Designing an innovative e-commerce platform from the ground up
Agric Network Zambia with financial and technical support from Financial Sector Deepening Zambia (FSDZ) are working on developing a marketplace for agricultural inputs and marketing commodities in the country. The goal of this e-commerce marketplace is to reduce the costs incurred by farmers and the stock hold by the agribusiness. The i implementation phase will run from May 2020 until the end of 2021.
Agric Network Zambia aims at offering a complete solution for sellers and buyers t including additional services, such as capacity building, advice and financial support. To develop a blueprint for how such a platform could successfully work, Agric Network Zambia is applying the “Human Centred Design” (HCD) approach. This innovative approach to problem solving is all about building a deep empathy with the people the project is designed for, generating ideas, building prototypes tailored to suit their needs and testing with the people it is being designed for.
In general, the HCD approach consists of 3 phases: the inspiration phase, where the research problem is developed, the ecosystem mapped and necessary data collected; the ideation phase, where opportunities are identified for design and potential prototyping; and the implementation phase, during which the solution is brought to life and, eventually, to market. The idea is to maximise the potential for success, because the user has been at the heart of the process from the beginning.
Agric Network Zambia during the HCD training session
Agric Network Zambia is in the process of conducting the first phase of this approach, under the guidance of Small Surfaces, an international consultancy company. At inception, the plan is to engage agribusinesses who use traditional sales methods and build a strategy around their needs.
ecomConnect conducted an interview with Isaac Mando, Founder and Managing Director at Agric Network Zambia, on the 30th April 2020
ecomConnect: Why does the world need another marketplace platform? Why does Zambia feel the need to create an online platform to source agricultural inputs and market its commodities?
Isaac Mando: The coronavirus crisis has led to a tremendous growth of online marketplaces at the expense of physical shops. Customers demand less physical contact, necessarily transforming shopping from offline to digital. Besides, marketplaces are convenient, increase visibility of small businesses and are a facilitator of cross-border e-commerce. The biggest marketplace players, such as eBay and Amazon, can’t meet all the changing needs of customers. There is a need for alternative, sustainable and innovative trade platforms to complement the bigger ones. In Zambia, there is no widely used or available virtual marketplace for agriculture commodities.
In Zambia, a marketplace as such will allow agribusinesses to have a wider selection of product inputs in a cost-friendly environment. By selling on a trusted marketplace, agribusinesses will benefit from its marketing and brand-building expenses. A specialized marketplace will offer them the possibility of bringing products to large audiences quickly and efficiently.
For a successful marketplace to happen, we will not only enable multiple buyers and suppliers to interact, collaborate and transact. Our platform will provide virtual advice, online insurance, an integrated payment solution and electronic savings. We would like to provide users with industry-specific workflow solutions that enable efficient, ongoing collaboration on long-term projects. This reduces costs and leads to a higher quality of services and increased overall value for all users.
e: Why is HCD a relevant approach to developing a blueprint for a marketplace?
I.M.: The benefits of using this approach are several. HCD involves thinking out-of-the-box, leading to creative solutions that wouldn’t come about through traditional design methods. This ends up increasing the quality and usefulness of our product. In general, HCD is a strategic approach that tends to have happier customers and helps differentiate your product offering. This approach has higher probabilities of leading to a successful outcome than a traditional approach because it incorporates feedback on areas that need testing before they are finally deployed, saving time and other resources in the future.
e: What tips would you give to other African entrepreneurs wanting to use e-commerce?
I.M.: It is still early to give good tips since we are just starting out. So far, we have learnt that the most important factor is to have your customer at the centre of your business at every moment. We strongly believe that companies that put the customer at the heart of their organization are experiencing an increase in customer lifetime value.
My second tip would be to encourage entrepreneurs to have a mid-long strategy and plan resources from the beginning. With e-commerce sales increasing, you must constantly be working to maintain the edge over your competitors. In line with the HCD, it is crucial to use customer feedback to optimize their journey. And last, but not least, my third advice is to be innovative. Technological innovation will be the key to unlock the potential of e-commerce under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
e: How do you see ecommerce in the period after the crisis?
I.M.: E-commerce is the solution both for domestic and international trade regardless of the sector. During and after the crisis, businesses should continue investing in e-commerce. On another line, Governments should put forward structural, legal and economic reforms to facilitate the implementation of e-commerce in their countries. Governments need to ensure trust in online transactions, ease the conduct of domestic and international trade online, and offer legal protection for users and providers of e-commerce and e-government services.
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