I have never been to Balogun market. I have probably passed through it, or at least skirted it on one my adventures to the Lagos Island, but I don’t remember. Because I don’t like markets. Or rather, I’m not the kind of person who goes to markets. If for some reason I have to go to one, I won’t stick around for long. Because, stress.
But somehow, I’m aware that Balogun market exists. It’s only one of the biggest open markets in West Africa, said to have no actual address “because it sprawls across so many streets on the Island. And apparently, this market — where people use paper money to buy physical goods which have to be carted to their final destinations at the buyer’s expense — is coming online, via a newly launched ecommerce platform. Because this guy, Yinka Oluwakuse who runs another ecommerce portal called Fashionable Lagos, went to the trouble to convince traders there, via their traders association, to buy into the idea.
The traders supply the goods. Yinka’s team handle the logistics from their fulfilment hub located in the middle of the market where they provide free photography, tagging and last mile delivery services.
“We are a delivery company “masquerading” as an e-commerce tech company”, said operations and fulfilment executive, Emma Etim via email. According to Emma, they noticed that the traders had begun to use WhatsApp and Facebook pages to promote their products, and have spent the past six months working with them to take that behaviour to its logical conclusion. An ecommerce platform.
The website, www.balogunmarket.ng doesn’t look different from any of the run-of-the-mill ecommerce “startups” that show up in my inbox daily (you won’t believe how many). In theory, the web portal will grant online buyers to the endless selection of fabric, ready-to-wear clothing, shoes and associated wares that the market is renowned for. In practice? Well, it remains to be seen. It’s been a about a week since the announced February 25th launch date, but the inventory listed as of this writing is so scant as to be a slur on the market’s renown. I couldn’t find a men’s shoes section.
The potential impact of this enterprise, if it works as planned, is not lost on me. We’re talking about thousands of merchants who previously had to rely on foot-traffic for custom, now gaining access to an alternative and potentially lucrative distribution channel.
That will only happen if this is done properly. And the current state of execution raises many questions. I wondered if, considering its moniker, the website speaks for the collective interests of all the traders in that market, or if it is the manifestation of the aspirations of an elitist conclave? (On the website, it states that Balogun Market Lagos it’s trade icons and balogunmarket.ng are trademarks of Island Diary Media & Retail Ventures).
Also, wouldn’t it have been easier to simply get the Balogun market traders to list their wares on well-heeled marketplaces like Konga or Jumia that have spent much of the past four years building the end-to-end processes, systems and logistics networks required for ecommerce to succeed at scale?
As an initiative to get a whole swath of merchants, along with billions of naira worth of goods online, an umbrella initiative might make sense…if the people in the backend know what they are doing. So far, the execution leaves something to be desired. But Yinka Oluwakuse insists that this is just the beginning. I recommend he get to work on that men’s shoes section.