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How Instagram Became A Substitute for E-Commerce in Trinidad & Tobago

How local SME’s conduct transactions via social media as opposed to websites

Undoubtedly, e-commerce and online sales have grown to prominence in Trinidad and Tobago, especially in light of COVID-19 lockdowns. A website, though, is not always a financially feasible option, especially for local small businesses. Many small businesses however have found loopholes to ensure that they can provide customers with an online “store” and contactless payment options.

Let’s explore how;

What stops Small Businesses from having an e-commerce website:

1. Cost

The cost to host a website and enable local and foreign e-commerce payments can be a great expense for local SME’s. Especially, during the pandemic when extra expenses are not workable. Obtaining a website domain, enabling e-commerce and maintaining it regularly, can cost anywhere from as low as TT$2,000 to TT$3000 plus, depending on the features they need. Thus, local companies have found alternatives on social media that don’t cost them as much.

The most popular alternative is that businesses post images of the products or services on social media and conduct sales through direct messages.

2. Credit Cards Use

Only 16% of Trinidad and Tobago’s population have credit cards. There are many requirements to obtain a credit card locally and debit cards are yet to be accepted for online sales. Therefore, while e-commerce is a great option, some businesses don’t see the benefit of investing in it, given that a lot of their customers prefer to pay by cash or debit card. Many companies who sell on social media and even those with a website also offer a bank transfer option for payments.

How Small Businesses Use Social Media as A Substitute for E-Commerce

1. Transactions via DM

Many small businesses conduct their transactions with customers via direct message. Businesses post an image of their products or service with some information about the product and the price in the description. The customer can then DM the company if they are interested and the business confirms the transaction. They then send an invoice with either the banking information for a transfer or letting the customer know to pay upon delivery. In short, the post acts as the product page and the DMs act as the payment gateway.

This is the most popular way small businesses conduct online sales at the moment.

2. Selling Via Google Form

Other companies opt to conduct transactions through Google Forms. Some companies prefer this method as it can be easier to track many orders and gives companies the ability to correspond with the client via email.

Google Form’s format allows users to have checkboxes, drop-down boxes and options for the viewer to give details. This enables businesses to list products and gives customers the option to list any specific details for the order or delivery if needed. It also allows the business to retrieve the customer’s email which helps create the main form of communication for payment and order confirmation.

3. Using Local Online Market Places

Other small businesses who would prefer to have a website for sales, choose online marketplaces such as Unqueue, Sphare and Shope Caribe. These companies allow small businesses to sell online without the hassle of starting up their own website.

The websites and apps, enable businesses to sell on their platform for a set price. In return, they get an e-shop on the platform and can accept online payments through the site. These three websites also provide delivery for both the customer and the business.

Over the last year and a half, online sales have become one of the predominant ways for companies to sell to customers during continued lockdowns and restrictions. In that time customer expectations have already changed and many local consumers want the ability to have a contactless and safe online shopping experience.

4. The Disadvantage

There is no denying that the option of using Instagram as an e-commerce platform is cost-effective. There are no recurring payments for domains, website hosting or complex plugins. However, the purchase of a website provides the brand or company with credibility and ownership.

Instagram is solely owned by Facebook Incorporated, thus changes to their platforms occur frequently to compete with other Social Media platforms. A website gives you complete control of the content and how the information is laid out or communicated. Social Media platforms can be used to direct your customers to your website which provides a one-stop-shop for all information, news, products and services as it relates to your business.

We understand the simplicity of using Instagram as an e-commerce platform, and we encourage its use for small to medium businesses that may not be able to afford the niceties and prime functionality of an e-commerce website. However, while effective in the interim, we encourage all to work towards owning their own website to enjoy flexibility, automation and excellent brand perception.






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