Manisha Bosh was a schoolteacher, and the pandemic-led closure of educational institutions in March halted her income. Then she opened Padmalaya BD, a shop, and started selling Manipuri saris online. Manisha has been able to retain her financial solvency through the digital business of womenswear.
Like her, around 7,000 e-commerce entrepreneurs started their businesses in the port city of Chattogram during the pandemic-led general holidays, and 70% of them are women.
These entrepreneurs explored the alternative sources of income by selling products on digital platforms.
Admin of Facebook-based digital e-commerce platform Chattogram E-commerce Family (CEF) Shagar Dey said the group currently has 57,000 members and around 10,000 of them are active.
"Nearly 7,000 entrepreneurs, including women who lost their jobs, began e-commerce businesses during the pandemic. They returned to the driving seats of their respective families after bouncing back as e-commerce entrepreneurs," said Shagar.
He said CEF has organised a number of online programmes for the entrepreneurs and trained 220 persons since April.
The facebook-based digital e-commerce group admins and trainers are also connected to different national-level platforms and lead numerous upazila level sub-groups.
He added, "The ongoing training focuses on keeping product prices affordable without compromising product quality. This has helped create buyers' confidence in the digital marketplace and the market in Chittagong is growing daily."
The new e-commerce entrepreneurs said they post the details of the products from their Facebook accounts and pages. Additionally, these accounts also highlight the details in Facebook-based e-commerce groups.
Buyers choose and order products from there. The products are then delivered to the customers by delivery persons or courier services. After receiving the items, the customers post reviews in the e-commerce groups – which give the entrepreneurs wide publicity and reliability.
For Manisha, digital sales were a means to starting a business with minimal capital.
"I tried to promote traditional items, and therefore began the business with Manipuri saris of Sylhet. Eid-ul-Fitr-centric sales were the turning point for me," she told The Business Standard.
Another entrepreneur Farjana Akter, a teacher of Chattogram Cantonment School, said she stepped into the e-commerce business in June with Tk20,000 in capital.
Digital marketing, especially Facebook-based groups, helped develop my brand quickly. My capital quadrupled within just three months
"Digital marketing, especially Facebook-based groups, helped develop my brand quickly. My capital quadrupled within just three months," she told The Business Standard.
Farjana said the delivery team that now supplies her products previously used to be in ridesharing services.
In the meantime, the digital marketplace offers a wide variety of products ranging from jewelry items to homemade food. Increasingly, customers are showing interest in the market to avert shopping hassles and save time.
Jamil Al Faisal's brand Nimrah sells organic food in the online marketplace. Jamil said he and his friends began the business in July with Tk2 lakh. The e-commerce groups supported them to develop the brand.
"Now we have customers all over the country and the profit is rising. Me and my friends are now dreaming about being self-reliant because of the business," he added.
Now we have customers all over the country and the profit is rising
Jamil observed that Facebook-based e-commerce groups are playing a crucial role in creating new entrepreneurs. Many entrepreneurs who lost their jobs due to the virus' fallout are now earning more than Tk1 lakh per month after having connected to the e-commerce platform.
Chittagong Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Mahbubul Alam said the type of business changes every ten years. Digital entrepreneurship is exploring new business ventures at a time when other businesses are struggling for survival.
"Many who previously lost their jobs and livelihoods are reengaging in economic activities. This is contributing to socio-economic development," he noted.
Chittagong Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Monowara Hakim Ali echoed Mahbubul Alam.
She said many members of the chamber were already involved in e-commerce and new entrepreneurs began digital startups during the pandemic. She added that this will positively affect the economy.
Vice-President of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) SM Najer Hossain said the digital market is expanding owing to the need of the hour. However, as there is no policy for e-commerce, there is still a risk that consumers will be deceived.
He believes both entrepreneurs and buyers will benefit if a government policy can guide the online marketplace.