On a February afternoon, Faisal Hossain, an intermediate student, came to buy a desktop computer at the New Elephant Road area of Dhaka. But his budget was only Tk10,000, which is too small an amount to buy a new computer.
He earned the money through private tutoring. He wants to learn computer typing to gear up for a government job to secure his future.
"I heard that second-hand computers are sold here. So, I came here with one of my friends who understand computer hardware well," said Faisal while bargaining with a second-hand computer trader at Shams Bhaban on the Laboratory Road.
He bought a Pentium Dual-Core processor for Tk500. Intel Corporation, one of the world's largest chipmakers, rolled out the Pentium Dual-Core processor 15 years back, in 2006. In the beginning, the price of the processor was around Tk8,000. The company stopped producing a Dual-Core processor in 2010. Now the processor is available in the second-hand market and sold for between Tk300-Tk500.
Faisal bought an MSI G41M motherboard compatible with the processor for Tk1,800, a 4GB RAM for Tk600, a 500GB hard disk for Tk900 and finally a 19" Samsung LCD monitor for Tk3,600 and a casing along with a power supply for Tk700. With a new keyboard and mouse, he had to spend Tk8,600 altogether.
As his dream of buying a computer came true, Faisal left the market with a big smile on his face.
A Relief For The Plastic Wallets
The second-hand computer market on the Laboratory Road opposite the Multiplan Centre has become a relief for tens of thousands of people like Faisal. Customers from across the city come to buy castoff computers and computer components here at a very cheap price.
Now, it has become the country's largest second-hand computer market.
However, the country's first computer market began in the Elephant Road area and Laboratory Road at the beginning of the 1990s.
"Basically, in 1993 computer shops began to grow in the area," said Mustafa Jabbar, the incumbent post and telecommunication minister who was once a computer businessman.
Now there are at least 200 computer shops in the area that sell second-hand computers and computer components. Every day these shops sell second-hand computers worth Tk40 lakh.
"If you calculate the annual turnover of these shops, the figure will touch Tk150 crore," said Abul Kalam, proprietor of KM Computer, who has been in the business for the last nine years.
Who Buys Castoff Computers?
People from all walks of life come to buy castoff laptops and desktop computers in the market. However, most of the customers are computer trainers who have a good command of computer parts and run computer training centres.
"These customers are very experienced in understanding computer hardware. They know that there is not much difference in the performance of a new computer and a second-hand computer. Rather, they get the scope of buying a second-hand computer on a shoestring budget," said Monwar Parvej, owner of Ayesha Computer, who has been in this business for the last five years.
There is a tendency of buying hand-me-down computers among poor guardians too. Nowadays, a computer is essential for students to do well in their academic career. But poor guardians find it hard to buy a new computer for their children.
"This market has become a relief for poor people. When I understand that a student from a poor family needs a computer badly, I try to sell it at a lower price with less profit. It is no longer a luxurious product, it has now become very essential," said computer trader Azad.
There is another group of customers who run computer servicing shops and come to buy second-hand computer components like motherboards, hard disks, processors, power supply and RAM.
"They also come to the market and buy second-hand components to fix their customers' computers. If the quality of the part is well then the performance of the computer will be well. Customers do not bother whether a part is new or second-hand," Azad said.
The Issue Of Functionalities
Do these second-hand computers work well? Azad answered that they are selling thousands of second-hand computers and computer components. If they were bad, would people come to us to buy these things?
"We have regular customers who buy from us. Every day we have new customers too. Look, all components of a computer do not crash at the same time. We change the damaged one and add a new one. The computer again works well like before," he added.
The traders also give a seven-day 'check warranty' for the customers. If a component or desktop or laptop do not work, they fix the product within seven days free of cost. Traders said it is enough time for a customer to test the quality of a product.
"You see the whole computer never goes bad, you need to change the bad parts only, then the computer is okay," said Azad.
After seven days, the customers have to change the parts or get servicing for money.
How Do These Traders Buy Cast-Off Computers?
One of the main sources of second-hand computers is the up-gradation policy of government offices as well as private companies. These offices routinely upgrade their computers with the latest versions, selling out the old ones to the second-hand market.
"The officials who deal with computer departments of a company know well that we purchase second-hand computers. They come to us with the offer of selling their computers. Then we make a deal after observing the conditions of the computers," said trader Monwar.
To buy castoff computers from the government offices in bulk the traders have to participate in some formal procedures like a quotation.
Sometimes, a company shuts down their business due to loss and sells all their office accessories in bulk. Their computers also come to this market.
"There are a lot of young people who are very fond of computer games. They also update their computers with the arrivals of the latest version of games," said Azad adding that they sell their old computer in the market and buy a new one.
Stolen computers ended up in the market too, according to some traders.
Traders consider January and February as dull months for buying computers. One of their peak months is December when corporate companies sell their old computers. The months after the publication of results of the secondary and higher secondary school certificate exam are also a good time for the business.
"After their results get out, students show interest in updating their computers, as a result, many computers come to the market," said Monwar.
Monwar sells a Samsung 17" LCD Monitor of 733NW model for Tk2,800. He said that the price of a new one is Tk5,500 to Tk6,000.
"You need at least 30,000 for a brand new computer with good quality. Here you can buy a full computer for Tk10,000-15,000 only," said Monwar.
"I buy the product for Tk1500 if I am sure that it will be sold at Tk2000. The price entirely depends on the sale of the product," he added.
People are now aware of the configuration of the components and computers. Monwar said that he cannot make a high profit from selling second-hand computers any longer.
In the past, customers used to go to a computer shop to buy a computer. They cared little about the configuration and performance.
"Now, they have become aware of the configuration, generation and speed. They now come to us after researching a product online and bargain with us over price. As a result, the profit margin has come down," said Monwar.
"Now if we sell a computer for Tk10,000, we can make a profit of Tk1,000 to Tk2,000," said Azad. "Five years back, we could even make 70% profit selling these second-hand computers and components."
The second-hand computer market is also facing the daunting challenge of a growing online market.
"Many people have already stopped coming to the brick-and-mortar market. Now, people are easily trading second-hand computers and computer components online by posting advertisements with photos," said Azad.
"It's a big challenge for our survival," he emphasised.