The Evolution of Digital Commerce: Interview with Soumaya Hamzaoui, Co-Founder and COO of RedCloud

Evolution of Digital Commerce

Ecommerce has improved the way that we buy and sell goods beyond recognition over the last decade. Yet, many small, local merchants are being shut out. Soumaya Hamzaoui Co-Founder and COO of RedCloud, outlines the key barriers to entry and how her company’s open commerce platform is helping these small traders and entrepreneurs to realise their full potential. 

What is your professional background?

I have a 10-year background in software and telecommunications. Having graduated from one of the top engineering schools in Paris, France, I started doing some consultancy work, looking at everything from telecommunications transformations to financial IT. I have also supported multiple industries, including transport, banking and telecommunications in their transformation towards new technologies. During my time as a consultant, I worked on the development of Orange Money, a mobile money service, in Africa. That’s what really opened my eyes to what was happening with financial services and technology in Africa, before fintech became a thing. It has already taken off in Europe with mobile wallets and payments, but I could see that Africa was ripe for development and that’s where I wanted to be. Then I met Justin Floyd and together we co-founded RedCloud with a focus on exactly this area. It was right up my street as I have always specialised in business engineering and transformation.

Tell us a bit about RedCloud and your role? What is the company’s key aim?

RedCloud is the world’s first Intelligent Open Commerce platform. We remove barriers to fair and profitable trading in emerging markets.  Our aim is to increase global access to consumer products and improve supply chain efficiency for one billion micro-businesses. 

We provide access to digitised payments, eliminating the risks associated with cash handling, which include, theft, fraud and loss of money, while offering real-time data about inventory management and more. We also enable the mass, low-cost distribution of consumer goods by small, local merchants through our Red101 app, anywhere in the world. 

I strongly believe we can leverage this new technology as a transformation driver in the emerging economies and markets that we operate in, making it accessible to small businesses, thus enabling them to remain relevant and up to date, and compete in an ever-changing and increasingly more polarised world. In effect, we want to harness this technology to meet the growing needs of these businesses.

I’m the Co-Founder and COO at RedCloud. My daily role is to oversee day-to-day operations and product strategy, as well as heading the design and business development, and customer engagement teams, covering everything from technology and engineering to marketing and sales. My job is to make sure that all departments are talking to each other and moving in the same direction, in line with the company’s key performance indicators and the risks we are undertaking, that everything is working as expected and to fix any problems that may occur. My expertise is in product management for highly-evolved digital financial services.

What are the biggest challenges facing merchants in the digital space? What role can ecommerce play in helping merchants and improving emerging economies?

Merchants need to move to digital in order to survive. That’s because increasingly their customers are going online. They are also facing a growing threat from ecommerce giants, who are forcing them to redesign their business. Added to this, commerce is being disrupted through many channels. Not only is it happening in traditional ecommerce, but also social media and online gaming associated with commerce and emerging technologies such as the metaverse. Merchants must embrace the change and adapt their strategies accordingly.

What merchants have going for themselves, however, is the trust that they have built with their customers. This is hard for the big ecommerce players to compete with. Despite the large marketing budget Amazon has spent over the last decade, many consumers still choose to buy from local merchants. That’s the opportunity that small merchants need to leverage, by combining digital commerce’s comfort with the trust and confidence local commerce provides.

I strongly believe we can leverage this new technology as a transformation driver in the emerging economies and markets that we operate in, making it accessible to small businesses, thus enabling them to remain relevant and up to date, and compete in an ever-changing and increasingly more polarised world.

Another issue that we face due to the relatively new adoption of technology by these markets we operate in is the need to educate businesses on how to use it. For example, many of the distributors we work with have just bought their first computer and have started to learn how to read the dashboard and view the data, and begin to understand their business better. But we still have to educate them in the basics. The problem is that often they tend to be quite sceptical about the new technology because they have been operating a certain way for decades and are reluctant to change their whole approach to doing business, so it can take a long time to adopt it. But eventually they will come to recognise the need to evolve with the technology. 

This adoption can be accelerated by younger, more tech savvy generations involved in the business, who are excited about the technology’s potential. Once they know which products are selling best, how to better stock their product, who their buyer is and how often they are buying from them, how many retailers they are serving every month, what their margins are, and what areas they need to improve in, then they can start to realise the benefits, make better decisions and, thus, be more profitable.

With the rise of inventory finance over the last year, what is next for the payment journey? Can it expand into new commerce markets?

Eventually, digital payment will merely become a commodity and the payment journey will be so easy and quick. Contactless payment has already increased card payment usage. Thanks to new customer experiences such as those provided by Apple Watch, now buying something is so easy that payment isn’t even a step anymore. Where innovation will go next depends on how more data can be integrated at the payment points, how the payment cost can be automatically calculated and how it can be adapted to the products that people are buying. All of this will add more intelligence and flexibility to the payment journey to make it accessible to all types of commerce.

We are working with multiple partners on launching new inventory finance in response to demand specifically from pan-African commerce companies based in Nigeria looking to export into South Africa and vice versa. This will also be really significant for local authorities seeking to encourage and facilitate trade between different countries. So we need to look at all the customs regulations involved and see how we can facilitate pan-African payments and reconciliation between the different countries. Our objective is to move offline processes online, streamlining operations for businesses and the authorities who control this trading.

What key barriers in traditional ecommerce is RedCloud striving to overcome? How are you doing this?

The global commerce system is broken. The key barrier in traditional commerce is the lack of visibility and data. Another problem is that a handful of technology giants such as Amazon and Facebook continue to exert enormous influence on almost every aspect of the commerce journey. They take everything, leaving millions of smaller sellers struggling to survive. But this represents only a fraction of all commerce.

Thanks to new customer experiences such as those provided by Apple Watch, now buying something is so easy that payment isn’t even a step anymore.

The vast majority of the global population pay for goods locally in stores, served by more than 500 million merchants, who are entirely reliant upon vast and sprawling supply chains that haven’t changed since the 1970s. These inefficient, offline and manually-driven supply chains are increasingly vulnerable to external pressures. The reason most merchants in emerging economies can’t trade digitally is that they’re locked out of the financial system. Because they are unbanked and forced to continue using cash, they’re unable to establish a trading profile and, thus, prevented from borrowing to invest in their businesses. 

This is a disaster for consumer goods manufacturers because cash is slow-moving and expensive to handle. Without digital trading, they also have no way of knowing who their merchants are, what is sold or who buys it. They’re disconnected from their merchant base by a complex web of distributors and intermediaries. Instead, the largest manufacturers simply have to place bets and distribute products based on their best guess. The bottom line is that these emerging market opportunities remain largely off-limits. 

This level of inefficiency in the commerce ecosystem is, however, unsustainable, and, therefore, profound change is needed. But digital technology enables them to scale and become more visible to an almost unlimited group of potential customers and, thus, build their trust. The greater insight and intelligence they are able to derive from the data they can access also helps them to understand how they are performing versus the competition and the gaps in the market they can fill.

How can RedCloud unite merchants, brands and distributors in the ecommerce journey? What are the key benefits this will provide?

It’s vital there are platforms that unite merchants, brands and distributors to allow everyone to trade and maximise their sales opportunities. RedCloud connects brands, distributors and retailers globally, accelerating sales growth and market reach with our easy-to-access open commerce digital marketplace. 

The platform provides an easy-to-access digital marketplace to sell products more efficiently, reach more customers and build better relationships. It also enables instant, secure and commission-free digital transactions with hundreds of payment options to accelerate sales volume and capacity.

Data-led intelligence forecasts also demand and inform digital marketing campaigns that drive new orders. Our easy-to-onboard app allows retailers to browse, compare, buy, pay for and manage their stock online. For a merchant, it’s vital to understand the products in the market, the main trends and what their competitors are doing. By digitising these transactions, merchants can gain a greater insight into the data to make themselves more relevant to their customers. 

It applies to brands and distributors too, who can improve their visibility with better access to a wider network of merchants. AI has a role to play also, with the technology being used to provide the right answer to retailers looking for a specific product via an app. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of conversational commerce, it makes the merchant’s experience more relevant as well as optimising the distributors’ margins based on demand and stock availability.

What are your proudest achievements during your time at RedCloud? What are your future growth targets?

My proudest achievement is getting all of these distributors to migrate to our platform and now seeing them benefit from it. One of my best career moments was on a visit to a distributor in Nigeria, who proudly showed me how she was using our platform to manage all of her administration and sales. Now, she is receiving daily trading reports and can look at the data and actually see how the business is performing. It’s a great example of how we had managed to convert a business that did all of its trade offline to a fully-fledged online operation. That empowerment is just the first step, however. Now our job is to keep improving the experience for them. We are working on expanding our platform into other countries such as Ghana and Mozambique. By 2028, our aim is to cover the whole of Africa and Latin America, and there are also huge opportunities in the US and Europe too.

How will the ecommerce market develop in the future? What are the key trends to look out for?

Artificial intelligence (AI) will be one of the key enablers of ecommerce moving forward. The technology will enable traders in emerging markets and developing economies to overcome the barriers to adoption of ecommerce. Through natural language processing, businesses can use technology to not only understand and process human language but to analyse the meaning of text and speech, and generate appropriate and relevant responses. This helps to include people that have historically been excluded from digital commerce, by providing instant and accurate translation.

RedCloud connects brands, distributors and retailers globally, accelerating sales growth and market reach with our easy-to-access open commerce digital marketplace. 

We are about to see the greatest shift in ecommerce’s history. It’s called open commerce and it promises to fundamentally change the way that goods are bought, sold, shipped and distributed globally. Open commerce isn’t a technology. It’s a movement, built upon the same principles as the original Open Source movement that is designed to champion an economy where goods can be sold anywhere and to bring about profound, positive change for merchants and retailers. 

It’s best understood within the context of an ongoing evolution in the internet’s structure, referred to as Web3. While Web 2.0 has involved the creation of content, interaction and buying/selling on centrally-controlled platforms such as Facebook or Amazon, Web3 is about moving to decentralised platforms that are open and accessible to all, with no central power controlling the terms of use. As far as open commerce is concerned, it involves the establishment of decentralised, trusted digital trading networks open to all manufacturers and merchants. In addition, AI is also going to greatly benefit ecommerce in Africa, redesigning and reconfiguring it to better fit the way business is done in that particular market.

Executive Profile

SoumayaSoumaya Hamzaoui is the Co-Founder and COO of RedCloudTechnology. Her role includes overseeing operations and product strategy, and heading the design, business development and customer engagement teams. Among her biggest achievements are working on the development of Orange Money in Africa and supporting industries such as banking, transport and telecommunication in their transformation towards new technologies. She has a 10-year background in software and telecommunications as well as extensive experience of product management in financial services. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.