Supermart founders discuss logistics, payments and the future of Nigerian eCommerce

February 16, 2015
8 min read is an online grocery delivery service that promises to deliver ordered goods to all major parts of Lagos in as "early as 3 hours". Supermart, which began operations in April, 2014 was founded by Raphael Afaedor, former CEO and co-founder of Jumia, and Gbolahan Fagbure, former Director of Operations, also at Jumia.

I spent an evening with Gbolahan and Raphael at the Supermart HQ in Victoria Island, Lagos. We had a brief chat about their time at Jumia, the inspiration for Supermart and the future of Nigerian eCommerce.


Can you give us a little background on yourselves?

Gbolahan: I am Gbolahan Fagbure, Co-Founder SupermartNG. I've been in eCommerce now for 3/4 years now so, co-founding Jumia; we built that from scratch until we left in January last year. I've done other businesses before I decided to try my hands at entrepreneurship. In fact I worked in banking and consulting for about 4 years.


Raphael: My name is Raphael Afaedor. I've been in eCommerce for 5 years. Before then I was more in industry but I also did internet related stuff. I did before coming to Nigeria to work at Notore. In between that I was at Goldman Sachs and then after that Jumia. The rest, as they say, is history.


Please tell us about leaving Jumia and the inspiration for Supermart

Raphael: There's an old Yoruba proverb that says that 20 children cannot play together for 20 years. When you build something and get to the point where you feel your baby is now on its feet, you have to ask yourself what's the best way of spending your time, that can actually benefit the industry.


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So we looked around and saw that grocery shopping was a bit of a challenge. Especially for busy professionals who are spending about 6 hours or more on a weekly basis doing their grocery shopping. We thought that using technology and eCommerce we could actually solve this problem by getting everything from all these stores under one umbrella, so that they can just go to one place and shop for 10 minutes instead of 6 hours and then have someone well-trained, pick and pack their products and have it delivered. We thought we could make life easier for people.

So what exactly is Supermart and how does it work?

Gbolahan: Supermart is an online grocery delivery service. We pride ourselves in being able to deliver goods to you in as early as 3 hours. We currently have the largest assortment of groceries anywhere in Nigeria and that's including the physical supermarkets. What we do is sell goods from several supermarkets from across Lagos, including all the local markets. So in essence anything you're looking for in Lagos, you're most likely to find it here than anywhere else. In addition to that, we also have what we call "artillery categories", things like office supplies, pharmacy items as well as foods from the local market like ewedu, ogbono, oziza, catfish ... pretty much anything you'll find in your kitchen, in your home, you can buy it on Supermart. What we are trying to do is to replicate a mega supermarket similar to what you'll find abroad - the Wal-Mart and Tescos where you'll find pretty much everything you're looking for.


Nobody else is delivering groceries or anything at all in as early as 3 hours in the whole of Nigeria. And the great thing about us is that we only want to give customers the choice of being able to receive orders when it's convenient for them. If you order with Supermart, you can get your delivery within 1 of 3 windows - 12pm to 3pm; 3pm to 6pm and 6pm to 9pm, 7 days a week, including holidays. For us, it's about putting the customers first. We are probably the number 1 customer-focused product in Nigeria.

Supermart serves basically every major area of Lagos. Considering the traffic nightmare that Lagos is, how does Supermart manage to fulfil its 3-hour delivery time promise.

Raphael: Our entire operation is structured around the fact that we want to deliver on time. So it's reflected in the way we pick and route deliveries to customers. And because we have drivers on the road all the time, we actually get real-time traffic feedback that helps us plan accordingly.

Gbolahan: One part of that is being physically close to our partner stores. Many of the stores we partner with across Lagos, we are phyiscall close to them. So in terms of taking the products off the shelf, we are already close to you in any way because our drivers are all over the road. We never have to start from point zero.

Unlike basically every other major eCommerce platform operating in Nigeria, Supermart does not offer 'Pay on Delivery'. Why is this?

Raphael: We designed the service around a corporate customer. These are people who when they have a need, and you're serving the need, they'll be willing to pay for the purchase. I think people are inclined to pay upfront. The question is if they trust the platform.

But I think more important is also to understand the economics of Pay on Delivery. What you find out is that often times customers don't show up for these products. We have an experience of running an eCommerce business so we factored in all of these. If we show up and the customer is not there to pick the product do you have to come back a second and (often) third times. Say you have like 50 orders a day, you end up running an operation that will look like you have a 100 orders per day because you're running around and the customers are not there to receive the products.


We decided to turn this around, by reassuring and never disappointing the customer. We also make sure that when we tell the customer we're going to be there, we will be there. When the customer comes to our site they choose exactly which day and time they want the products. So it (payment on order) encourages the customer to be there and also encourages us to be there when the customer will be there. Both sides are happy when the customer pays upfront and we deliver to them on time.

I think when people talk about Pay on Delivery what they fail to factor in is all the hidden costs, especially when you have a bigger operation. A bigger operation means more bikes, more drivers and more people handling cash. You will need a system to monitor those people because, cash is cash right? We'd rather focus on great customer experience and building around that. And so far it's been good.

Asides the obvious challenges to Nigerian eCommerce - payments and logistics and all - are they any specific challenges to running Supermart?

Gbolahan: I don't know if there's any that is unique to business like ours but, I think the key to running any business is finding good people across the organisation.


We lay a lot of emphasis on the personal shoppers who are picking the items and the drivers delivering them. Personal shoppers are key to the operation so we train them in terms of knowing the difference between things like the regular and cherry tomatoes or different kinds of cheese, picking the freshest fruits and being able to contact and communicate with customers if they have to replace an item or suggest a replacement. Same goes for the drivers. If you've ever received a delivery from Supermart you know that our drivers are always well dressed and able to communicate effectively.


These are things which may look simple but are critical to our operation. It takes time to train these people to deliver this kind of service. So for us trying to find the best people and training them properly are what we focus on.


Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs, especially in the eCommerce space?

Raphael: You need to have a clear idea in your mind who your customer is. Be conscious of the fact that it's not a walk in the park. You have to do it for the right reasons because it's not as glamorous as people think. Be ready to have a lot of sleepless nights. It's a lot of hard work but if you do it for the right reasons, if you believe that the end result is making society a better place for everybody then of course you can find the strength within to sustain you.

Gbolahan: What is most important is knowing what kind of business you want to run, getting the model right, but more importantly identifying the culture within an organisation. If your goal is just to make money yes, you may make money quickly but it can easily disappear. It has to be a long term plan. Understand you business and identify if it suits your character.


Finally, Any predictions on the Nigerian eCommerce space?

Raphael: I think retail is going to be one of the biggest drivers of the Nigerian economy. I has to be, it's such a large population. 20 million in Lagos and 170 million around Nigeria. We have to facilitate commerce among ourselves. So the question then becomes are we able to use e-businesses to facilitate this. I think we have enough key crop of people. What we need to do is be smart with business so we do not lose money while trying to build an economy around retail online. A couple of years from now, I don't know what percentage of people will be online but certainly more and more people will be shopping online.


Gbolahan: Anywhere in the world, retail plays a huge part of the economy. I don't think Nigeria will be anything different. So whether that is more physical stores or more online stores coming up, that will continue to happen for as long as we're here and many years after we're gone. The question now is, will more of that trade now be done online? The answer is yes. For as long as the internet is more accessible to people in Nigeria, you'll find that online commerce will continue to grow. Without doubt, the future is bright for eCommerce in Nigeria.


Do you have any thoughts, comments or questions? Kindly drop a comment below.

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I bully myself because I make me do what I put my mind to. Find me on Twitter @MuyoSan.
I bully myself because I make me do what I put my mind to. Find me on Twitter @MuyoSan.
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I bully myself because I make me do what I put my mind to. Find me on Twitter @MuyoSan.

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