• 3.5 lakh F-commerce outlets
• 1 lakh new pages opened in last one year
• F-commerce businesses deliver 90,000 orders a day
• Sales depend on promotion
• Businesses spend $10-25 per day on ads
• 4.43 crore Facebook users
Tasty Tibet, a brand known for selling Momo, a popular Tibetan food, in Bangladesh now reaches customers only through Facebook and food delivery platforms.
More than a year ago, it had as many as 27 sales points/outlets in the capital. The brand began its journey here in 2017 and quickly saw city people's growing taste for Tibetan cuisine.
But when the pandemic broke out in the country in March last year, sales at all the outlets dropped because people stopped eating out due to movement restriction and for the fear of contracting the virus.
At some point, Tasty Tibet folded its physical business altogether and went online. And the volume of sales is comparatively better than before, said sources associated with the food brand.
Not only Tasty Tibet, Facebook has become a common sales platform for thousands of small and medium entrepreneurs who cannot bear rents of physical or conventional showrooms and pay salaries to employees.
Iraboti Linja, a young housewife living in the capital's Azimpur, is one of them. She was looking for a job early last year to supplement her husband's income but Covid-19 doused that hope.
Eager to do something, she came across the Women and e-Commerce Forum (WE), a Facebook platform for women to showcase products or services.
Iraboti started selling dresses, curd and Bakarkhani. She is happy that she is managing both her business and household chores and having a monthly income.
More than 3.5 lakh businesses are selling groceries, cosmetics, health and beauty products, clothes, shoes, watches, and gadgets through Facebook.
The number also includes some e-commerce companies that have a presence on Facebook for having a larger customer base.
These Facebook-based businesses make more than 90,000 deliveries per day, according to the E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-Cab).
Easy to run business
In the throes of the pandemic when the government is repeatedly imposing restrictions on shops and showrooms, F-commerce businesses are gradually thriving in the country.
"A total of one lakh new Facebook-based businesses started operation in the last one year," said Asif Ahnaf, director (corporate affairs) at e-Cab.
The new form of business helps entrepreneurs cut the cost of infrastructure. Apart from this, conventional and e-commerce businesses have to pay a 15% value-added tax (VAT) on sales.
The social media platform also offers hassle-free shopping opportunities when social distancing is a matter of concern.
Tawsia Tajmim, a private job holder who purchased two sarees from an F-commerce page, said online shopping helped her save time and travel costs.
"I was thinking of buying clothes for Eid but could not go out due to workload. In the meantime, I saw an advertisement of Dhaka Mart while browsing through Facebook and I placed my order."
On earlier occasions, she went to the market and spent three to four hours choosing the products.
Limitations of F-commerce
Facebook-based businesses do not require physical infrastructure, but it involves the cost of promoting products through advertisements on the social media platform.
They spend on an average $10-25 per day to draw customers, said the industry insiders.
Mizanur Rahman, founder and managing director of Home Busket, a Facebook-dependent sales outlet, said, "The more we promote our products the more we sell."
This is happening as customers do not remember from where they first purchased a product and so never visit the site again. They make purchases only when they see a digital advertisement on their Facebook timeline.
Still, it is easy to get customers online since, according to the Internet world stats, the number of Facebook users rose to 4.43 crore in Bangladesh at the end of 2020.
The products' quality, however, remains a matter to be addressed for F-commerce to flourish.
E-Cab Director Asif Ahnaf said the association was working to form an F-commerce alliance that would issue registration IDs to F-commerce outlets to make them accountable.