Three of us from work were bunking work in the middle of a hectic pre-Eid weekday chattering away in the lobby of akhoni.com. I had already tasted blood (of online “cash on delivery” shopping) during my stint in India and coming home to find a office-full of online shoppers was surely a welcome sight.
Year after year I’ve made presentations (to clients and my bosses in the region), held discussions and read news on how Bangladesh is a sleeping volcano of digital potentials. Sadly that line of conversation went on for years without bearing much fruit. Not anymore!
Since its origins the onslaught of local “best deals” sites has been rather noticeable. The first time I saw the signature akhoni.com billboard nestled among the behemoths (i.e. Aarong, Cats Eye and Banglalink) last year, I had unknowingly started browsing the site from my phone. I must admit, it wasn’t appealing at all. The deals were mostly travel related and anyone with access to a credit card (or even privileged mobile subscriber) would have seen better packages already.
During my India days, I grew great respect for their flagship “cash on delivery” services. Led by flipkart.com (yes, the makers of those kids turn adults ads), India has experienced a boom in online retailing for the last few years. From the books-only flipkart (which now carries just about everything else) to the india’s largest fashion store myntra.com (as they claim), the services have at times been friendlier to customers than the actual retail experience.
Surely this “online retailing” helped to get boutique and small-time brands out in the open. For just about everybody could fight for a share of your spending as long as they were under the umbrella of a trusted brand (i.e. flipkart or myntra). Web-only clothing brands started popping out in a country where just making a visible enough mark in retail would entail a 1000 stores. Zovi.com (and more recently yepme.com) in fact pioneered concepts like “virtual dressing rooms” and “try before you buy” to enable a more real-time experience for buyers. I mean compare pushing traffic at a busy hour to get to a store and not finding the style you are looking for vs. going online at God forsaken hours and selecting just about everything with one click. To top it all, you don’t even need to pay till you see it with your own eyes. If I am not wrong, the idea of paying only after getting what you’ve paid for (i.e. mistrust in the retailer) is rather unique to our part of the world. And I am pretty sure cash on delivery was born out of that.
Global giants like amazon.com and groupon.com have also made their entry into the Indian web space (through junglee.com and crazeal.com) but unlike many other industries, they are not tasting success that easy. With some of the local players already investing in vertical integration (delivery and collection), the global dominance is long way off. Unless of course the billion-dollar bullies buys off the million-dollar minnows.
I was still kidding with my colleague about the services of akhoni, as the bright idea of opening a site of our own came to be. Before I say any further, I admit of being a shopaholic of their appealing deals. From buying wrong-sized tees that fit me like a blouse (as some have pointed out) to computer accessories without having a need for one, the “discount diarrhea” has surely struck me bad. And the contagious online bargain-hunting virus has spread with visits to other sites with similar offers (ajkerdeal.com, hoichoioffer.com, iferi.com etc.) and influencing people with similar mindsets (mostly my colleagues).
That said, the business is still in a very nascent stage in Bangladesh. It gives “one night stand” type brands a crack at glory (who has heard of Rolla or Section 10 or T-Factory as t-shirt brands; let alone Oops, yes another brand), but whether it actually makes way for a web-based fashion brand is still in contemplation. From the site experience (mostly very poorly designed and hard to navigate) to the product delivery and return, there are a hundred ways to improve the current ecosystem. As much I appreciate seeing the likes of cash on delivery and bKash as payments methods, I despised my experience with delivery timelines and stock maintenance. While a mediocre company (only a national player, that too with a limited choice of products) like flipkart has made it this big just by quality of service, the likes of akhoni and hoichoioffer have a marathon to run.
As luck would have it, I was soon approached by some senior person at the akhoni reception while we waited aimlessly for the receptionist aka. cashier aka. delivery girl aka. customer complaint manager to arrange for my items. She was nice. Nicer than I had expected at least. Curious and proactive as well. I dunno whether it was because I had already bought like a dozen tees from them or we as a group seemed approachable, she inquired and sought suggestions about their deals and services.
Impatient and excited, I went on telling her about supply chain improvement and vertical integration and better in-site experience (thank god I didn’t go all the way to mobile app). I guess she didn’t expect such ideas coming from a 29-year old man buying a Batman and Bane t-shirt. But there it was. Another sad realization of how we are as managers. If you are in the business of online-retailing and be lucky enough to hold a senior post, you better be somewhat techie and aware of the who’s who of the business. The couldn’t possibly be any other industry where living “in the now” was more important than the business itself.
PS. In spite of it all, I appreciate the great initiative taken up by akhoni and all. The hope is still on…
This article is also available at http://www.newagebd.com/supliment.php?sid=124&id=913