The Zoobashop story

Ghana is going digital. As Ghanaians embrace the new technologies, businesses are seizing the opportunities. Zoobashop is one of the pioneer companies retailing products online, and its founder Albert Biga spoke to Stephen Williams about the business.

Ghana is about to embark on a transformation of its technology sector. The government has granted three licences to three different companies to roll out 4G telecoms services, allowing for ultrafast internet. This is anticipated to herald an explosion in both PCs and, more importantly, hand-held devices that will access web-based information, products and services.

Already riding this wave, and prepared to grow with this trend, is Zoobashop. Speaking in Accra, Ghana, the company’s founder, Albert Biga, told New African Markets how it all started. “I have 15 years’ background working in information technology, 10 years of which was in developing software. I was a co-founder, with Herman Chinnery Hesse, in setting up SOFTtribe, before working for Intel Corporation for four and a half years. I then dabbled in a couple of things before settling on Zoobashop to invest my money.”

Zoobashop’s business model is simple. As Biga explains: “One of the things I realised was that Ghanaians didn’t have the kind of platform, a tech platform, to allow people to buy merchandise online, so we set up

“It is, I believe, unique in this country as it is an online retail site, not a market place. We are not the kind of platform like eBay that allows buyers and sellers to meet. We are basically a store, like a retail store, but totally online.”

The company chooses the merchandise it sells, and then handles the transactions, for refunds, returns, and warranties. “We initially started in December 2013, building credibility in the market place, and within four months we were holding something like one to one and a half million cedis ($30,000–$45,000) of stock.

“The intention was, over time, to build our reputation and then invite manufacturers to extend stock on consignment. It was also in preparation for launching our 80,000 square foot fulfillment centre and warehouse that would allow this to happen. We moved into the new facility last July. Our new strategy is basically to take stock consignment.”

However, Biga is quick to point out that Zoobashop, like any retailer, must take care of any problem that the customer has. In a marketplace site, that process is less defined, as it is simply a technological enabler. That’s one of Zoobashop’s unique selling points (USPs).

Biga lists the other USPs. “It is cheaper for customers, as we avoid the cost of running a physical store; our overheads are much lower and we pass on those savings to customers.

“We also do a seven-day return, so if you are unhappy with the merchandise, or change your mind, you can get your money back, no questions asked. And we do cash on delivery (COD), which is very popular.”

The reason that COD is so popular is that although Zoobashop has introduced multiple ways of paying online, new customers are generally much happier to use COD for the first couple of purchases and then subsequently make pay online.

“We offer the best deals because we can settle for much lower margins than bricks and mortar stores,” Biga says. “And, for me, what is the most important thing is the customer experience, and that’s where we feel that we are a different kind of service experience here; we give our customers time to change their mind if they are unhappy with something, and we will reimburse fully.”

Zoobashop retails an entire range of goods, but not perishables like frozen food. They offer a spectrum of merchandise ranging from electronic goods – from computers to tablets and mobile devices – to fashion, baby clothes, home appliances, furnishings and DIY goods.

Zoobashop chooses suppliers carefully and has already partnered with household names, such as Apple, Blackberry, Samsung, and Beko to offer shoppers over 3,000 products. The emphasis is on quality, as well as the supplier offering both customer and marketing support.

We  do a seven-day return, so if you are unhappy with the merchandise, or change your mind, you can get your money back, no questions asked

“Computers and electronic goods, tablets, mobile phones, white goods, i.e. household appliances, small tools and more recently fashion apparel, are all selling very strongly at present. We’ve not done so well with food and drink, but that is probably because they are smaller ticket items, and have smaller profit margins,” Biga explains.

Zoobashop was also up against another crucial problem with its delivery systems as in Ghana, street addresses are nearly non-existent. People find locations through their proximity to other landmarks, say “next to or opposite the blue building, or the filling station, the church, the road bridge etc.”

“One of the things that we knew we had to get to grips with was the delivery side of the business. So we invested heavily in our own delivery fleet just so we could understand the courier and dispatch space, to find out how we can best deliver our goods. We’ve done that for more than seven months now, and I think we understand what we need to do. We also engaged a number of courier companies – DHL, FedEx, TNT for example – just so that we know what options are available.

“Their delivery people are very experienced and we can leverage on that knowledge, but you know that one of the interesting things is the use of ITC and GPS systems in the absence of street names and addresses. That should develop very fast in Ghana, and in Accra in general.” 

From the outset, Biga confirms, Zoobashop; launched in Ghana, served what is known as the “golden square” of Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Takoradi. But Biga has ambitions to expand Zoobashop’s coverage to other West Africa countries, and in about five years tackle the Nigeria market. And, as Biga explains, they can also serve the Ghanaian diaspora who might want to buy goods for their friends and family back home as Zoobashop’s goods and services are just a click away, wherever you are in the world.

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