Rahath Ahmed, CMO of the e-commerce logistics startup Paperfly, spoke to The Business Standard about the bumpy road of scaling an e-commerce business in Bangladesh
In most developed countries, the retail market and e-commerce coexist – where the latter holds more than 20 percent of the market – meanwhile, e-commerce in Bangladesh holds roughly one percent of market share.
"There are 90 million-plus internet users in Bangladesh. When only one percent of them order via e-commerce every day, we have as many as nine lakh deliveries. This is a monumental number for an emerging e-commerce market like Bangladesh," said Rahath Ahmed, Chief Marketing Officer at Paperfly Ltd to The Business Standard.
The seasoned professional pivoted his career trajectory from advertising to e-commerce logistics for a good reason. Simply put, he wanted to leverage his decade's-long experience in the cutthroat world of startups.
"As a nascent e-commerce market, Bangladesh's market differs from that of many emerging countries," Rahath said. "We are not quite like India, where you have a big customer base and also have to cover a big territory. In Bangladesh, we have a younger demographic and smaller territory – waiting to become habituated with the e-commerce ecosystem."
"Paperfly, as the biggest home delivery logistics startup in Bangladesh, aspires to attain from one percent to 20 percent of market share," Rahath said before sipping from his cup of tea.
While asked about Paperfly's operations, Rahath demonstrated Paperfly's cutting- edge app – home-grown software that has enabled the company's operations to be near-paperless.
"We take great pride in the software we have built called Paperfly Wings. It can track our delivery persons all over Bangladesh," Rahath said. He added, "Our supply chain is almost paperless. We are the first company in Bangladesh to have 100 percent of our field force using an app and updating their status in real-time."
Paperfly's client base includes the likes of: Daraz, Shop-up, Bagdoom, and Robi. We asked whether it is possible for e-commerce companies to operate without the help of a third-party logistics company like Paperfly.
"E-commerce is a very complicated mechanism. It requires a lot of association from different parties and different locations. E-commerce companies alone cannot juggle all the legwork to deliver a product to a customer's doorstep," he replied. "This is where a third-party logistics [startup] like Paperfly intervenes."
The future of e-commerce looks bright in Bangladesh. Paperfly promises to reach further frontiers and establish 200 warehouses nationwide by 2020. "We already have almost a thousand delivery persons on our payroll. They are paid a fair salary and festival bonus," Rahath said.
Home delivery logistics will unlock avenues for job creation in Bangladesh, once the untapped market of e-commerce is struck.
"As of now, we have plans to initiate cross-border delivery in the future. If your friend lives abroad, you will be able to send the individual a product to their doorstep – via Paperfly," Rahath fervently gleamed.
However, the journey of an e-commerce business is mired in hiccups. In Bangladesh, most e-commerce companies are concentrated inside Dhaka. Reaching out to the masses in rural areas is hard. "Paperfly wants to cater to every corner of Bangladesh," Rahath said. "We want to make sure customers from as far as Panchagarh or Netrokona get their product delivered in the minimum amount of time required," he continued.
Bangladeshi e-commerce consumers are still used to the cash-on-delivery method. Plus, when a customer rejects a product, it has to return all the way back to its source. "A big portion of our deliveries are returned from customers' doors, posing a challenge for us to operate," Rahath said. "Once the customers are properly educated about the whole process, the system loss will eventually diminish."
"To succeed in e-commerce, you have to get your hands dirty," Rahath said from his entrepreneurial standpoint. According to him, it will take time for Bangladeshi consumers to see e-commerce as a convenience that requires payment for more than just a product. All the while, Paperfly will thrive and expand its operations with its mission of delivering happiness.