'The pandemic was rather a blessing in disguise for the e-commerce industry'
The e-commerce industry is forecasted to hit $3 billion by 2023 provided there is a stable internet connection and an easy online payment system, experts said on Tuesday.
The comment came at a webinar styled “e-Commerce and Consumer Rights in the time of Covid 19: Challenges and Way Forward”, organised by Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI).
“The pandemic was rather a blessing in disguise for the e-commerce industry,” said Commerce Secretary Jafar Uddin.
Despite having dissatisfaction among the consumers, e-commerce and f-commerce are growing manifold for their incremental demand, he added.
In 2020, thanks to the global coronavirus pandemic that compelled people to stay at home as much as possible, the e-commerce business experienced a significant 166 per cent growth as consumers moved online for their shopping needs, said Syed Almas Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services.
There are 36 million active social media users in the country, of which 8.4 million are Facebook users. The Facebook commerce (f-commerce) market is about Tk 312 crore, he said.
“F-commerce is flourishing in the country,” said Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB).
Subsequently, he urged the government to make registration mandatory for f-commerce traders so that they could be monitored, regulated and financed.
F-commerce should be regulated as it is not similar to e-commerce, said Syed Mustahidal Hoq, managing director of Daraz.
“Strong regulatory monitoring will mitigate bad players in the market,” Kabir said.
He also called for an e-commerce marketing and advertising policy along with data privacy.
Currently, the size of the local e-commerce market was about $2 billion and was increasing by 50% every year, said DCCI President Shams Mahmud.
Despite a significant drop in general trading, e-commerce trading increased remarkably, benefitting from the pandemic’s turbocharging of digitalisation.
“Protection of consumer rights is key for a sustainable e-commerce ecosystem in Bangladesh. Quality, conformity, liability, distribution, secured payment system and price of products are very much linked with consumer rights.”
Mahmud also suggested to strengthening the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution, reducing value-added tax and supplementary duty on e-commerce businesses to a logical level, easing the conditions of licensing for formalising e-commerce entities, introducing 5G network and arranging training for e-commerce-based SME entrepreneurs.
Addressing the challenges of e-commerce is necessary to facilitate its success, CAB President Rahman said.
Along with the advancement of e-commerce, adequate rules and regulations should be in place, he added.
In order to utilise its huge potential, a ‘Digital Cell’ has been established in the commerce ministry, Uddin said.
An advisory committee is also working under the WTO cell of commerce ministry to ensure consumer-friendly digital commerce eco-system.
The Digital Cell and e-support centre will be able to address some of the existing challenges of the sector, Uddin added.
“It is challenging to gain the confidence and reliability of consumers,” said Fahim Ahmed, president and chief financial officer of Pathao.
He also urged for creating a conducive environment for local entrepreneurs so that they could compete with other foreign entities.
Tina Jabeen, managing director of Startup Bangladesh, a flagship project of the ICT Division aimed at financing local start-ups, urged the local investors to finance and promote the local e-commerce start-ups as there were other foreign players in the market.
The sector people also urged the government to bring the industry under the government’s stimulus package to tackle the economic fallout from the ongoing pandemic.
Md Humayun Kabir, executive director of the Bangladesh Bank, and Bablu Kumar Saha, director-general of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, also spoke.