Vanguard (Lagos)

23 July 2012

Nigeria: Online Auto Shops Set to Eclipse Car Markets - Cheki GM

EVERYBODY is wondering what is happening in the Nigerian internet market. Surprising, more than 40 million Nigerians are on the internet and most of them use mobile applications. A lot of these people also shop online. They understand that online is convenient as it offers freedom to make sound decisions and options for window shopping.

It also offers them wide contacts and the chances of being cheated is limited as compared to the ordinary market.

With these wide opportunities, several online shops owners want to reap from the internet benefits. And one of the online revolutions likely to upset things is the auto markets in Nigeria. This is what the American born Nigerian, Mrs Oluwatomi Hodonu, 30, general manager of Cheki.com.ng and her marketing manager, Stanley Ezeani, told Vanguard in their office at Lekki, Lagos.

Oluwatomi returned in January 2011 to Nigeria from the United States where she was born. She has insurance background but is now into online auto market. Shwe said: "Cheki is basically an online company where we do buying and selling of cars. So as consumers, you can go on line and look for cars that you want without having a middleman. You can check the cars, research on the cars you need and it can be sold to you.

So we actually want to be a marketplace for cars where if you want to sell a car or you want to buy a car, you go to Cheki website. If you want to buy electronics, where would you go? Which market would you go. You would say Alaba. But in the next couple of years, when people say I want to buy a car, what they will say is check Cheki, go online.

The company began about a a year ago in Nigeria. It has over 40 staff capacity. It has firm roots in Kenya where it is East Africa's top online auto car dealer. Oluwatomi studied communications, legal practice, economics and government in the university. She was also in a marketing company. When she got married, her husband asked her to return to Nigeria. She said: "He wanted me to come home.

So I came to Nigeria. Before I moved to Nigeria, I had the opportunity to come and be the head of the marketing team in Nigeria." In the US, Oluwatomi interacted with Nigerians and through them got to know much about the country. In US, there was nothing that I didn't know about Nigeria because my parents and I went to the Redeemed church.

So there are Nigerians everywhere. I went to college there and we had African Students Association. In America, those associations were mostly Nigerians. So, we also had Nigerian students associations, a place we joined together, talked together. So most of my closest friends are still Nigerians."

So, how do they buy cars in US? "Abroad," Oluwatomi said: "If I want to buy a car, I go to auto checker. Auto checker is something like Cheki. Everybody abroad knows auto checker because before I go to the dealership, even if I want to go checking the car, I still will go to auto checker to get the average price because I am a female, which Cheki does for females.

Also, I go to auto checker to check the location the car is. So, if I want to go the dealership, I went online. How much the automatic costs. How much the manual costs. And so there is nothing like because I am a female, they will cheat me. So because of the online experience I have, because I have already done all my home works online, I call the dealers. Even as I am a female, they will still treat me the same way.

This is what we want to do in Nigeria also. So if you want to buy a car, you don't have to go call a friend or call somebody that you want to buy a car, can you send it down to me? If you check on Cheki, we already have prices if you are ready to import. These are people who are selling cars abroad. You can also contact us."

At the mention of cars, Ezeani explained how the website works. "They are like classified advertisement. They send pictures of the cars down and we help them sell these cars through Cheki. It doesn't really matter where you are. What matters is that you get what you want.

Some people call from abroad. They want to buy. They say they check online and pay for the car. Cheki is more like the palm for auto market in Nigeria where everybody can sell or buy cars. All you have to do is come in and upload your car. We charge to upload cars. And it is subject to the car you want to upload. The more the cars the lesser the price."

Online sales, he added, reduces the stress of traffic, the middleman who adds extra to the cost of cars. "Online, you have dealers who sell the cars. You are sure of what you buy. You are sure these cars are secured. You see cars depending on the kind of cars you are looking for. You see a place you can search for a kind of cars you are looking for."

Oluwatomi opened the site, began to browse and Ezeani continued: "When we were setting up the portal, we took cognizance of the challenge of the Nigerian website. With that, we built a structure that can allow easy upload, even the pictures. We have over 10, 000 to 15, 000 car inventories.

The website can open, not just from your laptop, it can open on the mobile version as well. You can actually search from your phone. The speed is convenient enough compared to other normal websites in Nigeria with such normal pictures."

"You can search for whatever car you are looking for. Let's say you want to buy a corolla. You go to Toyota. The search process is made easy. For example, you are searching 2010 brown Toyota corolla. You connect your search to what you want. You have options.

You can put in your budget also. So, if I am looking for something not more than N3m....You see, the website is fast...you see the classification. Whether it is new or tokunbo, Nigerian used. If you click on the car, it will tell you where the car is locate," Tomi took over.

"In Nigeria, most people park their cars somewhere and say 'Buy Me'. But the only person that will see that car is the person passing that way. But we have avenue for you to check it up. You don't have to go Berger. I don't know where Berger is," she added.

Dealers may their own websites Ezeani said, adding, "What Cheki does is to bring potential buyers and sellers together and make sure there is no problem between them. We make sure there is physical verification of the cars. The cars are in existence.

Before transaction takes place, both of them must meet each other to some point. At the point of physical verification, you see the car.

You know who is buying the car. And before cars are uploaded on Cheki, we make sure that we see these cars. So we also go out to check these cars. We have over 700 dealers in Nigeria. We have one on one relationship with them."

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