Online Services Mauritius Does Not Have And Why

by
Inf

First post of 2012. So let’s start with something like a wish list. In this post, I’ll run down through a list of online services Mauritius should have and why it doesn’t have these relatively common services.

Let’s start.

Online Shopping

I know a few of you will say that Mauritius has a few online shopping sites now. For example, the multishop is considered Mauritian. But you have to agree, there are not so many Mauritian online shopping sites online yet, despite many shopping malls opening in the country.

Sadly, even the big names in shopping don’t have websites. For example, none of our well-known bookstores have websites where you can check their catalogue! Come’on people, it’s 2011. Even if you don’t have online-shopping facilities, an online catalogue is a must! But nope, not even that.

Don’t bother trying to buy furniture online. Clothes? Hardly any local sites. I’d even say, no local sites as far as I know. Electronics? Same. Most other things? Nope.

Why?!

I say, we don’t¬† have local online shopping for 3 reasons:

Firstly, buyers will not have a method for safely paying online while sellers are unable to accept electronic money. Remember, Paypal does not accept Mauritian account holders to receive money. I don’t think any of the other payment processors let Mauritians accept money too. Local banks could have done something about that by implementing our own, local payment processor. Some effort is being done, such as paying by mobile phone. But those are not applicable online yet. For now, there is no method to buy online, short of putting your credit card online directly – something few Mauritians want to do. The fear that “people will steal my credit card number if I put it on the Internet” is very much present.

Second reason: lack of customers. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I think not many people know how to shop online yet. At least in Mauritius, they don’t. Even if we had local shops selling stuff online, not many people would know how to buy. Granted, we can teach them easily but the distrust of online shopping will remain present for quite a long time. Considering the few customers wanting the convenience of online shopping, I doubt many stores will want to invest in creating shopping websites. Although, that does not explain why they don’t even have online catalogues.

For the third reason, you only have to look at our postal service. It’s not that fast, not that reliable and worst of all, does not make an effort to encourage people to use its services. It’s not completely at fault here: there is just not enough reason to use the postal service for shopping at the moment – there are so few online shopping sites anyway! Let’s hope that in the future, the postal service standard increases in the country, as the number of shopping sites increase.

 

Auction Site

I’m not saying we should have a local Ebay.co.mu or something, but we could at least have a functional auction site by now.

I remember we had a few, but as far as I know, they’re all dead. Due to lack of interest? Probably¬† not. Some even ran quite successful advertising campaigns, using bill-boards etc. But? They didn’t have the variety of products people were expecting.

Above all else, they were not very user-friendly. Most looked like pages filled with pictures and text, but not a simple, guided page on how to use the site to buy stuff.

We had a few but they all died I think. Due to lack of interest? Probably not. I’d say they went off quite well, but they didn’t

Why?!

They were not real auction sites anyway. There were merely catalogues where people posted what they had to sell and others searched through. To buy stuff, you’d have to contact the seller manually, arrange for payment and collection offline. Not very secure, huh? And, no warranties!

Secondly, Orange.mu’s Classifieds site is king in this domain. It’ll not be easy to dislodge it and take its place as “auction catalogue”. You’d have to come up with a really creative solution. We’ve not reached there yet.

Finally, no online payment facilities. Again!

 

A portal / Discussion Forum

Strangely enough, Mauritius does not even have an “official” discussion forum! I mean, a place where people just sign in to have a chat and discuss country issues. Don’t tell me Facebook has completely obliterated forums – it has not.

Facebook is good for keeping track of what friends are doing but it’s not that good for discussions with people you don’t know personally.

Most countries have specialized forums for discussing specialist topics – such as, lowyat.net for Malaysia’s Tech Community to discuss about technology and buy/sell/trade computer or electronic parts.

We did have a few forums, such as Nubaz. I was a member there for a long time but finally, the discussions died down as people got more interested in Facebook and spam-bots overran the site.

Why?!

Facebook mainly. It was much easier to use than a forum. You could have your own profile, stalk people’s pictures etc…, things which you cannot do when using a forum – most people use avatars and nicknames anyway. Posting on forums is relatively tedious and disorganized as compared to Facebook. Can Facebook pages replace a forum? Nope. Your discussions will get lost too quickly on the page walls. You’d also need one page per discussion topic.

I wish someone would spawn a Mauritian forum again, where we can discuss with fellow Mauritians about day-to-day topics, the news but also, buy and sell second-hand stuff. That at least would attenuate the need for an online auction site. One can run auctions quite easily using a forum.

I have one question: how come none of the private radios have forums? Are they THAT hard to moderate?!

 

Bus Route Planning

Update: Carrotmadman points me to this site: mauritius-buses.com. The site allows you to plan your journey by bus.

What I had in mind was a site, where you can set your current location on a map, and type in your destination, or again click on a map, and it’ll give you all possible bus routes to this destination, schedules, estimated travel times etc. But mauritius-buses certainly does the job. The presentation needs some work e.g. the map, and the prices need reviewing: “Total price: 19 / 9 / 10 MUR” from Port Louis (victoria) to Curepipe is only Rs. 19? But at least, that’s one more service we have. Thanks Carrotmadman.

A major annoyance to me. I never know which bus to take and where to find them in bus stations! I’d just ask friends if they know which bus to take then wander through bus stations trying to look for that bus, and if all else fail, ask around until I finally find it. So much for tourist-friendly!

Why can’t we have a simple journey planner in Mauritius? You enter your starting point and your destination and it gives you the potential bus routes you can take, the route numbers, where the buses are found at which bus stations and their schedules.

Why?!

Too many bus companies! How can one expect to have a site that regroups all those companies and plan their routes, give their fares, schedules etc…?

Turns out you can. Ever heard of crowd-sourcing?

You just need to have a website, maybe powered by Google Maps. Then leave it to regular travelers or even the companies themselves to add their details and maintain it. That should be easier than having one entity maintain the whole thing. If a company doesn’t want to maintain their routes, too bad. That’s lost money for them.

I can’t imagine why a service like that doesn’t exist when almost every year, computer science students at the University of Mauritius are given projects that often contain route-planning and geo-location. I’m pretty sure it’s the same for University of Technology students too.

Can’t one of the companies take one of these projects as a prototype, have it refined and implemented? Can’t UoM / UTM themselves run one of these projects on their infrastructure and maintain it? What’s the point of Universities if none of their research ever gets used?

You want even more features? How about the service letting you buy and print your ticket in advance? How about buying long-term tickets for e.g. a ticket which you can use for a whole week?

Oh I forget… payment facilities. AGAIN!

 

Movie Renting service

Piracy is high in Mauritius. Why? Because we don’t have good things to watch on TV, buying original media is ridiculously expensive (Rs. 2000 for a recent DVD, are you kidding me?) and you can’t rent legal media to watch / listen. Video on Demand, while available, is not great.

What I want is a Netflix-like service. I understand that our local Internet speeds may prevent streaming HD content without Orange complaining that everyone’s leeching off its bandwidth. And I can tell you, if we did have a streaming service, Orange will probably charge you additional just to watch stuff. You’d be a “heavy downloader” or whatnot and therefore, must pay more.

So what can we have? A site that allows you to rent movies / music online. You pay a monthly fee, just like you’d pay a monthly utility bill. You then access your account on their site and they post what you’ve chosen to you.

Think of it like an online video club. Instead of going there in person, you choose what you want in person and they post it to you. After that, you just post it back to them. Posting charges are paid by the company and included in your monthly bill.

Not a critical service, but it’d be interesting to have.

Why?!

Our postal service. First, it’s relatively slow. A letter takes around 3 days to come from Mahebourg to Port-Louis. Second, there’s a big risk of breakage. Third, it’s quite expensive to post small parcels, even locally. Fourth… it’s easier to just pirate the damn thing if you want it so much. But hey, I was trying to suggest a legal alternative here!

 

SME marketplace

Do we have a Business-to-Business marketplace for SMEs and handicrafts in Mauritius? Nope. What if I wanted to say, buy 1000 mini-dodos to give as gift? Where do I go to find that? I’d have to contact SMEDA probably, then get the address of a few artisans. Then contact each of them individually and see if they can match my order of 1000 dodos. Etc etc… Basically, a long process.

If they had an online B2B market place, I’d just browse through, find who makes dodos and what size of order they can take. The site would list their contact details, pictures of their products etc…

I’d like a site like Etsy or Alibaba but for Mauritius. I don’t think there is such a site yet. In what way would this help? Boost our SMEs and startups of course! If no one knows what they’re doing, how can they hope to secure clients? A site like this may even help them reach an international market, who knows.

You can even extend the site to make it into a business directory with an SME corner, so that the site is able to help Mauritian businesses in general. For example, if I ask you to find me all the resellers of Logitech in Mauritus, how would you go about it? Open the Yellow Pages directory and go through the “Computer” sections? How about all the website hosting providers in Mauritius that can offer unmetered bandwidth and hosting space? Good luck searching!

Why?!

Lack of will. I can’t imagine any other reason such a site doesn’t exist. There is simply no will to invest effort in implementing such a service.

 

Local knowledge / Search service

Ever tried Orange.mu’s site? It is supposed to search the Mauritian webspace. Do try it and you’ll notice that it never returns anything Mauritian.

We need a local knowledge site, sort of like a Wiki for Mauritius or something similar. Say I want to find a mechanic in Quatre Bornes. Where do I search for that? Google? You won’t get meaningful results. There are no good places to search for local info about Mauritius.

Another example: You’re in the south and want to find a good restaurant to have lunch with some friends, especially Chinese food. How do you search for that? Would Google tell you that there’s a good restaurant, with good user reviews, found on the 2nd floor of some building that sells awesome noodles? Nah, I doubt it. You’d need local knowledge for that. Even better, searchable local knowledge. With pictures and user reviews if possible.

Here’s another example of where crowd-sourcing could help: just create the service and allow users to add their own local knowledge to it.

Why?!

No one wants to invest in such a service? I don’t really know why Orange.mu doesn’t offer this service. One could think local knowledge would be important, but I guess, not enough for Mauritius.

P.s. for fun: Orange.mu search just searches Google for you anyway! So much for local search! Is our local web space so meaningless? :D

So there you have it. My list of online services Mauritius ought to have but sadly, doesn’t. Can you think of other online services that would be good to have in Mauritius? Are there other reasons why we don’t already have these services? Is there one particular serivce you know of and want to recommend to others? Comment below!

  • Jean Gray

    I’ve just read about the Online Shopping and the Why? and IMHO there’s a forth reason. The cost of hosting such a service. I once had a talk to a guy who custom make leather bags (‘Cuire/Simili-Cuire’). His designs were simple, classy, elegant, not-that-expensive and more importantly LIMITED EDITIONS (you won’t expect to be seeing a thousand of these back in the streets of port-louis or at UOM…). I asked him why he didnt have his own website, with an online catalog, online shopping etc, and he simply replied, it costs a lot to host AND to maintain such a website. And to my amazement/disappointment, his solution was FACEBOOK… #imareadtherestnow

  • http://www.yashvinblogs.com Yashvin Awootar

    Very interesting analysis.
    If am not mistaken, there exists online merchant systems set up to accept credit card payment in the island. I know that MCB offers such a service but from the feedback I previously gathered around, it seems that the cost associated are quite high and not profitable.

    Although the online purchases work extremely well worldwide, it might not become popular for purchases within the small island, Mauritius, at least, not for all services/products offered.
    While people might easily adopt advance booking of cinema tickets or entries for events via internet, same cannot be said for other products widely available through branches set up round the island. If am not mistaken,

    As a frequent online shopper, I would be enthusiast to know that there are Mauritian shops offering clothes or electronic devices on the web. But unless there is a real motivation for me to buy online, I would still prefer to go to the shop directly. Motivation can be anything, for example, better prices/discounts/cumulative points, free gifts, etc.

    To confirm : Air Mauritius provides online booking and the prices offered online are much more interesting than the same ticket sold in any other office.

    Keep it up! Nice work!

  • http://themediaguru.blogspot.com carrotmadman6

    Online shopping + auctions. The paypal/CC thing are valid concerns & the slow post as well. Despite all those shenanigans with the Mauritius Post, people are still doing their online shopping on ebay. Which tells you that there is indeed a market for it. Except no one has cracked the right formula yet. Perhaps it’s time for someone to start an alternative local courier company. ;)

    Forums. There are a few specialist forums for Mauritians. The ones that comes to mind is the cars forum, the dota forum & the expat/tourist forums. But tech forum? None that I know. :(

    Local knowledge / Search service. http://www.mauritiuswebguide.com/ started out as nice initiative to link all local websites. Eventually was taken over by spam bots.

  • http://www.lai-mauritius.com/blog/ Raymond

    Hmm, where to start? First I’m glad I finally got the RSS feed to your site working. I don’t know if being in China has something to do, but I usually get a failure on trying to subscribe to blogs. Now, be prepared for my long comment:

    Safety fears — very reasonable, but it having the endorsement of big companies in it would help to reduce such concerns. If the big companies are found to be using e-money for local daily transactions, it would allay the deep rooted fears that many of us have towards not being able to see the flow of money and therefore safely knowing where our money are.

    Lack of customers — well, Mauritius is ‘small’, so we would always suffer somewhat in that respect. As the population is not that large (yeah, I know, we’re on a tiny island making it look like we’re overpopulated now), client base will undeniably be very small, making viability of e-commerce a question.

    Postal service — I agree it has a lot to improve. Maybe an express charge to ensure prompt delivery, although that will impact cost factor when buyer is making transaction. I was talking to an aunt just last week about Mauritius needing someone to set up a courrier service. In China, we have many such companies, and their deliveries are quite spot-on. Not saying there are no hiccups, but on the whole it’s reliable and not that expensive. They will deliver on stated date, which might be the next day or later, depending on location. I would say the problem with this (and it relates to another point I’ll make later) is the safety of the delivery guy in Mauritius. As we all know, Mauritius is not such a paradise. There are aggressions and thefts on a frequent basis. Requesting the delivery guy to go to remote or ‘dangerous’ areas could create problems.

    Portal/discussion forums — last time I checked into something similar, Servihoo was hosting such facility although the discussion topics were pretty poor. That was like a lifetime ago. I also once registered with a Mauritian forum that was hosted in Canada I think, but it died afterwards. My personal opinion is that like most forums, a .mu one suffers the bane of being populated with young people who have too much idle time and want to ‘prend nissa’ on everything rather than try to help, plus the latent racism that inevitably flares up. And of course, all the ‘go**t’, ‘pi**n’. ‘tr.. f..e’ etc turn the ladies and newbies off the site. And whether we like it or not, a certain feminine presence is necessary to keep a healthy forum.

    Regarding moderating a forum, I would like to say it’s not as easy as one think. I have done a little moderating for a while for an expat forum in Beijing before. One could say that some problems occur due to a relatively laid-back approach and repetitive absence of the owner/admin. However, more importantly, it’s being able to have mods who will actively encourage discussions and steer arguments and flames back on track that is so hard. It’s not enough to say, “Okay, I have been on this site for a while, I know most users’ character, I will be a mod. I will delete/ban users that curse, or remove bots/spams.” You need people who collectively can be online all the time and keep the forum alive and reasonably clean.

    Bus route planning. I think it’s a good thing that this now exists. Maybe the site should get more visibility and be linked to more Mauritius tourism/govt sites as they would be of great help to visitors of our dear island. The bus fares might have a note added as to when the price list was taken. The pricing variance (adult/child/student?) is not clearly explained and having the first/last bus times also appear on route search would be good. Anyway, I’m digressing.

    I had a discussion a few years ago with my uncle about a Google-like map that is updated by interested people, university students, volunteers, etc. We were talking about how it could help people to plan their travel, to know where such and such place/shops are found, etc. It would be great if this could be set up. It’s certainly feasible.

    Netflix — I won’t comment since I don’t know the internet situation in Mauritius.

    SME — Alibaba is a success but it also has problems that I won’t go into. Anyway, it works because it is able to reach a large audience and clientele in China. In Mauritius, we could have B2B, but having diverse companies posting enough items with sufficient details is not easy, because, especially in the beginning, it would require a large amount of time to keep updating prices, new products with pictures, keeping an online presence to reply to customer queries (even if only for work hours/days). Also, many small businesses are not going to have internet. It is easy to say, have the craftsmen to put their arts on as well as contact details, so that even if they are not online, people can know about and contact them. But sites like Alibaba charge the companies/individuals for membership. Do you reckon the craftsmen would be willing to fork out the money? Maybe if done under some sort of ‘association artisans’ where requests are redirected to relevant persons. But paying money just for the off-chance someone might one day want to order a large amount of local crafts …? They won’t be so happy.

    Also, we more often than not, tend to stick to ordering from big companies / shops that we are familiar with. As you said, some education is needed on how to shop online. The site would be more interesting to overseas clients, and if new products are made available. Although we can be sure some other companies will try to import similar product and sell them at lower price pretty soon. Haha! For overseas clients, not that many items would realistically interest them.

    What did I want to say … Oh yeah. If I remember correctly, Alibaba has its own method of payment called Alipay and I believe it was partly created because at first Paypal was not available in China either. I think Mauritius could set up something similar since based on your article Paypal cannot be used locally. Let’s call it Dodopay. It would work like Paypal in that you transfer money from your bank account to Dodopay, and you then use Dodopay to buy things. And you can keep the money in your Dodopay low in case your account somehow gets hacked/stolen, and you only top up the money when you are going to make an online purchase. Of course, the charges involved in the transactions bank-Dodopay-bank need to be figured out by someone who’s more into these kind of things.

    Back to the courrier service. In China, when I buy online, I usually try to find a supplier who accepts ‘Payment on receipt of goods’ since I don’t have Paypal, Alipay and other e-payment methods. Blame it on not being able to make a local e-transfer the first time I tried with my e-bank account in China. I just lost the will to try again. Anyhow, here, the courrier comes with the good, I (should normally) check the goods, sign receipt and pay them the money I owe the supplier. The courrier agency normally gets a fee for such transaction, and you are told beforehand how much that would be in addition to the fee to be paid to the agency.

    In Mauritius, I can see the courrier being accused of damaging/stealing goods, people trying to steal the goods without paying, or robbing the courrier (see my point around beginning of my comment). This would therefore create restrictions on delivery areas, cash amounts acceptable, etc which need to be addressed first.

    Local knowledge — I was thinking of something like cityweekend.cn (local site in China) that offers info about events, restaurant reviews, etc. For restaurants I usually use dianping.com which is completely in Chinese but more comprehensive (except no events section) and have more people contributing (since more locals than expats here, haha) with reviews of places, hotels and restaurants among others. In Mauritius, it would be difficult in that most restaurants offer food of different standards every meal. :D Also, you might end up with more ‘marchand biryani devant magasin XYZ’, ‘marchand boulettes devant discotek 123′ than proper restaurants. And unfortunately also with too many contributors with vested interests trying to boost their own/friends’ restaurants while flaming others down. Ultimately, it will boil down on the site being able to keep up to date and posting events that will attract visitors. And we know that there’s not that much happening in Mauritius. After a while, the interest in the site cools down, and low ads revenue makes it hard to keep the site online.

    I know I’ve said a lot of negative things. But I do believe e-commerce can happen and bloom to a certain extent. It will require a lot of work and patience and cooperation with the local authorities. Finding the persons willing to do it as well as the funds to start is the hard part.

  • http://www.geekscribes.net Inf

    What a long comment, Raymond! Thank you for your time! I’ll do same and go over each of your points.

    Safety fears, as you have said, can be allayed if more companies would start accepting online payments and more people start using these services. Banks could also do some education campaigns to tell their clients “Don’t worry, go ahead, you’re safe. You’re covered up to X amount if you use our services”. That should be a good first start.

    Lack of customers – this will be less of a problem as more people start shopping online. But’s it a bit of a catch 22 since people are not shopping online because there are not enough people shopping online. There has to be a start somewhere, and as I said, as soon as the big names start offering ePayment services, we should start seeing some movements on the markets.

    Postal services / Courrier – consiidering that Mauritius is relatively small, this service could have been introduced by the Mauritius Post itself and revive its dying services in the process. I don’t think people will blame the courrier for breakage etc. The service could provide insurance, where you pay additional to ensure your goods get to destination safely. If you purchase insurance and there is breakage/lost, then the post/courrier handles that and refunds you up to some amount agreed. There remains the problem of the guy going to dangerous places and I guess regarding that, I can’t find a solution. Maybe the Police should step up their game, maybe it’s just because of living standards in Mauritius at the moment. At least, it’s not a tech-related problem so I cannot comment on that.

    Discussion forums – I know the pain. I was a moderator for quite a lot of forums, especially on Nubaz for a while. Discussions get out of hand very quickly and the dirty words start flying. Nevertheless, there WERE discussions! That’s important imho, that discussions were taking place. Now that these forums are dead, there are hardly any discussion.

    Interestingly enough, it’s not that Mauritians don’t want to discuss about national affairs! The radio shows “La Voix Maurice” etc prove this point. That’s why I wondered why private radios didn’t have their own discussion forums.

    A forum also allows a great deal of activity to take place, for example, people discovering others that share the same interests, people buying/selling/trading goods online etc. It’s a good place to start educating people, to conduct marketting campaigns etc. It’s sad that Mauritius doesn’t have an official forum yet. I wonder if local bloggers can pool together to re-launch a forum and manage it. Just a suggestion! A “Quora” for Mauritius would be great!

    Bus route planning – I didn’t know the service existed and I thank CarrotMadMan for pointing out the excellent service for me. It’s a good start and I wish there were more features and information on the site. I also wish there are more services like that. How about a taxi-renting service? Or an “Explore-Mauritius-By-Bus” site?

    Netfliix – Not coming to Mauritius any time soon. Why? Slow internet speed and a market dominated by satellite TV providers and MyT. But I wanted a service where you can ship physical DVDs around the island. Again the courrier problem comes up. Again the online payment problem arises. As long as these issues are not resolved, we’re not getting that. Also remains the small problem of Mauritians liking to keep things for themselves and not returning them…

    SME – If not Alibaba, at least we could have the Etsy-equivalent for Mauritius. I believe SMEs are not in the limelight enough and such a site will allow SMEs to promote their products. I know people like to buy from big names but what if you could get the same products at much cheaper prices from SMEs locally. Especially if you can see what other users have said about the SME and have rated it positively?

    Local Knowledge – I don’t care if all it contains is “marchand boulette divan discotheque 123″. It still counts as local knowledge. After some time, people will start sharing their favourite “baz” with others and then, the Mauritius web-space gets more populated. You mention very valid concerns regarding people wanting to boost up their friends and lack of activity in Mauritius, plus low ads revenue. You are right and I don’t know what to add to counter that. Low ads revenue, we can work around by having the sites promoted pay a yearly fee to get shown higher in the list of restaurants for e.g. I don’t know if that’d be unfair, but it’d keep the site alive for a while. Also, regarding people promoting their friends, we can leave it to crowds to moderate the site and eventually bring down the score.

    You have not said many negative things – you just told the truth and I thank you again for your long comment. I wish I get more people writing comments like this.