Platform aims to advance SA artisans


Will Edgcumbe believes his new local artisanal e-commerce platform — Advance — is  as much a business, as it is “something of a cause”.

Yesterday marked the launch of Advance in the Western Cape and Kwazulu-Natal.

The platform allows customers to order their favourite product from local artisans. Customers can then collect their products either at a store, market or at a preferred pickup point.

In an interview with Ventureburn, Edgcumbe, the platform’s co-founder, says customers can opt to pay securely via the app or website for their product.

“Payment occurring on placing the order also protects our partner stores from the current situation many of them face, with people placing an order and then never collecting it – and consequently not paying.”

He says the platform which was developed by NoLogo Studios cost about R1.5-million to put together, excluding marketing. However, this cost will likely rise as the team continues to develop and add new features to the app and expand to their product nationwide.

“We’re looking to expand countrywide – as we get a critical mass of stores registered in a province, we’ll expand accordingly.

“Gauteng is next up for expansion – we already have some great Gauteng-based artisans registered on the ecosystem, and pending a few more we’ll likely launch in June or July,” says Edgcumbe.

One of the biggest snags the company has run into he says was in its testing phase.

“We released a white-labelled version of the app to a small user base, which was critical to understanding how the average consumer would use the app. As we built each new feature, testing it thoroughly from every angle and use-case was challenging to manage.”

The bottom line is important for the team at Advance, but it isn’t everything

Edgcumbe says the aim of the platform is to work with producers who are building the local economy.

“Essentially, we want to benefit the little guy, and bringing on investors would taint that. Whilst the bottom line is important, it’s not everything.”.

Despite this the company still had to find a way to sustain the app.

“We make a very small markup per product sold, and in some cases charge a transaction fee if the markup doesn’t cover our running costs,” says Edgcumbe.

“We’ve also haven’t been prescriptive with regard to the markup – in most cases we’ve left it up to the discretion of our partner stores, as depending on category or product, the margins for them can be extremely tight.”

This markup means that businesses looking to be listed on the app don’t have to pay any additional charges.

“Crucially, we recommend to our stores that products are available for the same price on the app ecosystem as they would be for walk-in customers in their brick and mortar stores (or in many cases, their trestle tables at markets),” says Edgcumbe.

“As I’ve mentioned, we’re sensitive to the tight margins small producers face, and so we work with our partner stores to come to an agreement that benefits both parties.”

With the growing concern over gentrification in most places around South Africa, some might believe that this offering is only locked into small stores or markets within major cities. Edgcumbe says this isn’t the case.

“It covers any area where an artisan or local producer either has a store or market table or offers a pick-up point. So as the number of businesses increases on the ecosystem, so will the number of areas it’s available in – whether township, suburb, market, city centre or rural farm.”

“Soon we’ll be seeking to grow our Advance pick-up points – almost like creating these organic pop-up markets at key points – and we’ll certainly be looking at doing these in diverse places, bringing excellent locally-produced goods to our communities,” he says.



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