Call me the Oracle of E-Commerce in Trinidad & Tobago, say it! But you already knew that didn’t you? Well I’m not going to beat my chest… well, maybe just rap it lightly. A number of developments have developed of late and what has me excited is that these developments are in favor of the little guys- the micro, small (SMEs) and medium sized business in the country.
I’ve oft repeated that though all moving parts for setting up an online store in T&T has been available for a while, smaller operations and individuals have been priced out. It’s something I’ve been agonizing over, and I always looked forward to the day smaller clients would be able to easily set up modest online stores as a convenience for their customers as opposed to ‘hardcore’ E-Commerce. Well the time has come.
What priced out smaller businesses from having online stores
A number of things, for starters, our local payment gateway has been out of the reach of small operations to qualify for a merchant account. But now I’ve noticed that with all four local banks now offering it, the qualification process has gotten quite a tad easier.
Integrating the gateway to an e-commerce platform was also expensive, as much as $6,000+ TTD alone, now it’s half or even less. I’m also trying to bring that even lower, to about 25% of what it used to be.
Also, the only alternative to the local payment gateway was using PayPal or another US based payment processor which had there own set of problems. I said in many articles back that eventually a local payment aggregator like PayPal will come, and it has.
It's hard to qualify for a Merchant Account at local banks
All four (4) local banks now offer the First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) payment gateway and you first need a Merchant Account to link the gateway to. Each bank has their own qualification criteria to approve an account based on a variety of factors, one of the most important being risk, specifically, risk of fraud and chargebacks.
Applicants deemed too risky usually had to post a security deposit of at least $25,000 TTD to be held for a period of time till the account proved itself after which it would be released.
There are other hoops as well, like business plan, projections and other requirements for new merchants. Existing customers with an established relationship with their bank may not have as many hoops and may qualify much easier needing only paperwork for approval.
Cost of payment integration to website is expensive
The additional programming to integrate the FAC payment gateway to your E-Commerce website platform is also expensive, adding $3,000 to $6,000 TTD more to the total cost. I also just learned the hard way that Republic Bank’s payment solution called Kount requires additional additional programming (deliberately used twice), almost doubling the integration cost. Suffice it to say, I won’t be promoting Republic Bank’s solution to my clients unless they really want it. I’ll expand on this some more in my upcoming payment gateway article in my E-Commerce series.
Cost of E-Commerce store website design was expensive
The Magento E-Commerce platform is complex with a steep learning curve even for me, and I’m still learning as it’s so robust. It’s expensive to set-up as it takes time, requires special hosting etc., which puts even an entry level online store out of reach for those of you on a small budget.
Such a Magento store, fully working and delivered, generally costs at least $35,000 TTD. For small operations with a small catalog of products, say less than a hundred, such a store is overkill in terms of functionality as they need only the basic online store features, and expensive for the same reason.
Magento is for HARDCORE E-Commerce and you have to be invested, committed and prepared for the enormous undertaking that it is. Take my word on this as I wasn’t prepared for the enormous undertaking that it is!
Enter (actually re-enter) WordPress for E-Commerce
I’m ‘experimenting’ now with the WordPress platform which is more user friendly and simpler. As you know (or may not know), I exclusively use the WordPress platform to build regular business websites. E-Commerce is enabled on this platform via a plug-in which tells you that e-commerce is not a native feature.
However, the number one e-commerce plug-in called Woo Commerce was acquired last year by WordPress itself (via it’s company of course, known as Automattic), which speaks volumes, and hence the reason for me now ‘experimenting’.
One of the reasons I shied away from WordPress before now was the fact that it wasn’t designed for E-Commerce from the ground up like Magento. With Automattic’s acquisition, it charts a new course that is worth looking at.
You may read the blog post made by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg making the announcement in May 2015. FYI, I pointed this out before that Matt’s personal website uses our own .TT extension which is very cool.
Enter a local payment aggregator
I’ve been approached by local company doing a similar model as PayPal that has been around for a while but under the radar for their own reasons and now ready to come into the fore. I won’t reveal who they are yet as I’m still evaluating as I want to be clear on a number of things, especially as I’m comparing then to PayPal. The fact that the Electronic Transaction Act (2011) is not fully law yet has me cautious before I can endorse and promote.
Enter integrated local delivery with COD service
E-Commerce platforms come shipping-ready with FedEx, UPS, USPS already integrated, and I’ve been hoping that our own TT Post will get on board in anticipation of the online shopping revolution in T&T. However, the government operation that they are, I’m hoping beyond hope, and thankfully we don’t have to wait on them like we’ve been waiting on the Zip codes.
I’ve currently testing a local delivery module that will integrate with E-Commerce platforms that calculates delivery to cities and towns in both Trinidad and Tobago which should take care of the TT Post issue. They also provide a collection service so that online stores can deliver orders COD which they collect via Linx, credit card, or cash for a small transaction fee (3.5%-4%) and remit to the merchant’s bank.
Enter a local Amazon
Finally an Amazon-type marketplace you’ve been hoping for will be available locally and happens to be my client so you know it’s going to be done right. This brings additional options to small operations and their matching small budgets. It also allows testing the waters without the headache of dealing with overall website management and all that goes with it.
There are actually a couple of similar sites already in T&T doing the same thing but apparently they have not gained traction or haven’t been promoted yet by the owners. There is room for other players but they’ll really have to come good to go up against any site done by Forward Multimedia.
As the article title indicates local E-Commerce is moving along at it’s own pace. I’m pleasantly surprised by the renewed interest in the face of the poor economic climate and the even poorer outlook. If you look around T&T, Trinis are still going about their business, both personal and commercial, because that’s what Trini’s do— we bitch, moan, play party politics, but then shrug our shoulders and go along our merry way.