Stakeholders have called for creating an integrated ecosystem to facilitate the country's burgeoning e-commerce sector to grow to its potential and attain sustainability.
Speaking at a virtual dialogue organised on Saturday by the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), they said the growth that was expected to take place in the e-commerce sector by 2030 had already been achieved, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In line with this astounding growth, the sector is also playing an important role in employment generation, they added.
Mentioning that one or two recent bad examples have exposed the potential sector to some challenges, making a dent in customer confidence, speakers at the programme recommended that punitive action be taken against the firms liable for putting the sector in this crisis through e-commerce fraud.
At the same time, online shoppers should shed the perception that e-commerce means discounts on products, they said.
Stakeholders also observed that transparent automation, easy regulations, access to finance, inter-ministerial coordination, easy tax structure, and cross border digital commerce trade facilitation are key to fostering ecommerce in Bangladesh.
Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh was the chief guest at the online discussion styled ""Building a Sustainable Ecosystem for e-commerce" moderated by DCCI President Rizwan Rahman.
Advising consumers not to be greedy or discount hunters, Tapan Kanti said the government is working hard to create a congenial regulatory atmosphere for ecommerce businesses. Reliability is the key to helping the e-commerce sector grow, he observed.
He further said the government will also review the consumer protection law in line with e-commerce regulations. There is a need for a Data Protection Law, he added.
In his opening remarks, DCCI President Rizwan Rahman said the e-commerce ecosystem saw a massive vibe in the recent past. Nowadays e-commerce has opened the door to business facilitation, he mentioned, adding that in the contemporary economy, e-commerce is considered as a sector of immense potential.
Citing an estimated data, he said the e-commerce sector saw transactions worth about $2 billion in 2020, which may go up to $2.5 billion this year.
Transactions in only the f-commerce – online businesses run through Facebook – sector were worth about Tk320 crore in 2020. He, however, observed that the 15% VAT imposed on the e-commerce sector may hamper the growth of small investors in this sector. "Moreover, if international market leaders like Amazon enter our market, new opportunities might be created for local CMSME traders and manufacturers," he said.
Fahim Ahmed, president of digital platform Pathao, told the event that the e-commerce sector has seen a rapid expansion in Bangladesh, and there is a long way to go. "We need to build a sustainable infrastructure, a congenial policy environment and a sustainable ecosystem so that we can gain the trust of consumers."
"We've seen the expansion of some unsustainable business models over the last two years," he noted, adding that people are being attracted by many kinds of temptations and persuasions.
"Some have expanded their business taking advanced payments from customers by enticing them through cash back offers but have failed to bring in new investments. Immediate action must be taken against those who have swindled people out of money. Their bank accounts have to be frozen."
"From the beginning, we have been doing business following a sustainable model. We have expanded our business placing emphasis on logistics development rather than offering discounts. In the last two years since Alibaba entered the ecosystem, we have invested around Tk500 crore in logistics infrastructure. As a result, now we can deliver within four and a half days that previously used to take seven days."
Stressing that customers must shed the perception that e-commerce means discounts on products, he said, "If businesses are not run in a decent way, those who are doing business ensuring compliance will be hurt."
Khorshed Anwar, deputy managing director of Eastern Bank Limited, said small e-commerce, startups or f-commerce entrepreneurs are sometimes denied access to finance due to a lack of documentation. "We are working on the issue and conducting training programmes for the small startups."
Muhammed Abdul Wahed Tomal, general secretary of the E-commerce Association of Bangladesh said e-commerce is an integrated sector that involves agencies like the Bangladesh Bank, the NBR, LGRD and commerce ministries, the ICT Division.
There many businessmen lack business ethics, he noted, adding, "Those who do business according to the rules should be facilitated and immediate action should be taken against the fraud ones.
He also called for speeding up the process to formulate a policy on cross-border business.
Professor AK Enamul Haque of the Department of Economics at East West University said the booming e-commerce ecosystem in Bangladesh can be termed as a revolution. During the time of Covid-19 situation, people could make the best use of it, he observed.
"Too many regulations may fuel the cost of doing business and it will discourage small investors to come in. Let them grow," he said.
He suggested empowering the e-CAB to deal with fraudulent activities by e-commerce firms. "We have to be cautious in imposing regulations.
He also suggested creating a faster dispute settlement mechanism and rating system both for service providers and consumers.
Ashish Chakraborty, chief information officer of Nagad, said mobile financial service plays a vital role in e-commerce. Customers from rural areas can get products from anywhere in the country using mobile wallets.
The Bangladesh Bank now allows small investors having NID onboard which is a good move, he said.
Khairul Majid Mahmud, director of the DCCI; Sameer Sattar, former director of the DCCI; and Riyadh Hossain, former vice president of DCCI also spoke on the occasion. NKA Mobin, senior vice president of the chamber, gave a vote of thanks.