A resident in Panchagarh needs to purchase a specific imported item but could not find it in the local areas as it was only available in Dhaka city. Later he contacted a wholesale store and got the item delivered to his home within a week, all the way from the capital.
If such a situation had arisen decades before, the person would not have received the product so quickly to Panchagarh from Dhaka. He either would have to wait for an acquaintance to travel to Panchagarh and get the product for him, or he himself would have to go to Dhaka to get it.
However, that was the reality before the growth of e-commerce in Bangladesh. None of the options seems suitable, especially for the current generation.
E-commerce has changed the landscape of trading and buying goods and services. The industry has witnessed evolution nationwide, with millions of orders placed annually. Moreover, the increase of smartphone and internet penetration across the board has encouraged organisations and entrepreneurs to understand the ecosystem of e-commerce and the value it will add to their businesses.
It has been forecasted by the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) that the e-commerce sector will hit $3 billion by 2023. In 2020 alone, the industry has witnessed 166% growth as consumers switched from physical store to online to maintain social distancing and decrease the outbreak of Covid-19.
The e-commerce industry has been on the rise globally, including Bangladesh, but gaining more momentum in the present time due to the silver lining aspect of Covid-19, heightening digitalisation. However, proper technology disruption and innovative services are necessary if we want this growth to be continued and inclusive.
Currently, most e-commerce nationwide operates through web pages. However, to adapt to the fast pace of people's lifestyles and the changing world, businesses now should shift towards mobile applications.
Numerous organisations globally have both website and mobile applications to offer seamless, hassle-free, and quick shopping options for a wide range of people. Not everyone prefers the same style and type of modality for shopping; some are comfortable through desktop while others prefer apps.
Most Bangladeshis will be using e-commerce through their mobile devices rather than desktops or laptops in the near future. Hence, to increase the convenience in people's lives and enhance the ecosystem, companies should develop mobile applications to allow customers to order on the go.
Besides, to increase web traffic, companies must build user-friendly websites or mobile applications. If the customers are not satisfied with the website or apps' infrastructure, it will harm both the branding and sales of the organisation.
They can also make their platforms interactive by adding augmented reality (AR). For example, the Sephora app has AR, allowing users to try the makeup on their face virtually before purchasing the product. AR will enable customers to try the product the same way they would have done it in a physical store.
Traditionally, customers only get the chance to view a flat image of the product before purchasing it online. However, AR will allow them to try the product virtually, giving more freedom to the customers and enhancing their shopping experiences. Such an initiative will pioneer the industry. For example, imagine how helpful it will be for an individual to view how a sofa will look in their living room before purchasing it online?
One of the central parts of e-commerce is delivery. Companies across Bangladesh should adopt to fast delivery process to keep pace with the customers' demands and ever-evolving nation. Most customers will prefer fast and efficient delivery, as we know—the faster, the better.
Thus, companies can try to bring automatic delivery services to enrich their end-to-end delivery system, which will speed up the delivery process and enhance the customers' experience as well.
Connecting buyers to the sellers conveniently is the most vital part of any e-commerce business. However, in our country, to some extent, we are still lagging on this issue than the developed countries.
Modernisation and simplification of this process could usher in a new era for our e-commerce ecosystem. Moreover, continuous investment in new technologies, especially in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) Algorithm, will help us accelerate innovation in the ecosystem and cater to the customers according to their ever-increasing demands.
Bangladesh is on its way to achieving the long-cherished vision of 'Digital Bangladesh'. Therefore, now more than ever, it is time for our e-commerce players to pick up the pace with proper investment in R&D (Research and Development) and innovation to get aligned to be an integral part of the country's digital transformation journey.
Over the last few years, Daraz has reaffirmed its commitment to the investment needed for a sustainable and all-inclusive digital ecosystem that will benefit both our customers and sellers. We are confident that proper investment in the e-commerce infrastructure, technological innovation, and human resources will help us play our role in contributing to the growth of Bangladesh's e-commerce sphere.
We should also take notice of another important aspect—the payment system. In most global nations, enhanced online payment plays a critical role in the e-commerce sector. Cash-on-delivery is not the norm in the developed countries.
Nearly all the transactions of the e-commerce industry take place through online payment, increasing the efficiency of people's lifestyles. In those nations, people do not have to worry about being physically present when the parcel gets delivered to their address.
On the contrary, cash-on-delivery is more prevalent in Bangladesh than in online payment systems. In a situation like this, it is a hassle for anyone to be home for the package to be delivered. Thus, organisations along with the government should work together to strengthen not only the infrastructure of the online payment system but also the ecosystem of the delivery and community security.
In the end, in an ever-evolving world, it has become imperative for the local companies to upgrade their online activities and adopt innovative technologies. E-commerce can become the driver of growth for Bangladesh, but the potential still remains largely untapped.
With proper innovative technologies and governance, the industry can take Bangladesh's economy to new heights, even has the potential to surpass some of the developed nations.
Khondoker Tasfin Alam is the Chief Operating Officer of Daraz Bangladesh Limited
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.