Tarannum Nusrat, a seller of tailored clothes, joined the Online Business Network's (OBN) Facebook page on June 15 this year. A month after, she participated in the first OBN Online Mela, a virtual fair.
She is going to participate in the second fair scheduled to begin on September 30. The fair venue, www.obn.net.bd, remains the same. Nusrat, as one of the moderators of the Facebook page of the group, has been advertising the fair also on her own page on the social media platform.
What response did she receive in the first fair? And why is she so enthusiastic about the second one?
"I sold a few products in the first fair. A number of visitors later contacted me and placed new orders. Actually, the fair helped me connect with more customers, something I had joined the Facebook group for," she told this correspondent recently.
After completing her studies, Nusrat joined a private organisation. At the same time, she was a part-timer at her maternal aunt Shirin's small garment factory in the capital's Mirpur.
In 2017, she opened a Facebook-based store named Ronger Mela. When her aunt's business started slumping in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic this year, she left her main job to concentrate more on the business.
In June, she gave her store a new name, Threadric, and joined OBN.
Over the past few years, the aunt and the niece jointly participated in a number of traditional fairs in Dhaka. Nusrat recalled her participation in such fairs organised by Drik Gallery and the Bangla Academy. When she got the chance to participate in an online fair, though she had no experience of such an event, she did not hesitate to go ahead.
To Nusrat, the obvious benefit of such virtual fairs is that businesses can reconnect with their previous clients and also widen the market base through social media platforms, particularly when people's outdoor movement came to a halt.
"In the first OBN fair, I gained publicity at no cost. Now, I am not anticipating overwhelming sales in the upcoming fair. Rather, I am expecting new connections for my future business," she said.
From July 16 to 21, participants of the first OBN fair posted advertisements of their products on all Facebook pages they were connected to. Nusrat, too, requested her followers to visit the virtual fair.
In her posts, she mentioned a code, CO7, which was actually a shortcut to her online stall displaying photos of customised clothes which were cotton-made, comfortable, colourful and suitable for babies and adults.
Like her, every participant had their own code. OBN website visitors could see a list of the participants' categories. The items they were offering included homemade food, garments, ornaments, and decorative products.
What was the difference between a traditional fair and an online one? Shoppers could purchase their desired products by surfing a single website. It seemed to be a good alternative to the brick-and-mortar shopping malls during the pandemic.
According to OBN admin Nahid Fedous Auny, at least 28 vendors participated in the first fair while the number of visitors was around 28,000.
The OBN organisers still feel the importance of such a virtual shopping facility. At least, it helps the pandemic-hit small entrepreneurs to revamp their businesses. That is why they are going to arrange the second fair at the end of this month.
OBN was founded by six online business enthusiasts in the first week of June. Shifat Mawla, who runs the Facebook store Tummy Treat, a virtual shop for homemade party food, is among the founding members of OBN.
She said, "Initially, the first fair was arranged only for two days. Given the overwhelming response both from participants and visitors, we had to extend the event for three more days."
The upcoming event will run for seven days. The main objective of the fair is to encourage people to start businesses they are enthusiastic about.
Since the fair is online, it will remain open from 8am on September 30 to 8pm on October 8 without any break. At the fair, a buyer will first see a list of items, such as handmade food and clothing. Clicking on an item will show all the participating vendors in that category.
Each vendor's information will appear in a box. When a visitor clicks on the box, they will see photos and prices of the products the vendor is offering. Once they click on a product, it will be added to the cart.
This way, buyers can browse the entire fair and add the products they want to buy to the cart. After choosing the checkout option, they will need to complete a brief registration, providing their personal contact information to sellers.
The seller will then call the buyer and finalise the sale. Finally, the seller will deliver the products to the buyer.
For the participating vendors, the registration fee is Tk1,000.
"The fee is for the third party who will operate the website during the fair. Other than this, there will be no extra charge. Even the visitors will not have to pay any entry fee. We are expecting a bigger participation of vendors and visitors this time. This platform will create business opportunities," Shifat explained.
She told the story of Protiva Khan, who was a novice when she visited the first OBN fair. The extravaganza eventually enthused her so much that she launched a business of homemade sweetmeat and dairy products.
Within a short period, Protiva became a promising entrepreneur. In a post for OBN followers on September 5, she wrote, "The fair was my starting. Finding a good customer is a matter of luck. Perhaps, I have one. Since the first fair, the client has placed five orders. The last one was for eight kilogrammes of sweetmeat. I could not believe this."
This correspondent could not reach Protiva. But there is another entrepreneur Subrina Akter Misty, a member of OBN and owner of Facebook store Misty'r Rannar Golpo.
She opened her homemade food business in July with a seed money of only Tk2,000. Now, she can deal with food orders of more than Tk10,000.
"I was not comfortable with the identity of an unemployed housewife. Now, I am enjoying the entrepreneur identity a lot. Social media seems to be a great opportunity for people like me. If I get better response from my clients, I will expand my kitchen facilities. I will stick to the online-based homemade food supply business because this is the new trend," Misty said.
Shifat, also a schoolteacher, has been running Tummy Treat for more than five years. The experienced businesswoman believes that F-commerce is empowering people with the spirit of self-employment.
"Online business is all about connections. The fair will connect more business minds to each other, we hope," she concluded.