Before coronavirus pandemic, Rovingheights, a book distribution business based in two Nigerian cities made sales daily from online and walk-in orders.
The stores were also a hive for book lovers who attended reading events in Lagos, the country’s bustling metropolis, and in Abuja, its capital.
But as the virus spread to the country, forcing a lockdown that lasted several weeks in some of its major cities in March, Rovingheights says it was forced to temporarily close down its stores and online operations.
Adedotun Eyinade, co-founder of Roving Heights told CNN that sales dropped significantly during the lockdown, leaving the business with no choice but to cut down on employee salaries in April.
“We weren’t making a lot of sales and the logistics of delivering books during the lockdown was difficult because book stores were not among the essential services allowed to operate,” he said.
“April was difficult. It was like the poorest sales in about two years for us,” he added.
In Nigeria, small and medium enterprises such as Rovingheights account for 96% of businesses and 84% of jobs, and for the last five years, they have contributed to around half of Nigeria’s GDP, according to online publication, Stears Business.
Many sectors in the country such as aviation, leisure, and real estate have been impacted by the spread of coronavirus.
Airlines, for example, are shut down as all airports in the country have been closed to contain the virus.
A free online store for businesses
As businesses like Rovingheights continue to feel the impact of Covid-19, a Lagos and San Francisco-based tech company, Flutterwave, has built a digital store for business owners, allowing them to display and sell their products online.
The company’s core business is digital payments and it joined forces last year with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba’s Alipay to offer digital payments between Africa and China.
Founder Olugbenga Agboola told CNN that Flutterwave store was created in response to the current pandemic which has infected more than 115,000 people on the continent as of May 27.
Agboola said the company noticed that many SMEs did not have an online presence which was a critical way of making sales in the wake of the pandemic.
“You have small companies trying to sell to their customers and can’t earn due to Covid-19, they are all shut down. So, we thought, what can we do to help them keep the light on? How can we help them move their sales online and settle customers?
Then we came up with the Flutterwave store that allows any small business anywhere in the world to go online, create a profile, and upload their product online and start selling,” he said.
“The SME owner has access to analytics on the platform. They can see who is paying them and from where, they can pay suppliers and staff from the platform. It’s a one-stop-shop,” Agboola explained.
Joining the Flutterwave store is free and businesses are only charged a small payment fee for their transactions, he said.
Using the Flutterwave store
More than 1,000 businesses from across Africa have so far signed up to sell their products using the store, according to Agboola.
One of them is Rovingheights. With the lockdown now lifted, the business has partially resumed operations and is in the process of trying to get back on track.
“When the storefront opened, I was like, this is exciting. I felt it was a good way to reach out to more people. So, it’s just one of the things we did to get through to more customers,” owner Eyinade said.
Joining Flutterwave store, despite their own existing online presence, has been a boost for the company, he added.
“One of the highlights of our month was just getting people telling us they saw our store on Flutterwave. We had a lot of feedback like that so that was useful for us,” he said.
The store, which is open to any type of business on the continent will continue to run post coronavirus, according to Agboola.
“Our goal is to continue to help SMEs scale their products. We want to help them keep their lights on.”