It can be a complex task for a local entrepreneur to harness e-commerce as a tool for growing their business.Just ask Mazuree Ali, founder and managing director of Trini Trolley.
Trini Trolley boasts of being the first e-commerce platform in T&T. With 20,000 items in its inventory, the site functions as a local "Amazon.com" where Trinbagonians can purchase from electronics to groceries, all with the click of a button. Most of the goods are stocked locally in warehouses in Princes Town and Freeport, which allows for delivery within 24 to 48 hours.
The site was started by Ali in 2009. He got the idea for Trini Trolley in 2008 while working at a full-time job and pursuing an MBA in marketing. He dropped out of the MBA programme to make the time to work on Trini Trolley. One of the main challenges Ali faced when he started was the need to educate people about e-commerce and online payments in T&T."Less than five per cent of the population had Skyboxes," says Ali. "So, a lot of people at the time weren't comfortable with e-commerce, so we had to include payment on delivery."Another big challenge was the need for a third party credit card processor. When setting up an e-commerce site, you need a third party credit card processor to collect credit card information, authenticate that information and complete the transaction. In 2009, there was only one local bank offering this service to businesses, and the fees and restrictions involved proved discouraging for Ali. He experienced similar hurdles with the United States-based credit card processor he used in Trini Trolley's early stages of development.
This all changed when Paypal merchant accounts were introduced to T&T in 2010. Paypal is a global e-commerce business and a global provider of online payment services. Previously, Paypal only allowed residents in T&T to purchase goods or services through its platform. However, the introduction of merchant accounts introduced new opportunities for e-commerce."We were Paypal's first major customer in 2010" says Ali. "It made it very easy for companies to grow an online business."Using Paypal is not without its drawbacks, however. It's a US company so the payments are processed outside of T&T and do not immediately go into the seller's bank account. The payment goes to your credit card where you can later withdraw the funds. While there are also no initial set up fees and no monthly subscription fees, Paypal does charge a fee to receive payments and convert currencies. This is charged when the seller makes an online sale.
Another issue Ali faced was the legality of its online contracts. "Online contract" refers to the agreement between the seller and the buyer which defines the terms and conditions of the sale. "Those terms and conditions that; unfortunately, a lot of people don't read." According to Ali, online sellers have to create these agreements to protect themselves from litigation, but they had not been backed up by legislation.Recently, the Government made moves to address the legality of online transactions, however. The Electronic Transactions Bill was passed in the Senate in April 2011 and sections of the bill were proclaimed in early 2012. The law, in effect, gives a broad legality to all transactions and records that are electronic, including payments.
Zaf Rahaman, managing director of Forward Multimedia, a company that specialises in buiding e-commerce Web sites, claims there's a local third party processor that provides more benefits to local entrepreneurs than Paypal does. Scotiabank has long been providing credit card processing to clients. However, it previously marketed its service to large companies, namely corporate and commercial clients. Recently, there's been a marketing push to expand their client base to medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs, explains Rahaman.
So how does their solution compare to Paypal? With Scotiabank, there's a $3,000 sign-up fee and monthly subscription and transaction fees. However, its main advantage over Paypal is that when the buyer makes a payment, the funds become immediately accessible as they're deposited in the business' merchant account. The funds are also processed in TT dollars rather than in US dollars, says Rahaman."When it comes to e-commerce, our market is relatively young" says Rahaman. "We have to start somewhere and this is a good place to start."Ali will be at the Caribbean Digital Expo, which takes place on April 10 and 11.