3AL: at the intersection of social networking and eCommerce

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Among a slew of innocuous, copycat startups, 3AL, the Nigerian social networking and eCommerce amalgamate, is taking a road decidedly less traveled.

You can think of 3AL as Facebook for businesses or Etsy — if it went beyond arts and crafts. It connects businesses and creates a direct line between buyer and seller.

It doesn’t feel as if 3AL is trying to be a generalised social network aimed at subverting Facebook’s reign. In fact, when you first visit the site, your eyes are met with a big blue “Sign in with Facebook” button. That’s a smart move. One senses 3AL’s strength lies in becoming a niche network for connecting businesses and building relationships between sellers and buyers.

It’s difficult to definitively say however, whether or not 3AL is tailored for business-to-business (B2B) networking, or if it would indeed like to take on Facebook to some extent. It encourages you to “connect with your friends and businesses by inviting them with your Facebook account or by sending them an email invitation.” As it encourages both casual and businesses connections, it seems that it might have ambitions beyond being purely a B2B social network.

3AL is likely to see most social engagement take place among sellers that find themselves part of each other’s supply chain. Facebook wasn’t built with these connections in mind. Buyers — you and me — are already invested in Facebook for general socialising. Then again, Etsy which enables social networking aspects for all its user types, seems to be doing just fine.

Whatever 3AL’s ultimate direction, for the foreseeable future, strong Facebook integration will allow its businesses to benefit from buyers’ existing Facebook social graphs.

Browsing through the site is fairly intuitive. The most important section of 3AL is the “Mart” which lists items available for sale. Clicking on an item reveals the seller which has a Profile Page showing detailed information about the merchant and their business(es). All businesses are also listed in the aptly named “Businesses” section.

Striking up a conversation with a seller is a breeze and once you’re ready items can be purchased directly on 3AL. As a bonus, purchases are shipped post haste, thanks to 3AL’s courier partnership — online buying is currently restricted to Nigeria. Communication between buyers and sellers on 3AL takes place through both messages and real-time chat. It poses huge potential for customer support.

Both individuals and businesses have an “Activity Page” which is has as a social media “Wall” for posting messages as well as a picture albums section for personal and product images. Lastly, 3AL Spaces allow businesses to build their own basic websites.

3AL has yet to officially launch, but hopes to compete locally with Dealdey, Dealfish, Google Trader, Qluqlu, All4Naija, Sabunta and Kasuwa. Internationally 3AL has its sights set on competing with the likes of eBay, Amazon, Gumtree and CraigsList. Focused on developing the brand in Nigeria first, 3AL has its sights set on eventually branching out in Africa.

Ada Amogu, 3AL Executive Director, Business Development tells us that the site is self-funded and that revenue will be generated through advertising space and transaction fees from items sold online through 3AL.

3AL is one of those big ideas that we would love to see succeed. It’s an end-to-end solution for customer support and discovering, buying — 3AL’s payment solution is currently integrated with all major switches in Nigeria to accept most credit and debit cards — and shipping goods without hassle.

If it can be more assertive about its identity, 3AL might very well become a leader in African eCommerce.

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