The year 2020 marked a change in traditional business operations for many, as physical transactions evolved into a digital Ecommerce space in Trinidad & Tobago. Not many would have predicted lock-downs, limited/essential physical business operations and social distancing to name a few new adaptions, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. With this development, retail merchants scurried to find solutions that could provided continuity to prevent their business heading to insolvency.
In the midst of the despair, some merchants had the vision to have an online presence already serving customers and some were now eager to get on board. That year also saw small business entrepreneurship with what call “the small man” jumping on the train.
Persons now getting into the digital world should be aware of a few factors before splurging on the “as seen on TV” type of solution which may cost you , giving more headaches than results. Many of the web solutions such as WIX, Shopify, Squarespace and Amazon to name a few are very well designed for online transactions , but when it comes to their system’s practicality for the needs of the Caribbean islands, they fall very short. Those aforementioned solutions don’t make it easy for us “islanders” to get paid out easily.
Imagine selling 100 products from your website in the week and not have immediate access to your hard earned money until 3 weeks after or blocked for strange reasons in acquiring your payout. These big market players look good on paper, but leave you exposed to terms and conditions suited for first world countries. You will go insane or broken ,whichever comes first LOL. This is where we at Devonfer Technologies will recommend a local solution and challenge you to look at these 4 aspects before you go forward.
1) The Web Platform (Our Recommendation)
Depending on the needs of your business , the online platform selection would vary, but the solution of WordPress and Woocomerce is 90% of the times the answer. That web software WordPress is open source, which means the original source code of the software is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. The combination is used by some of the top ecommerce websites in the world.
Web developers in Trinidad 80% of the times use it because it is relatively user friendly, quicker to include plugins to get the right functions for clients and very robust. Choose a web developer that will give you the right balance to retrofit your budget but still able to be expansive enough to not produce a sub standard product. WordPress websites also require separate webhosting like servers as Bluehost, Name Cheap vs self hosted solutions such as Fygaro/Wishops. In a future publication those self hosted solutions will be covered.
At the end of the day as the business owner, your ecommerce website must be able to assist you in managing the backend when it comes to inventory, adding products, amending prices and processing orders . It should also give a welcoming visitor experience in the frontend where the look and feel of the website, browsing categories, adding items to cart and checkout payment should be aesthetically inviting, easy to use and robust .
2) The Payment Facilitator (Gateway Payment System)
Now that we have proposed a website solution for your business where customers can browse, add items to your virtual cart and checkout, we need a way to capture payments. This is where a payment gateway comes into action. This gateway must be able to accept major payments from VISA & MASTERCARD then transfer the payments to your local bank account. Payment gateways securely verifies the customer’s credit card information, and ensures funds are available for you as the merchant to get paid (This comes with a transactional Fee). Below are two options that can be integrated easily into your website to get paid.
WIPAY CARIBBEAN (T&T Based company)
For years we have been subjected to unfair conversion rates, heavily taxed global payment transfers and being put on the back burner in the Caribbean. This is no longer, with Trinidad & Tobago based payment solution provider called WIPAY Financial. According to their CEO;
I totally agree with the CEO as Wipay is definitely a game changer. Once you have a personal or business account with any of the banks in Trinidad or countries Wipay is supported then receiving payments are not an issue. When put up against the likes of Paypal, it is up there with the best. So let us breakdown the benefits of using and integrating this gateway into your platform.
- Easy to integrate into your website with the use of their plugin and API Key
- Literally anyone Business or Personal users can sign up for the service. (No credit card Required)
- It is COMPLETELY FREE to sign up (YES I said Free!)
- Fees are only charged during transactions for use of service
- Allows payments from VISA/MASTERCARD (Credit and Debit) cards.
- Allows payments to your account via voucher through the customer going to any Lottery Booth/Retail Dealer (e.g MASSY STORES)
- Caribbean Ecommerce in local currencies .
- Connect your TT bank account or US bank account for withdrawals.
FIRST ATLANTIC COMMERCE
First Atlantic Commerce (FAC) is a payment solution company based out of Bermuda, facilitating online payments for those in the Caribbean, Bermuda and Central America. They have partnered with various banks such as Scotiabank, First Citizen,Republic Bank, RBC which are in the jurisdictions listed above. First Atlantic Commerce can be integrated into the Woocommerce plugin for wordpress but is a costly option that requires a merchant to have capital to go with their solution.
The process involved in setting up is more tedious and requires the merchant to firstly acquire a Merchant ID from their respective bank. Smaller businesses who can’t qualify for the Merchant ID after the Risk screening process must put forward a security deposit of 20K or more to be held for a period of time. Many may not have this capital at their disposal so the option of Wipay is the way to go. Some of the features of FAC are:
- Real time, powerful credit card processing
- True multi-currency processing
- Credit card processing in the Caribbean and Bermuda
- Credit card processing in Central America
- Pricing in up to 145 currencies (bank dependent)
- Feature-rich payment gateway
- Customer service specific to you
- Stand-alone solutions such as Address Verification Service or 3D Secure
- Fraud management tools including Kount
As much as First Atlantic Commerce is a great payment gateway with responsive support, they fail in helping small and startup businesses in getting their feet wet quickly. Wipay is king.
3) Store Management
INVENTORY MANAGEMENT/SALE OF PRODUCTS
Managing your store can be very time consuming when it comes to ensuring products have SKU, name identification and are catalogued properly for accurate inventory reporting. When it comes to managing the products of a store, this is usually done through woocommerce wordpress. For merchants with physical retail stores including restaurants, gyms and other types that require an Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) for merging in store and online checkout/inventory, there is a great solution called OpenPOS.
OpenPOS can use a combination of POS hardware (Printer, Barcode Scanner) and devices such as a tablet to display to customers. Some of the features offered through the OpenPOS plugin are:
- Support multi type of business: retailer – grocery / cafe-restaurant / Salon
- Cafe/Restaurant Mode with table management, merge table, transfer table, Kitchen View Screen
- Support Rent Business type like as : karaoke, Pool Table Hire, hotel / room rent …
- Real-time sync table order data between waiter’s phone/tablet and Kitchen’s phone/tablet/ pc
- General / Grocery Mode with customer pole display
- Multi-Warehouse (Outlets)
- Inventory Management : Stock adjustment
- Stock Overview
- Multi Registers
- Support all type of Barcode Scanner device / Auto detect barcode device input
- Add product by Barcode Scanning or search by name / sku
In Trinidad & Tobago many businesses and companies use QuickBooks, Peachtree and a few others to Track expenses and manage cash flow. Fortunately once again LOL WordPress has plugins that sync with both mentioned accounting software that will do the job for you.
Delivery – Local,Regional & International
When it comes to getting your products delivered safely to your customers within a reasonable timeframe it is important to have the right infrastructure. Customers must be able to get clear notifications about the expected delivery date and time of the package from a set of possibilities managed by the store owner that includes local bank holidays, shipping methods, and other factors. With Woocommerce Order Delivery this is possible.
Within Woocommerce there are three options which are Flat rates, free shipping and Local pickup. Flat rates may not be suitable depending on your nature of your business as well as geographical location should you have a physical location. Since some persons may live in Port of Spain which is relatively a central point and some live in rural areas like Cedros, there is no way shipping costs can remain FLAT. Should you use free shipping then more than likely the customer is within the vicinity and likewise with Local Pickup.
The use of shipping zones can assist in this process. Shipping zones can be created so when a customer checkouts and selects shipping method, you as the merchant will have set prices based on the customers geographical location. You as the merchant can then utilize one of many local carriers such as TTPOST, DELIVERMETT , or deliver the item yourself.
Of course with each option have a contingency in place with a policy established between your delivery service of choice and you as the merchant. Packages may be damaged in the process, stolen at gunpoint, or a freak of nature event might take place (God forbid) that may warrant you covering the damages. Always keep it in mind.
International shipping can be integrated into WordPress Woocommerce using their shipping plugin. A recommendation should be liaise with a local DHL representative for the process flow of them receiving the package delivery rates etc and then your web developer to ensure accuracy in prices reflected on you web platform.
E-commerce has advanced immensely from days of archaic manual processes to a digital process flow which makes life easier. Persons can now sell any item, to anyone, in any part of the world and not be limited or seek validation from the “BIG FISH” solutions that are in the pond that can switch on you in the morning.
Everyone has the right and the resources to know the insights involved on launching and liberty to start entrepreneurship. We have the tools in Trinidad and Caribbean by extension to have a fully functional and high standard group of marketplaces for trade that allows everyone to benefit financially .What is holding you back from making that move? Business merchants and upcoming entrepreneurs must take ownership in understanding that this is a serious business and not just a side hustle.
A famous author once said
“The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.”Baron Rothschild, an 18th-century British nobleman
If this pandemic has not forced you to try something different and launch out , then stay and do Netflix and Chill. As the writer above rightly put , there are opportunities to invest in yourself and future while things don’t look positive on the market. For those that are doing their thing and scaling up I applaud you. For those that missed the ship during the last lockdown I say that its never to late, and to those contemplating, their are two words to leave you with….