The opportunities and challenges of f-commerce for female entrepreneurs of Bangladesh

Facebook, is not only social media, but has become a platform for Bangladeshi female entrepreneurs to conduct business with over 2 crore users in Bangladesh. However, there are opportunities and challenges of this relatively new dimension of conducting business, not as usual.

F-commerce stands for Facebook commerce which refers to overseeing online business activities through a Facebook page or Facebook application which facilitates the communications for buying and selling. In simple words, F-commerce is about buying and selling goods on Facebook which is a new mode of consumption referring to social shopping. Facebook has become a new platform to facilitate many to become an entrepreneur.

In Bangladesh, according to facebook advertising platform, there are three lac online retailers selling on facebook out of which presumably half are women meaning there are around one and a half lac of women entrepreneurs who choose this platform for a number of reasons.

One reason is that it is the biggest social media platform to connect with all three types of socioeconomic classes of users starting from the bottom to the middle to the upper rich class.

Another major reason is low or no investment costs to establish an online business page on facebook.

The third reason is the simplicity of developing a facebook business page by anyone who can login and operate the basics of facebook.

As a result of almost 0 BDT investment requirement to open and operating a business page on facebook, except for the data pack costs, many female students choose this platform to start a business to earn and attain financial support and independence while also gaining entrepreneurial experience and knowledge.

Through this venture, they not only contribute to their own earning, but also contribute to the overall employment in the economy through increasing the demand for other businesses in the e-commerce ecosystem such as product sourcing, operations management, digital marketing, and delivering jobs.

The authors interviewed six of the Bangladeshi female entrepreneurs who have established themselves through F-Commerce. The entrepreneurs in general, state that there are many opportunities in F-commerce since it is a great a source of earning by avoiding the unnecessary costs of establishing a physical store. Facebook helps many entrepreneurs promote and advertise their products while also professionally networking with other businesses, thus developing the existing e-commerce ecosystem resulting in better business operations.

However, there are four major challenges, one of which is to gain trust of customers because of the absence of face to face interactions and personal touch of the seller as stated by the owner of “Bookyourstyle” Ms. Iffrite Hossain. She also stated that it is challenging for the sellers to identify the genuine customers in social media as there are fraud customers who order through facebook but when the product is sent to them, they reject it for trivial or illogical reasons such as change of mind, lack of money to pay, spending the allocated money somewhere else, etc. This results in unnecessary hassle for both the seller and the delivery company while also adding operational costs.

The owner of “Thailand haul” Ms Maymuna Akter Binty added that “I do not want too many members in my business page but few who are genuine members and buyers”. According to the statement of entrepreneurs, the ratio of active customers in a business page is 1:4 which means 25% of the active members in a business page are regular buyers.

The second major challenge is to reach customers and establish a unique relationship by suggesting them the right product at reasonable price and delivering it at the right time so that the customers are happy about the product and the service.

Dealing with Delivery Company is the third major challenge as they are often unable to send customer’s product within the promised or expected time while also at times losing or damaging customer’s products. On top, some delivery companies take time to hand over the accumulated money, earned from cash on delivery from the customers, resulting in delays for the entrepreneurs to pay off many bills.

There fourth major challenge is to satisfy the customer on their purchase through delivering the exact look, feel and quality of the product.

Our interviewed micro-entrepreneurs face such challenges and have found ways to resolve these four challenges. To be sure about a new customer’s true intention to order, the interviewed entrepreneurs suggest to first check the details of the order to ensure that the order is right. Next is to check the facebook profile of the new customer to get a sense about the true identity of the customer. Profiles with low information can trigger steps to be more sure about the identity of the customer which takes the entrepreneur to call the new customer over the phone to clarify their orders.

For solving the 2nd challenge of customer relationship management, Iffrite Hossain of Bookurstyle mentions, that she builds the relationship through top grade behavioral customer care. She states, that customers do not buy products from the people who they do not trust and by caring them professionally, consistently, by demonstrating integrity, telling truth to them- she has gained her customers trust. Word-of-mouth of positive reviews and recommendations from previous customers either in the form of a family, friend or colleague helped gain new customers’ trust who have shown interest to purchase from these business pages.

For solving the 3rd challenge of on time delivery of the orders, entrepreneurs sometime fail to satisfy the customers due to traffic jam causing late deliveries for which these entrepreneurs have not found any absolute perfect solution yet. However, constantly keeping the track on the delivery man and asking for more than the required time from the customers are applied to minimize this problem. Breaking or losing customers product is a common thing and if this happens delivery companies typically compensate the product with a refund.

In the case of the 4th challenge of making exact look and feel of the product, if the seller provides a faulty product then they compensate the customers with another better product. However, one of the entrepreneur Jannate have stated that to provide the exact look and quality and meet the expectation of customers, she provides real pictures of the products to their customers and also clarifies all the details of the product before taking orders.

While there is so much of opportunity for female entrepreneurs on facebook, there are challenges within the whole e-commerce ecosystem that impact the reputation and growth of the facebook business page likes, comments and share, thus implicating that on top of facebook platform, there needs to be development in the e-commerce ecosystem throughout the country.

Authors: Kamal Hossain is senior lecturer of eCommerce and MIS at BRAC Business School, BRAC University while Sanjana Rahman studies BBA at BRAC University.

SD Asia Desk