One of the biggest differences between Asia, Africa and the rest of the world is how addresses are written. While the western world and most large cities do provide proper addresses that include a street name and number, a city, state, and zip (postcode), this is not the case for 90% of provincial towns in Asia and Africa. Most people living in small towns will have an area location, perhaps a description of where their house is, but that’s as far as it will go.

The issue facing e-retail logistics is how to deliver the product to the customer. This was overcome by using local delivery services, which receive the parcels in consolidation from a main sorting house, usually near the countries capital city. All this is also great, but an issue arose in a more acute stage of the process, the ordering stage.

Most retail sites use standard e-shop software; some will use a web development company to help develop a more personalized and functional site, while others will go to a template site. During this process, these companies come to a pitfall that they do not notice and end up frustrating their potential customers.

The Order Form
This simple web page is a standardized form that the customer fills in, providing a shipping address as well as a billing address if the two are different. However, these forms are generic, and that means that they are generic for US or European addresses and not provincial African and Asian addresses.

The form demands that the customer fills in a street name and number as well as a zip code, in some instances, it also demands a US State. On occasions, copied forms include “not the US” as a state, however, a lot of customers whose mother tongue is not English might find it hard to see this among all the options.

The Solution
IT companies should not be lazy, they should create a Country specific form, where once the country is chosen, the states within the country will be country specific. Zip codes will remain or be removed, and addresses will become a descriptive field, for instance, “the fifth house on the right after the Mango tree behind the main road next to the Chapel of St. Nino.”

Delivery Instructions
The customer’s telephone number is important, more so then their e-mail address, since delivery companies will call before making a delivery to ascertain the exact location and whether the person is as at home or not. Unlike addresses in most US cities, provincial houses can be anything from a shack to a gated house. Delivery companies do not leave packages in hidden places; they must be hand delivered. I many cases, if the customer does not claim the package within 5 days from the initial delivery date the package is returned to the company. However, the issue with pick-ups is the location of the office, in some instances it can be up to 100 kilometers away from the address, making pick-up hard.

The experience

Lazada is an Asian based e-retail company that provides online shopping for countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. It is based in Singapore and has perfected a site that provides many different sources for the same product. It has linked its delivery operations to local distribution companies so that delivery of goods will reach even the remotest destinations. Their customer service is professional, sometimes frustrating, like Amazon, but is efficient and provides a good cancellation, and refunding service. The site allows for customer feedback which is one of the most important tools available for deciding whether to buy a product and from whom to buy it from.

Conclusions: Local logistics in Africa is a major issue, in Asia, it has become easier due to companies such as Lazada, that is Asian specific site. The bottom line solution is for African IT companies and local e-retailers to stop being lazy and adapt the online Order Form to suit their specific location.