Buying or selling cars have never been an easy business. But, Stefan Haubold, Global Managing Director of Carmudi, one of the leading online car market, told BEN EZEAMALU in Lagos during his recent visit to Nigeria that one now needs less than two minutes to buy or sell a car since the arrival of the company in Nigeria barely a year ago. Excerpts:
Exactly one year after Carmudi launched the online marketplace in Nigeria, how has the journey been so far?
Nigeria is by far the biggest market in Africa, in terms of the sheer population size and available car park. I would say the market has developed quite successfully. A year ago, no one knew us in the car market. But, today, if you ask someone right now about Carmudi, he probably can tell you some experiences – how he knows someone who sold a car through Carmudi, or someone who bought a car through Carmudi.
Carmudi is now a very strong name, especially the blogger market in at least 20 countries, including Bangladesh, Cameroon, Congo, Ghana, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
We have a great website, where thousands of people come every month. It’s a huge step forward within a year. I would say we are already the leading online market when it comes to visits to all the leading websites, in unique verified listings. Carmudi is also leading in Nigeria when it comes to car buying and selling business. So, it’s already a great success after a year.
How many car dealers do you work with and how many listings do you have currently?
We have over 25,000 listings. Car dealers? About 90 to 95 percent of car dealers in Nigeria are already listing with Carmudi. I don’t have the exact figure now.
How have you been able to tackle internet fraud in your business?
There are two things we do. One is that we have relationships with the car dealers, apart from people in the field that have regular contacts with car dealers. They go out to the dealers, see the cars and verify them.
They do that on a regular basis – every two or four weeks. That makes a huge difference. On the other side, of course, we also verify the listings on the website through our products. Then, of course, we make people aware of the scams. We have tips on the website on what to look out when buying or selling a car.
I would say, a few basic rules apply when you sell or buy a car, which a potential customer should always be aware. Also, we carry out the education of the people. But, the strongest argument is our relationship with the dealers.
Some of the car dealers lack internet awareness, how did you convince them to come on board?
Very simple. We just show that they can sell faster through us. You go out to a dealer and say ‘look, test it for free.’ A month or a week for free. ‘Test it, if you are convinced about it, stay with us. If you are not, just leave it.’ And I can tell you that a majority was convinced and stayed with us. If it’s e-commerce, bookings, whatever, it’s all done online. Because of the sheer convenience, it’s easier, faster. They test it and see that they are able to get much more leads and able to sell their cars faster. Very simple.
How fast can one sell or buy a buy?
Less than two minutes. Sounds incredible? But, it’s real. We are revolutionizing the way cars are being sold; taking car-shopping experience to a whole new different level.
How does that work?
In two simple steps, you can have your car up for sale in less than 2 minutes. All you need is go to Carmudi site, click on the link that says ‘sell your car now’, upload your car details, images and contact information and in less than two minutes your car is ready for sale. What makes it even better is that for individual sellers, this service is absolutely free. Through the Carmudi platform you can reach millions of interested buyers in a few seconds without going through the hassle of putting adverts in papers, or spreading the word among friends.
So, no more waiting for months to get the right kind of buyer, or visiting a plethora of car dealers to get your resale’s worth.
You have a huge online presence and following, how has that translated into actual car purchases? Are more people buying through your platform now compared to when you started last year?
Of course, more people are buying. You can see the curve. We had like 50,000 visits at the beginning of the year. Now, we have 300,000 – 400,000 visits a month. You can also tell if you look at the numbers. You’ll see how it is going up. People coming more and more to our website. Approximately one million followers on Carmudi’s social media platform makes the selling process much faster, because we are trusted.
In the online industry, trust is probably the most important quality. Then, of course convenience. The trust, you see at the beginning, then you have to build it to consolidate on your brand. You get more and more trusted, if you are building a brand in the market. It becomes very powerful over time.
Also, you have strong partners. If you look at it, MTN is one of our strongest partners, which is also a trusted brand in the Nigerian market.
How have you been able to maintain personal relationships with the thousands of car dealers under your platform?
It’s probably two things. One, of course, the people we hire are part of the industry. They are people that have been in the market for years, not newcomers. They are experienced people already. So, they help build that long term relationships. They have friends, families in the market.
Secondly, I think we are very professional. We have set up structures and processes, which allow us to constantly be in touch with the car dealers.
Nigeria is one of our oldest markets already. We just started in Rwanda. Nigeria launched before Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon and Tanzania. Nigeria is the first in Africa, and one of our first globally.
Has Nigeria presented any peculiar challenge for your business?
We have one general challenge in all our markets: finding good people, getting the best people on board. The particular Nigeria market is, of course, trust issue. In other markets, we also have scams, but particularly the Nigerian market, it’s a challenge for us. If you look at our competitors, they are trash websites. You don’t find anything there, 80-90 percent is scam. That’s something we don’t want on our site. It’s tightly regulated.
The Nigerian government have developed a policy to encourage Nigerians to patronize made in Nigeria vehicles. Do you think that would have any effect on online auto market?
No! Absolutely not. Why should it? At the end of the day, people need transportation. They need motorcycles (and motorcycles are banned). They need cars, commercial vehicles, and they will still come to us. It doesn’t matter what the origin of the cars. They could be Chinese. If German cars are getting higher import shares in Nigeria, we don’t care. We’ll have German cars on the website. We don’t care about the brand at the end of the day. We are a platform for all kinds of cars, all kinds of brands, makes, ages, everything you need. If someone wants to sell a car, he can sell it on our website. It doesn’t matter where it comes from, or whether it was subsidized.
But, the auto policy the government is pursuing aims at discouraging importation of cars and promoting local production of cars. Are you aware of that policy? What do you think about it?
I’m not aware of it. But, whatever happens, there would always be a point where Carmudi and government would work on common ground to promote the growth of the economy.
Do have problems of multiple taxation from government agencies?
Of course, we have. Sometimes things can be easier. In all the markets we are in, we have some challenges. It can be easier. Some I’ll say some particularities. You have to pay for the stickers on the cars and so on. I think as a business, we can get along with that, find our way through establishing a successful business in Nigeria.
Have you ever had any incident where someone sold or tried to sell stolen cars on your platform?
No, we haven’t. Like I said earlier, we maintain a tight monitoring and regulatory system.
How do you check that?
The strongest check for us is personal relationship with the car dealers. But, just to a certain point we can avoid it. But, still we recommend to everyone to watch out for scams.
Going forward, how do you intend to consolidate on the success you have achieved so far?
Two important things. One is, we just came out with a new product. If you just look at our website right now (we just re-launched the website), we took all of the learnings from last year, testing with it, and came up with a market product, the benchmark for the industry.
The market is growing. We just have, right now, a small share of the cars on the street online, maybe 10 to 15 percent online. There’s still a huge way to go. If you look to more developed markets like the U.S. or Germany, they have almost all cars online, the whole market.
In Nigeria, the market is still fragmented. Some car dealers, people still put their cars on the streets and have their ‘for sale’ signs on them. But, the advantage of having a platform where the cars are displayed is that you can sell your cars much quicker.
Going forward, hopefully people don’t have to stay in the same speed, Nigerians are very entrepreneurial. They want to explore. They want to test new things. They are very curious. They don’t always want to stay in the same behavior. They are ready to change.
In other words, they are ready to adopt. So, I see the market growing very fast. I’m not sure what the adoption rate next year. Maybe we’ll have 50 percent of the cars online next year, maybe just 30. But, 30 percent of the cars will be a big message.