Every alley of Dhaka city is crowded with different kinds of retail stores which meet the demand of our daily groceries. The number of super shops is also increasing day by day.
Still, most people find it easy to collect their daily goods from the retail stores as they are huge in number and easy to access.
But a lack of systemisation has put these retail stores in crisis in this time of e-commerce when customers can order their products from home and find them delivered at their doorstep.
Deligram, an e-commerce platform, has been working to digitise and shape the general transactions of retail shops since 2017.
It has focused on empowering the retailers by sourcing them different kinds of goods and helping them digitise this entire chain.
It has raised $2.5 million in funding from foreign investors till date.
During the pandemic, Deligram acquired another e-commerce platform Shopway, which started its journey with the same vision at the same time.
To address this, Deligram was facing challenges in operations and Shopway was facing difficulties in fundraising.
Shopway's situation had gotten so bad that it was about to stop its activities when the pandemic started.
After discussing their situations with each other, both start-ups found it convenient to collaborate and explore the sectors of their expertise together so that both could sustain in the market.
In the beginning, Deligram adopted both the Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Customer (B2C) models.
Due to the conflict of interest between the two models, there were performance issues which hindered fund-raising.
The retailers also feared that it would cut off retailer stores from the market in future.
So, after dealing with all these issues, Deligram realised that it needed to focus on a specific business model to sustain.
After merging with Shopway, Deligram is firmly emphasising on the B2B model.
It has introduced retailer shops as offline touch-points from where customers can order and receive their products.
Currently, around 3000 retailers are connected with it. In this process, the customer and retailer both are benefited as it counts only one-third of the delivery charge if the customer picks up the products from the nearest offline touchpoints. The retailer also gets an exact percentage of commission from each order.
"As Rahimafrooz, a 67-year old conglomerate, started the first modern retail chain store Agora in 2001, Deligram has a slight conflict of interest with our family business. But pursuing this technology-enabled localised model was inevitable. If I did not start this, then someone else would have," Waiz Rahim, the founder of Deligram explained.
Product building was always an area of interest for him.
So, when he came back to Bangladesh after completing his education, he found a scope to explore the retail industry and empower the middle-income society.
Therefore, he initiated Deligram.
Usually, shopping online seems like a fairly easy process. Customers understand the frontend of e-commerce where websites display the products and they just choose from them.
But then why do so many complaints arise?
Customers complain because the backend of e-commerce – from procurement to predicting, logistics, warehousing and real-time inventory management – all these are not properly sorted out.
As Waiz had worked at an Amazon distribution centre as part of his studies, he knew this.
And, he has tried to implement his learning here and apply an actual model of an e-commerce where from the backend to the frontend – everything is sorted.
After placing an order, an international e-commerce chain usually gives a detailed estimation which is missing in Bangladesh.
When the backend is sorted and automated, there are no complaints like order bouncing or receiving a different product.
In an automated process, after receiving customer's order, the product is already found in serial with specific barcode and sent for further proceedings.
Waiz thinks that the growth of e-commerce will certainly overcome retailer shops one day but retailer shops will stay longer in the market. "By digitalising their entire process, it is possible to keep them as a part of this market."
Retailer stores offer credit purchasing and also undoubtedly they are more reliable than super shops to mass people.
But with time, customers' expectations have grown. Nowadays, they want everything they need in the same place.
Deligram has already connected its registered retailer shops with 30 different companies from where they can access various goods. It is also in discussion with different multinational companies.
It is offering home delivery system too. In Deligram's customer app, customers can see available products and order from home. The retailer stores make the delivery.
Deligram has two more apps for retailers and company dealers for keeping data safe and digital.
In the retailer's app, the retailer can access all the available products of the dealer companies and order as per the requirements.
And, dealer companies can view how many orders they have received and deliver according to schedule.
However, keeping track of all these data is easier using a digital method but it was not very easy to convince the people who work in this sector.
"People who work in this sector are used to a manual system. As a result, we had to face issues to make them understand that this modern trade system is more reliable and easier to deal with," said the Deligram founder.
The Covid-19 pandemic has played a vital role in this case as dealers were not coming in person and they had to order using social media. But, later, they found Deligram to be more convenient and started using this.
Solyman Rubel, a retailer of Habib Business Store, found Deligram's products reliable and reasonable.
But he shared that he had faced some technical difficulties while ordering and sometimes distributors lagged in receiving the orders.
Against this comment, Waiz shared that as Deligram was changing its business plan and rearranging everything in the past few months, it was running its activities on a small scale. However, now it has started working on a larger scale.
"Though we know there is nothing called customer loyalty, we are trying our best to provide. Now, the customer needs to verify, decode advertisement words of this market and then choose wisely otherwise complaints would never be solved," remarked Waiz.
There are around 12 lakh retailer shops all over Bangladesh. By 2023, Deligram has a plan to create their offline touch-points at 80% of these stores.
To achieve this goal, Deligram is working hard and also trying to raise fund as it is not possible to change this whole market alone. And, getting local funding for such start-ups is tough too.
"Neither local investors have the appetite for funding, nor they understand the process. Our funding structure is very fragile than, India and China, and there are no such mentionable platforms that invest in start-ups to flourish," said Firoz Uddin Ahmed, chief operating officer of Deligram and former founder of Shopway.
"As there is no interest security for investors for local company, international investors do not feel safe to invest either. So, working together and attaining our goals seemed wiser to us," he added.