WhatsApp groups have become a common feature among WhatsApp users. From teams, groups of friends to extended and nuclear family members discussing pressing issues and planning the next outing, WhatsApp group chats have revolutionised collaboration amongst various groups of people.
In Ikeja Computer Village, it is changing how traders collaborate with one another. On a hot Thursday morning in November, I was seated in Degzy’s shop in one of the plazas at the Ikeja Computer Village. Degzy has been fixing laptops and phones at Computer Village for almost a decade.
About 10 minutes into examining my laptop, he called one of his apprentices named Wasiu to go get a particular component from another engineer, Chukwudi. Wasiu returned about five minutes later without the component. Degzy sent him to another shop in search for the part.
As Wasiu left the shop, I wondered out loud why Degzy couldn’t just place a call or text through to these people to find out if they have the component he’s searching for before he sends Wasiu to them.
“Their shops are not so far from here,” he replied. ‘We actually have a WhatsApp group for this purpose but I left because they were always posting rubbish.”
Tech Villa is the name of the group Degzy used to belong to. According to Chiboy, a current member of the group, there are dozens of such WhatsApp groups used among traders in the Computer Village.
“The number of members of a typical WhatsApp group could be between 70 to 200 and they usually serve different purposes. I personally belong to three WhatsApp groups from Computer Village alone.”
How it works
As Chiboy mentioned, there are quite a number of these groups, some for phone dealers, laptop dealers, accessories dealers, phone and laptop engineers and as well as dealers of home appliances.
Gabriel Anyachukwu is the admin of a couple of WhatsApp groups in computer village. He is also the Business Development Manager at Blessing Computers Limited, dealers of mobile phones, laptops and consumables located within Ikeja Computer Village.
One of the groups Gabriel manages has almost 200 members comprising of vendors who sell similar gadgets and when any of them needs a particular product, they drop their requests in the group.
“For instance, we at Blessing Computers haven’t started stocking much of home appliances so when we get a request for one, I post the item on the WhatsApp group. Members of the group that have the item immediately reply.”
Even though the conversations begin within the group, the deals are usually sealed privately.
“In most cases, about three or four different vendors who have the item would send me private messages on WhatsApp. They all present their best prices and I’d obviously go with the cheapest. Then proceed to have the item supplied.”
In addition, members use the groups as an avenue to publicise the availability of goods.
“It gives us the opportunity to know trending gadgets and where to find them in the village. For example, some us may not be able stock the Intel Core i9 which is the latest processor but people who have it use the group as a medium to let the rest of us know,” says Felix Ameh, Managing Director and Chief Engineer at Bliss Computers Limited.
They also drop price lists of items in the group. According to Gabriel, this is usually not a very common approach because most vendors like to adopt what he describes as the “technicality of pricing.”
“Prices in this market are very competitive so one has to be very strategic to make sales. If for example we both sell the same products and you display a particular product for ₦150,000, I could slash my price to ₦140,000 so as to get traffic. That’s the essence of the personal chat, to ensure that you can slash your prices as low as you can to make sales.”
Felix agrees with Gabriel but insists that displaying price lists in the group chat can serve other beneficial purposes.
“There was a time when I had a lot of systems I needed to dispose, I just needed the cash so I did a price slash within the group. I immediately began to receive requests from those who were interested, then we struck a deal.”
The Whatsapp groups are obviously beneficial to its members, but many vendors I spoke with including Degzy do not want to have anything to do with them.
The bane of WhatsApp groups
Everyone knows that WhatsApp groups can descend into chaos as soon as everyone starts chatting, especially about topics totally unrelated to the reason the group was created in the first place.
Let’s not even talk about those members that copy and paste random broadcasts on the groups. WhatsApp is always coming up with new features to make groups more bearable for its members but none is yet to prevent irrelevant content from being posted.
As a group admin, Gabriel says he’s been able to find a way around this challenge by laying down strict rules for members of the group.
“We have standing rules, you post irrelevant content, we yank you off the group.”.
According to Chiboy, many of the groups he belongs to also have rules which are constantly violated by members, but he stays regardless.
“I stay because it has helped my business in so many ways. Right now, from the comfort of my shop, I can reach out to other vendors when I need an item so that when they respond, I know exactly where I’m going to get it.”
He adds that people like Degzy who do not belong to at least one of these groups do not know what they are missing.
Subscribe to the Techpoint Africa weekly newsletter here.
Techpoint Build 2020 is holding virtually in August. Register free now to attend.
Nigerian startups raised $55.4m in Q1 2020; over 99% of which came from foreign sources. Find out more when you download the full report.