A buzz word in the world of commerce, E-commerce moves away from the orthodox methods of buying and selling and does the same activity online. The World Wide Web is vast and thus offers a bigger marketplace for buyers and sellers to come together and do business thanks to local, traditional marketplaces. It draws on financial technologies such as electronic funds transfers and management strategies such as supply chain management and inventory management systems. It relies on an intricately woven door to door delivery system which serves as a backbone to this relatively new9, yet exponentially growing field.
The Government of Bangladesh approved online payment in 2009 and the Bangladesh Bank approved the use of debit and credit cards for online payments in 2013. E-commerce in Bangladesh has been non-taxable since 2016 and has gained momentum ever since. Around 10 billion takas worth of transactions take place each year from the E-commerce website.
While there are many different kinds of e-commerce, the ones that stand out most in the case of Bangladesh are business to consumer (B2C), business to business (B2B), consumer to consumer (C2C), mobile commerce (M-Commerce) and Facebook commerce (F-Commerce). Business to consumer commerce is easy to understand as it follows the conventional practice of buying from a business or manufacturer. Business to business e-commerce however, is a slightly different model of commerce where a business decides to buy raw material from another business to use in the final product of their own. Consumer to consumer e-commerce deals with buying and selling of mostly used goods between two odd consumers. Mobile commerce and Facebook commerce are relatively new phenomena and have gained more momentum than any of the other branches of e-commerce in a much shorter period of time. Buyers and sellers on Facebook have increased multifold during the pandemic, but that is not to say that the number was any less significant even before the arrival of the new normal. Mobile commerce is simply an evolution of tradition for certain business sectors like the banking sector and the financial sector in general as it deals with mobile payments and mobile banking.
E-commerce BC (Before Corona)
Online businesses had been on the rise in Bangladesh before the pandemic, with women entrepreneurs behind the steady climb of the phenomenon. According to the e-commerce association, there are about 8000 or more e-commerce pages on Facebook only. From baby care goods to dresses to accessories to electronics, women have stepped up to supplement their earnings and capitalize on the comfort and convenience of the buyers to shop from home. Surely and steadily, these entrepreneurs have taken advantage of platforms such as Facebook to go live, show off their wares, receive feedback, and answer queries. They have drawn on the wonders of mobile commerce to receive advance payment to confirm sales and have laid out detailed supply and delivery systems for seamless service. The entire process is run mostly by housewives and women who want to put their entrepreneurial skills to use. E-commerce has given them a platform through which they can attract and connect with like-minded customers.
Imitating the layout of Amazon and Barnes and Noble, Rokomari.com has come forth to sell Bangla and English books. Following in the footsteps of Amazon, is the Bangladeshi Jadroo.com, selling a variety of homeware and other goods. Other platforms like Daraz.com have also done well in Bangladesh, despite not being local sites. Aarong, Ecstasy and Cats Eye are a few local clothes brands that have laid the foundation for online clothing stores and others have confidently followed suit. Thanks to the wide variety of goods, exceptional customer service and unwavering quality of goods, more and more customers have chosen to order in, rather than step out of their homes.
Post Pandemic- the New Normal
Fortunately or unfortunately, due to the pandemic, e-commerce through Facebook and other social media has expanded. Due to restrictions on going out in public gatherings, Facebook sellers as well as sellers with their own websites have been able to rope in more and more customers, including the online shopping sceptics who had thus far refused to give in to the temptation. Exceptional customer service from most of these sellers has gained the trust of all those stuck home and looking for necessary wares. Sellers have also seized the opportunity to deliver to homes those products that were until now not delivered home, like groceries and medicine. The sector that has possibly gleaned the most advantage from this pandemic situation is the delivery sector. Door to door service has been availed by a staggering number of people due to restrictions placed on getting out of homes and suddenly, the delivery service became an essential service rather than a simple matter of convenience, and delivery men became unsung heroes without capes. Delivery apps that thus far sold only food now expanded to deliver parcels and medicine too, becoming a one ‘site’ fits all platforms.
The pandemic has also helped mobile commerce to gain momentum. Bangladesh has had mobile payment apps like Bkash and Rocket for a while now. The pandemic has given rise to the new normal of cashless transactions, making apps like Bkash and Rocket more and more successful. Previously cash heavy transactions like paying cab fares and paying for food delivery are also seen to be using these apps to avoid hand to hand transfer. Online banking has gained even more popularity as these times call for distancing rather than queueing up for financial transactions and if basic transactions can be done with simple taps on the mobile phone, it does make bank runs quite redundant.
Another sector that this pandemic has forced into electronic evolution is the field of medicine. While it may seem obvious that hospitals and doctors make the most money out of almost any life endangering tragedy, there is more to this, at least this time, than meets the eye. While hospitals are jam-packed and doctors have their hands full with Covid patients, for every doctor out on the frontline saving lives, there are as many as 10 others who have stopped doing regular hours at their chambers thanks to the pandemic. What also plays a part in their decision to not hold chambers physically is the lack of patients. Non-covid patients, unless in a state of emergency, prefer not going to hospitals teeming with covid patients. They choose to stay home and call the doctors over telephone. Doctors have managed to find a silver lining to this awful situation in the form of telemedicine where patients can take appointments with them online by paying them through mobile payment options like Bkash. While patients still need to visit the hospital facilities for running tests, most of the diagnosis can take place over video calls. While not ideal, the pandemic has given doctors and patients with trivial problems or routine issues a means to continue the doctor-patient relationship and service even while maintaining distance and ensuring each other’s safety.
International and National B2C and C2C E-commerce
Certain apps like Ali.express and Amazon allow customers in Bangladesh to order and receive goods from other countries by paying a small shipment surcharge. Thanks to the pandemic, and the closing down of theatres indefinitely, online platforms like iFlix have cropped up to satiate the entertainment needs of the audience. Following in the footsteps of global stalwart Netflix, the Bangali iFlix has been around since before Covid but has seen an increase in viewership during the lockdown.
Buying and selling of “pre-loved” or used goods has become something of a trend. While vintage goods had always held a certain appeal for people in the West and yard sales are not just accepted but looked forward to, Bangalis had mostly turned up their noses to such products. This mindset is now changing. As millennials instinctively lean towards economization, they see no harm in using products that have been used a few times but still has enough life in them to last them through their time of need. This includes everything from used books, loved clothes that no longer, jewelry bought on a whim and no longer wanted, to baby food processors, walkers and other expensive things that are essential but grown out of as fast.
Another great example of C2C e-commerce is the concept of Airbnb. Home owners post their homes online and invite vacationers to live in them. These homes may be uninhabited by the owners or shared by owners, at a time when holiday makers decide to pay and live in them. Usually more personal and homelier than hotel rooms, vacationers now have whole apartments and houses at their disposal. Homes are advertised online and amenities are listed out. Pictures are provided as proof and payment is collected online. The rise of this new phenomenon in the holiday/tourism industry has given serious and unexpected competition to residential hotels and the hospitality industry. Bangladeshis have not only listed their homes here but also actively seek vacation homes instead of hotel rooms fueling this up and coming trend further.
Come What May
Everything in life is fluid and susceptible to change. Commerce is no different. What was once a simple barter has come a long way to finally rest at virtual trade. No doubt, this too is temporary and will change. However, what makes the country nearly 10 billion takas each year is significant enough to be mused upon and discussed at length. Bangladesh is a developing country. While we hoped to be a middle income nation by 2021, the pandemic has forced us to retrace our steps, pause, and re-evaluate our economy and its loopholes. However, Bangladesh is resilient and ambitious, traits that we can see in our topic of e-commerce. What was once a foreign concept has not only been understood by the entrepreneurs of this country but embraced and juiced out to the maximum. Thousands of apps get written and launched each day and mostly all of them serve to make the lives of their users easier or more interesting. While reigning ideas like Uber and Amazon are still foreign, apps like Pathao have emerged from the masterminds of this very country and are making us proud all over the world now. Therefore it would not be overly ambitious to assume that come what may, e-commerce in Bangladesh is here to evolve and stay around for a significant amount of time.