Changing the game with E-Commerce and Fintech
Most Trinbagonians have either purchased or asked someone to purchase an item from an online store but many have never made an online purchase from a local merchant.
According to export.gov, the website commissioned by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, while e-commerce in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) is growing, the service is not widely used by local retailers. Up until 2017, there were approximately ten (10) Trinidad and Tobago retailers offering e-commerce to the local population. With US$500 million being spent by T&T customers annually on U.S purchases via e-commerce, local enterprises are coming together to help merchants leverage the available tools and to give consumers access to products and services that have similar quality, variety and price as U.S based websites.
The recently held bmobile Connect Technology Conference brought together some of the leaders in the technology industry and tech enthusiasts. The event is part of the communications provider’s thrust to expose local companies to new technology and innovative business solutions and educate the public on the latest innovative technology. One of the panel discussions at the Connect Conference focused on E-Commerce and Fintech: The Rise of the Digital Business. The panellists included Head of Electronic Banking at First Citizens Bank, Avril Edwards; Founder and Managing Director of ShupHub.com Roanna Maraj and Stephan De Roche, CEO of Webgold and Buzz Media Ltd.
De Roche highlighted that although the industry is taking off, a critical factor for further growth in e-commerce in T&T is empowering merchants through education. “Local merchants have access to the same tools and technology as international companies but they often do not know where to start. With greater access to financial technology (fintech) and reliable mobile connectivity, small merchants can also compete in the global marketplace,” said De Roche.
He continued, “bmobile Connect Technology Conference drives the growth in the e-commerce industry and helps expose merchants to the e-commerce environment so that they can understand how to use and engage with the services. This forum is a welcomed step to raise awareness and to foster inter-agency connections, which would benefit the industry.”
Adding that banks are excited and interested in working with fintech companies, De Roche stated that start-ups grow at a fast rate and “marrying this agility and the regulatory back-end and experience of banks provide a new type of solution to the marketplace.”
Avril Edwards of First Citizens Bank agreed saying that in order for the digital/e-commerce environment to grow, there must be scale and that means working with gateway providers and payment agencies to do cross border type transactions. Stating that the Caribbean is an amalgamation of small economies, Edwards emphasized that “if we are to innovate and encourage an entrepreneurial spirit, merchants must be convinced to make a change.”
ShupHub.com, is a local e-commerce platform that enables both local and regional vendors to register and sell their products and services on the website. Shuphub.com is also a client of Webgold and uses First Citizens Bank for secure transactions. Website founder and Managing Director, Roanna Maraj, considers this service vital to her business since one of the main concerns for local consumers is shopping on a secure website. “Banks provide a safe and secure website so credit card information is protected. On the other hand, merchants can also access the e-commerce platform easily and receive credit card payments online,” said Maraj.
Another significant component for further developing the local e-commerce industry is greater access for mobile users. Customers need constant connectivity to have relevant information on products and even product reviews to make more informed decisions.
The latest statistics show that almost 80% of online shoppers in the United States have made purchases using their mobile device. With a high dependence on reliable mobile connectivity for the e-commerce industry, Webgold’s De Roche advanced that 4G LTE was among the “technology that allows e-commerce to thrive.”