The rapid growth in mobile and internet penetration has broadened the horizons for entrepreneurs and consumers alike. No one is likely to begrudge the comfort of shopping at home. It is an exciting prospect to have the delivery of products at the doorstep by a single 'click'? Likewise, people have been dreaming of virtual shopping malls in cyberspace since the proliferation of e-commerce allows countless Bangladeshis to experience a swift delivery of various products or services.
Recently, experts opined that Bangladesh is likely to experience an exponential 72 per cent growth in e-commerce due to the country's maximisation of internet use and its young population. By 2020, the country is expected to handle 18.3 million internet subscribers with 10 subscriptions per 100 individuals. Business adoption will be almost 66 per cent. In addition, the current volume of Bangladesh's e-commerce stands to Tk3.5 billion. Since e-commerce grew 10 per cent for each passing quarter over a decade, Bangladesh has turned into a potential market for the world's internet-based business giants.
Nevertheless, e-commerce has been facing numerous challenges from the beginning of its journey in Bangladesh. The country's online shopping companies could not increase their logistical capacity. Apt delivery of products to the customers is often delayed due to Dhaka's traffic problems and the absence of a reliable delivery network. To handle their logistics, most online stores apply third-party delivery support - which is insufficient. Besides, people living outside Dhaka and Chittagong are not getting the benefits of e-commerce due to the absence of such services in those localities. The lack of IT infrastructure and the absence of delivery systems in Bangladesh's rural countryside and several urban areas have hindered a potential market to flourish.
Moreover, large numbers of online customers face technical difficulties in the product orders and transaction procedures due to their lack of ICT-based knowledge and problems running some e-commerce applications. Customers often add products on a website but fail to check out on delivery schedules. Consequently, both buyers and sellers are dependent on mobile phones for product orders. Transactions in online shopping remain obsolete till now. Despite phone-based platforms like bKash offering speedy transactions, Bangladesh requires a flexible and secure transaction service like PayPal for maximising product purchases. Therefore, 90 per cent of domestic customers rely on outdated Cash-on-Delivery (CoD).
The annoying presence of "bogus orders" from individuals further ruins the process - 30 to 40 per cent of total orders were returned to the sellers in 2015. Customers often complain about the delivery of substandard and damaged products from malicious e-commerce entities. This does not help the cause of online shopping.
Bangladesh's e-commerce can make room for start-ups to further business expansions. The established firms must aim to motivate and empower vendors with IT education, business tips and regular consultation to increase both skills and profit. E-commerce firms can register grassroots-level vendors and bring them under the radar of customer-friendly mobile applications. Entrepreneurs may obtain details of their customers from such network applications, reducing the digital divide.
In 2016, the country's e-commerce firm Kaymu claimed to have received 40 to 50 per cent of its orders from abroad. The growth of cross-border shopping depends on the retailer's competence to meet the consumer rights to faultless service, delivery and return. A hassle-free mechanism for purchasing goods is impossible unless a fast, secure and user-friendly transaction network is established. If PayPal and similar services get the green signal from the Bangladesh Bank, the number of customers will skyrocket.
Meanwhile, the driving force of e-commerce should be a viable logistics framework comprising improved transportation, enhanced delivery, order management, inventory visibility and returns management. Facebook surprisingly accounted for more than 60 per cent of Bangladesh's e-commerce during the last year's Eid seasons. Perhaps, the social media is a good option for more e-commerce. The government should create an environment where buying and selling of online products are simple, fast, accessible and ultimately secure.