The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 presented many challenges for young entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. The stay-at-home order, the closure of shops for a longer period has slowed down businesses. Some young entrepreneurs have turned the challenges into economic opportunity using social media platforms. Nahid Riyasad writes about some of these entrepreneurial successes in Bangladesh
WHEN the novel coronavirus pushed people inside their homes in 2020, e-commerce was already a common phenomenon. Facebook has already been the dominant platform in this sector for Bangladesh, so people were familiar with f-commerce. During the COVID-19 period, a lot of young people have opened their f-commerce shops offering a wide range of products from food to diapers.
According to Statista, in 2020, Bangladesh had 39 million Facebook users making the social media site a vibrant platform for business. Industrial Development Leasing Company business review 2019 showed that the f-commerce market was worth Tk 312 and the pandemic has beefed up the numbers. The publication pointed out that more than 300,000 business were running on the platform. More than half of the businesses are run by women.
New Age Youth talked to four young entrepreneurs who have started their f-commerce during the pandemic. The stories reflect how the pandemic has shaped people’s behaviour and course of doing business in the future.
‘As a process of digital-detox, people are going back to their hobbies that they have sided for so long,’ this is how Novera Anwar, the owner of Kalir Dowat, describes peoples’ behavioural change due to the pandemic. ‘Writing with a fountain pen has once again found its way as a hobby in this digital age, among young enthusiasts. Our endeavour, as a small community, is to cater to our fellow hobbyist,’ she added.
Imported inks waiting to be delivered to fountain pen enthusiasts of Bangladesh.
Pens, inks and quality papers to pursue the hobby is not widely available. Novera used to bring her products from the biggest USA online retailer of pens and inks but international shopping is a time-consuming process that many enthusiasts did not want to engage with. This clicked as a business idea because she was already accustomed to the process and she took some orders from fellow enthusiasts in April 2020.
Even during the pandemic, her shipment reached safely. After a year in the business, a few shipments per month are required to cater to the pen enthusiast community of Bangladesh.
In November 2020, kalir Dowat organised a Fountain pen Photography and it gained a huge response. The winners went away with related gift items.
Alif Milan, a young business person by trade, became a father right before the COVID-19 pandemic. As he had to deal with a lot of baby products, it ran through his mind that why not I take all the hassle and deliver baby products to the doorsteps of those who do not want to go through the logistics?
From May 2020, he is selling all kinds of baby products through the Facebook page Penguin. Besides this, Milan also sells gents clothing through another page. As he was already a business man, he offered some observations on business before and after the pandemic.
‘At the beginning of the COVID-19, many people had to adopt to online shopping. However, with the downward curve of the infections, things got normal and many people returned to their usual shops. As a result, sales are not as it was last year,’ he said.
A major reason f-commerce is yet to be widely accepted is that many people have had bad shopping experiences. Many shops could not operate professionally and many cheated with low quality products. According to Milam, this is a challenge the f-commerce businesses have to address as soon as possible.
‘Bringing all the f-commerce outlets in a system will make both shopping and doing business easier,’ he added.
Who doesn’t love chocolates? Our markets are filled with industrially produced chocolates, be it local or imported. There are not many outlets offering hand-made chocolates. Zzoyi is here to fill that gap at an affordable price. Their chocolates are relaxing to the eyes and fascinating to the taste bud.
Homemade chocolates by Zzoyi.
Mahfuz Rahman, owner of Zzoyi told New Age Youth how his regular business — bringing products from China — was hampered due to the COVID-19. It was during then the idea of selling custom made premium chocolates crossed his mind. The idea originally came from a South Korean friend.
‘Our friend helped us to get the required guidelines to learn that trade and launch our venture. We source our raw materials from South Korea and Malaysia. This is how ZZoyi started in July 2020, said Mahfuz.
As he was already in business before the pandemic hit, he sheds some light on the changed scenario of business, ‘Sales are generally low compared to the pre-covid time because the people are likely to track their finances more now. Despite, Zzoyi has received a tremendous response in this short period of time
LIZA FOOD CORNER
Farhana Liza, a young mother of two, used to run a small fast-food shop in Dhaka. Due to an injury to the leg, she could no longer take the pressure of maintaining a food shop so she shut her business. When the COVID-19 started, Liza saw this as an opportunity to feed people her food once again.
In April 2020, she opened a page titled Liza Food Corner on Facebook and started taking orders. She received moderate responses due to the taste of the food and behaviour. At present, she has two permanent delivery men.
She shed light on the food business before and after the pandemic, ‘When I used to run a fast-food shop, sells were all right. However, during the pandemic, people are ordering a lot of food. This way can invest their time in whatever they love. I can also turn my love for cooking into a business once again,’ Liza told New Age Youth.
Among the foods she offers, different kinds of biriyani, Mughlai, local sweets and meat items are particularly popular among the foodies. Her customers regularly entertain their family members with her food and end the meal with a smile on their face.
With more than forty million Facebook users, Bangladesh is ranked as the tenth-largest country in terms of Facebook users. The f-commerce is about to experience a boom and the COVID-19 pandemic has speed-up the process.
According to data collected by Bangladesh E-Commerce Association, in 2020, business transactions worth Tk 7,000 crore took place over traditional e-commerce mediums and a Tk 1,000 crore was contributed by f-commerce. The organisation has documented 70-80 per cent more online sales during this period compared to pre-covid time.
Considering the huge popularity and convenience of shopping, it is ripe time for the authorities to formulate a policy to bring f-commerce businesses into a system. This will help both the businesses and the customers.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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