By Caleb Ibeh
At the height of the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I had been resident in the United States of America as a visiting researcher.
The opportunity, I must confess, opened my eyes to the power and relevance of e-commerce.
Before diving deep into my narrative, I must confess that I am a dyed-in-the-wool traditional shopper. Born in the mid-1960s, the best way to make me (or any of my contemporaries) part with hard-earned money is often to provide a chance to witness a product or solution I desire to buy in action. Not for me was the growing online fad that has become so popular with my kids and their peers, the one where you sit in front of a laptop computer and check items online, make payments without even physically seeing the products and wait for someone you had never met to deliver same to your doorsteps.
For me, I have to touch, feel and experience the product physically or even get to speak with an attendant in person before I can be sufficiently convinced to loosen my tightly guarded purse strings. Therefore, you would rather catch me patronizing a physical store than shop online.
But all that changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Living through the government-imposed restrictions that came with the lockdown in the US proved to be an awakening experience, a sort of Eureka moment, as far as e-commerce is concerned for me. I realized all too soon that most of the grocery stores and other physical outlets I used to frequent were shut. I was left with either the option of starving to death by sticking to my dated ways or learning a new dance in my old age. I had no choice but to embrace the fine art, science and novelty of shopping online.
Ah! What an experience it turned out to be! From being a novice, a cynical doubting Thomas and an incurable believer in the efficacy of physical shopping to transforming into a savvy e-commerce guru, my overnight switch astounded even my kids when I arrived back home in Nigeria.
Consider the surprise and shock that greeted my kids when I unveiled loads of gifts, clothes and other items I brought back home for them, all shopped online from Amazon and delivered to me in the comfort of my residence in the US. The doubts cleared when I showed off my skills in navigating online sites and placing orders. My colleagues in the academia here in Nigeria too were often caught off-guard by my newfound penchant or suggestions of buying virtually everything online.
One of the first things I did when I settled down in Nigeria was to begin exploring the e-commerce sites we had in the country. I had been fully bitten by the e-commerce bug and definitely, I was not going to slow down.
However, it turned out to be not such a smooth experience at the outset.
The first e-commerce site I patronized upon my return to Nigeria was one of the big players in the country (name withheld for obvious reasons). In total, I placed three different orders at various times with this platform. However, not one of the orders was delivered without some form of issue.
The first order I placed was for an electric iron which I had seen online during one of my regular moments of window shopping. Sadly, I had to wait for over a week to take delivery of the item, despite being assured repeatedly that delivery would happen within one to three working days. Worse still, when the electric iron was delivered, it was different from the product I had seen online on its site.
On the second occasion, I received a defective washing machine after spending quality time, once again, picking out a product on its online platform. This time, I also had to write a series of angry emails to this particular e-commerce site’s customer service unit, while also threatening to go to court, before I was refunded. I was to later discover that these complaints were a regular occurrence among patrons of the brand.
The third straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was when I decided to surprise my wife with a lovely dress for Valentine’s. I began the process way back in early January to ensure that I did not experience delayed delivery or any other issues. But to my utter bewilderment, the dress that was delivered turned out to be several sizes-small for my wife, who is a bit on the thick side. As a matter of fact, the dress could not fit my 14-year-old granddaughter. We were to later discover that after ordering a UK size 16 dress, what was delivered was a Chinese size 16.
Out of frustration (because I needed to quickly secure this much-needed gift for my wife who had gone out of her way to get me some very expensive items for Val), I had asked the delivery staff who came to pick up the ill-sized dress for other viable options. He had urged me to try Konga but pleaded with me not to allow his office to know about him tipping me off.
Interestingly, apart from a few memorable ads I had encountered, that was the first time I was hearing of Konga from a recommendation standpoint.
I ended up falling in love with a brand managed by smart Nigerian youths. To date, I have ordered over 25 items from Konga but I am yet to have any regrets about discovering this e-commerce giant. It is important to state here that, of the 25 instances I have shopped with Konga, I only encountered one delayed delivery issue which, interestingly, further reinforced my love, respect and admiration for the brand.
Remember the ill-fated Val dress I wanted to get for my wife?
Based on the recommendation of the delivery agent from the other company I had been patronizing, I had reached out to Konga to see if I could quickly get a dress delivered for my distraught wife. I was under pressure, having received some thoughtful gifts from her while I had only succeeded in getting her an ill-fitting gift. After checking on the Konga website and picking out a befitting dress, I mounted pressure on the highly courteous customer service agent I spoke with on the phone to have the dress possibly delivered the next day. I made her understand that it was a gift for my wife and that it would help make her happy if it was delivered expressly.
In return, I was informed by the agent that delivery may not be possible the next day because of the high volume of orders being processed due to the Valentine’s Day celebration. Nevertheless, she promised to do her best.
By 12 pm the next day, my phone buzzed.
To my surprise, the person on the other end of the line politely introduced himself as a Vice President of Konga. He proceeded to empathize with me, while also explaining and reiterating why my order could not be delivered that day. However, he made a promise to ensure that the item gets to my address early the following day, which was a Saturday. During our conversation, he passed the phone to another individual who introduced himself as Nick Imudia, the Co-Chief Executive Officer of Konga. I was positively astounded! Here I was, being treated like royalty, all because of a dress I wanted to buy and which, come to think of it, was even the first time I was shopping with this brand.
Imudia, as he called himself, also apologized for the inability to have my order delivered as requested that day in view of the deluge of other earlier orders. On the other hand, he assured me that it would be the first item to get on the delivery trail the next day. He went ahead to give me his word, adding that Konga is an e-commerce group to be trusted – a phrase that stuck with me to date and which has continued to reflect in my relationship with the brand.
By 9 am the next day, I had just returned from a morning jogging session with my wife when a Konga delivery van pulled up in front of the house. Out stepped a smartly dressed delivery agent with my wife’s dress which, was not only a perfect replica of what I picked out on the Konga website but which also fitted my wife like a glove. Her happiness and my own delight and sense of satisfaction knew no bounds.
To be fair, it is easy to knock Nigerian companies over their misdeeds. However, the experience I have had so far with Konga is sufficient in proving that there are great brands out there, doing great things in this country. It is partly the reason I have taken out time to share my experience, while also extending a word of appreciation to this delightful e-commerce giant. I also recently learned that the engine of the Konga brand is being driven by young Nigerians – which, in itself, is another proof of the huge, undoubted potential of the human capital we possess here.
The prospects, currently, do not look so bright for Nigeria, especially with the prevailing economic crunch, spiraling inflation, dwindling value of the local currency, worsening insecurity and other societal ills.
But with brands such as Konga and others that can effortlessly defend Nigeria in the global marketplace, I have no compulsion in urging Nigerians to stay hopeful and keep the faith in the future of a brighter, more prosperous country, backed by this vibrant, brilliant, enterprising youthful generation of sound business leaders in e-commerce, fintech, and other allied tech-driven industries and other verticals.