade channels. Today in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) space, the people we refer to as traditional trade channels are those small shops that buy and sell on the streets. The people we focus on are the same people who are doing their business offline. Those wholesalers and retailers. We want to bring everyone online. Provide them with tools that they will purchase and that way, we will create a process for everyone to digitalise everything they are doing both buying and selling.
Do you consider the inability of the market women not able to get an Android or iPhone so as to take advantage of this?
Lots of our customers have mobile phones and the ability to download Apps. We have however encountered those who do not and have to rely on their neighbours to place their orders to be delivered to their shops. So, everyone is included. When we had set out, we had only included those with smartphones, but with the discovery of those who had no smartphones asking help from their neighbours, we developed the agency model to support them.
In the process of your discoveries, what do you see as challenges?
First was the resistance of the customers themselves to want to go online. We have people who are used to buying products in a certain way. They never wanted something new. They were used to their usual way of buying their goods. So, it took lots of education and re-orientation for them to want to explore the benefits of placing their orders online. The second issue is logistics. Most wholesalers do not have the logistics capacity to move their goods to their customers in the market. We are working with our partners to find lasting solutions to the logistics challenges.
In trying to proffer a solution, you will find out that you are creating another problem, what is Wabi doing differently to ensure that the market women understand the benefits of the Apps to be able to transact their business seamlessly?
We have continued to engage them. We do not sit in the office and expect a solution. We have our field sales representatives (Wabi Hunters) and freelancers (Wabi Rangers) who interface daily with the customers to educate them and take feedback on the spot to provide solutions. We also maintain WhatsApp groups for all the traders depending on their locations for better engagement and day-to-day announcements from our FMCG Partners.
What is the cost of downloading the App?
It is absolutely free for all customers. We ensure that people who are downloading the App are making use of it. We have created a community where information of whoever downloads the App goes to and is monitored by an agent on the street to verify the location of the shop, take a picture of the shop and the customer service team will verify the existence of the shop and then the customer can start the business. Our focus is to help them remain competitive in the new world where everything is digitized.
What informed this initiative?
Wabi was developed a couple of years ago to enhance the traditional trade channel and empower millions of entrepreneurial families across the world. Wabi presents to all FMCG Companies, a simple and digital Route-to-market that encompasses all the retail trade outlets they might not have in their purview. Our focus is to have a platform where traders can buy and sell seamlessly online. For us, COVID-19 was a catalyst that helped Wabi grow more.
What do you envisage as problems in the long run and what is the methodology in place to address these problems?
The major challenge in Nigeria today is the stocking facility which for us is a good challenge. Every FMCG company produces at top capacity and there is a method in place which is the partnership with the companies. We have various strategic distributors ready to serve all retailers who run out of stock at any time.
Are there plans to expand this platform outside Lagos?
Lagos is the most vibrant economic hub in Nigeria, and so our immediate focus is to grow across all neighbourhoods in Lagos. Next year, however, we will be expanding to other cities across Nigeria.
Sustainability is key but in Nigeria, it is a major challenge, how best can this platform be sustained?
We believe in design thinking and need to constantly engage our customers to ensure we have built the right product for them. We cannot build a product in a vacuum. We cannot bring a solution to what is not a problem. We, therefore, have dedicated commercial, operations and logistics experts and over 100 field sales representatives constantly engaging our customers and gathering feedback. We use the results of these engagements to continually remodel our offering to ensure we keep adding value to all our customers. This is the path to sustainability; value creation.
Government policy and its challenges especially when it comes to banning a product. Do you consider this a problem and how do you intend to address this especially since we believe investment cannot occur in a vacuum?
We need the government’s support in everything we do. And that is why we do not cut corners. We pay our dues to the government and we have our tax system, legal system and our communication system properly set up. Government is not irrational and policies are not arbitrarily changed. We continue engaging to make sure that we are doing the right thing for the government and its people at every point in time. As long as we continue to engage the government, communicating our plans, we do not envisage any challenge because what we are doing is creating a system to enable even the government to have an overview of what is going on around all ramifications of trade.