Daraz: Changing the Way We Shop 0 743

E-commerce was an industry fairly unknown in Sri Lanka. But over time it has slowly made its
way into our houses, showing us the ease of life of ‘shopping online’. The lockdown may have
even channeled it into our front pocket. As crowned retail giants struggled to meet demands
while following COVID19 safety regulations, e-commerce platforms got their time in the
limelight. Online shopping has firmly secured 1 percent of the market share to date, and there is
no doubt it will continue to grow rapidly even as we enter the “new normal”. We spoke to the Managing Director of Daraz.lk, Rakhil Fernando to find out how the industry is evolving in the wake of the pandemic.

How did Daraz face Covid19?
Our first priority was to support the government and really help fight the virus itself. As a group
globally, we invested in deploying testing kits and masks and tried to get it to our respective
governments as soon as possible.We donated 20,000 test kits and 100,000 masks to the Sri Lankan government. Our next goal was to help the e-commerce ecosystem. We were relying on so many small entrepreneurs to build our platform and sell on our platform. The government also needed these kinds of enterprises to restart the economy and keep it from collapsing. So, we really felt this was the area we needed to focus on and invest in.That was the goal behind launching the Seller Stimulus program in May. To further subsidize sellers, we decided not to charge them a commission, while providing them free shipping, and free packaging to help them get their business up and running at no extra cost. We now have about 4,000 SME’s that have come on board the platform within the last 30 days.How is business after the pandemic?
Business is growing tremendously well. Between last year and this year, we grew about 200
percent and we’re looking to grow at least another 150 percent from this year to next year. We
are also looking to exceed our Rs.15 billion in sales this year. We are very excited about
the prospect; COVID19 has really changed the e-commerce landscape in Sri Lanka.

There’s been an increase in the number of people who are willing to shop online, some of whom had little choice but to shop online during the curfew. Initially, they were looking at buying groceries online but now they’ve started buying other things as well. Currently, we have around 100,000 people visiting our site every day as unique visitors and that number keeps growing.

What does Daraz bring to the table?
E-commerce in general has many interesting players. The local e-commerce platform
unfortunately hasn’t been able to expand as much within the past few years. We’re one of the
first companies that has the capacity to sell island-wide. In terms of the items we have on sale
and our reach in terms of where we can deliver, I think it’s really becoming the golden era for e-
commerce in Sri Lanka with regard to the efficiency of the platforms and delivery platforms.
During these times you also see third party logistic companies coming out to provide services to
e-commerce companies during this very critical period. “So it’s an interesting time”. I think it’s
the right time for Daraz to be here and invest in Sri Lanka.

Many new platforms have entered the e-commerce ecosystem, as a market leader do you
see this as a threat?
Not at all. I think, for us, our biggest competitors in the last couple of months in terms of what
has popped up would be the FMCG grocery segment; mainly the likes of Uber and PickMe.
They sell online and get people their groceries in a short period of time. Now what we see, is
that we can do what a lot of our competitors probably find difficult. For an example if you buy a
Rs.1,000 worth bundle, you get a fixed set of vegetables, a set of cooking items or
confectioneries. These platforms sell these bundles because it’s easy for sellers to have a
packed bundle ready to hand over to the Uber or PickMe rider to deliver to the customer. But it
becomes very complex when you want to have a mixed order. When you scale that to 15,000
orders that are very different it becomes very complex because it takes a long time to find the
items, put them together, and make sure the order has the correct items and they aren’t mixed
up. It’s the kind of scale we operate in. We project our orders to reach about 30,000 orders a
day in the next couple of months. So, in that sense, we think that we can provide a more
scalable solution to a vast number of customers looking for different types of products that exist
on e-commerce platforms. Now there’s room for us to exist along with new e-commerce groups
like UberEats and PickMe. But I think we fulfill two very different types of orders, not the type of
customers; the orders we get are actually very different.

Is e-commerce a Colombo based market or has it diversified around the island?
We do around 15,000 orders a day and most of those orders come from out of Colombo.
About 70 percent of the orders come from outside the Colombo district. That’s interesting
because most people think e-commerce is centralized to Colombo but in our experience, there’s
a lot of demand from outside Colombo. Cities like Jaffna, Kandy but also in rural provincial
areas as well. So that’s a good sign, it shows there’s an increasing demand and purchasing
power for people who are looking for the right items, at the best price and happy to use e-
commerce to get them.

What is Daraz doing to integrate e-commerce in rural communities?
We have a concept called “Daraz stores”. We have engaged with about 400 to 500 Branded Daraz stores. These local shopkeepers are our representatives. How this initiative works would be, the shop keeper a village or town level will encourage and get his local shoppers, local customers to order on Daraz. We want to introduce e-commerce to the local community. A lot of people don’t shop online because they’re afraid to give their credit card details or they fear they may not receive the item they purchased online. We look at Daraz stores, as having a local representative, somebody you trust, somebody you deal with every day, they can be the person you trust to help you order online for the first time, so we work with these stores that help us get local customers online. The goods also get delivered to the shop so they know there’s a physical place that they can go to, make a complaint, return the item, and collect it. The advantage is that essentially, right now, the shop is restricted to items they have in store to sell. We make available for the shop to have a million items they can sell and they get a commission of 10 to 15 percent for the sale which is a decent commission.

Do Sri Lankan buyers get internationally listed products?
About 30 percent of the products on our platform are foreign sellers. Daraz and Alibaba Express are connected to the same supply network. We list some of those sellers also on our platform. We’re looking to increase foreign goods to create a bit more variety, especially now that there’s the limitation of importation of goods and available products. We want to make sure that there’s a good assortment still available on the site. But overall the site now lists about a million products of about 700,000 local sellers.

Do Sri Lankan sellers get to list their products internationally?
Not at the moment. Sri Lankans can sell on Alibaba as a B2B platform. But direct customer, Daraz is still a local base. It’s mainly only local customers that can order and get products delivered. That’s something we’re looking to grow and maybe do in the next couple of years.

What is the future of e-commerce in Sri Lanka?
It’s an incredibly bright future for e-commerce in Sri Lanka. I think over these weeks e-
commerce has really evolved and people have looked to online channels get all their shopping
needs. Right now, the demand is there but the sellers are still catching up and it’s up to a
platform like Daraz to really come through in terms of offering products, in terms of the service
level, and in terms of the technology. Now we see e-commerce growing by 3 percent in the next
2 to 4 years. So the potential should be 4 times the size we see it right now in the next 2 years.
That’s encouraging, that’s a huge opportunity. But you need platforms like Daraz to really set
the standards and be able to sell to everyone in the country.

We are trying to reach all the customers in the country because everyone deserves to have any product they want, not just the products that are available on the high street. We want to reach out to the whole island and make e-commerce accessible to anyone, anywhere in the island”.

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Aquafresh -“Bringing Nature to Life” 0 619

Enhancing Healthy Living through Nature’s Resources

Aquafresh, which is synonymous with ‘Water for life’ is a well-reputed brand name and is the leader in the bottled water industry in Sri Lanka. Expanding their profile as a trendsetter in the industry, the company, Access Natural Water (Pvt) Ltd comes up with innovative techniques when it comes to fulfilling the thirst of the nation.

AquaFresh-Orange

 

At the dawn of the new millennium, Mr. Shanil Perera, Director/ COO of Access Natural Water Pvt. Ltd carried out intense research with the intention of bringing nature to life. He succeeded in scouting out the purest source and biological purification process and gave life to the brand Aquafresh, the pioneer of the Bottled Water Market in Sri Lanka. Being the first to obtain SLS 894 in Sri Lanka, Aquafresh never ceases to amaze the nation with its effort to provide the best innovative products which bring health benefits to the consumers.

From the inception, Aquafresh began to escalate the standards of the bottled drinking water market in Sri Lanka. First and foremost would be the source of water of Aquafresh which is the aquifer in the Labugamkanda rainforest. The water from the source is natural as nature has intended it to be and because of this, there is no reason to use any chemicals to purify the water. Further, the biological purification process mimics nature’s way of purifying its water, which is aeration, sand filtering, micron filtering and UV ray which is equal to the rays of the sun.

Cont..

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Aquafresh – Water that is pure as nature intended it to be! 0 2189

Aquafresh 01

Pure, natural, and hygienic drinking water bottled under the brand name Aquafresh by Access Natural Water (Pvt) Ltd. which extracts its supplies from deep ground water sources in a rain forest in the Labugamkanda mountains, like all modern health trends is gaining rapid popularity among people seeking a healthier addition to their lifestyles. The unique water with no added chemicals whatsoever contains all natural mineral balances and the bottling company relatively enjoys various standards from accredited authorities which have guided the company to uplift its quality of work.

Mr. Christopher Joshua | Managing Director, Access Natural Water (Pvt) Ltd.
Mr. Christopher Joshua | Managing Director, Access Natural Water (Pvt) Ltd.

BiZnomics met Access Natural Water (Pvt) Ltd. Managing Director Christopher Joshua who started.  “We launched our company in the year 2000 at a time marketing bottled water in Sri Lanka was unthinkable as it was freely available, and in addition there were a few bottled water manufacturers in operation as well”. The Access Group identifying the need for pure, good quality drinking water, in its quest found an aquifer – a layer of soil which retains water – the perfect source in fine deep springs in Labugamkanda in a geologically unique rain forest. The natural springs 200 feet below surface are protected by impermeable upper and lower confining layers, making the aquifer water pure as nature intended it to be.

Continued Managing Director Christopher Joshua, “We put up an environmental friendly factory and bottling plant in the location of the springs from where pure water is extracted, avoiding contamination through surface contact”. Yet in keeping with manufactory requirements to purify bottled water through a certified process before marketing, the company invested in a biological purification process adopting the four steps: aeration, slow sand filtering, micron filtering, and UV treatment which preserves the natural mineral balance at the aquifer.

The company was meticulous in selection of its stainless-steel machinery to ensure that rust and corrosion do not rise. The machines which are oil and grease free have been manufactured at optimum level on schedules in conformity to the company’s certifications and standards: SLS 894, ISO 9001, ITQI Brussels that specify requirements to consistently provided products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements. The ISO 22000 certification and the Dutch HACCP encourage the organization to identify hazards which might occur in the food products process and to take stringent action to prevent same. Meanwhile the American FDA allows the company to sell water in the European market.

Aquafresh 03

Following the success of the 5 gallon polycarbonate dispenser bottle introduced to the market in 2001 the iconic range of PET bottles came on four years later. The 200 ml bottles in contrast to the 5 gallons are not re-filled. Washing of bottles before re-filling is a fully automated process with the adoption of high pressure nozzles, disinfectants, hot water, chlorine water and lastly drinking water. Managing Director Christopher Joshua says, “The unique design of the PET bottle, which is a first in

the country, revolutionized the bottle industry. Bottled water regulations require drinking water in transparent bottles. Tetrapack (paper) is not allowed although a few glass bottles are in use”. The bottling method for both PET and FG (five gallon) is fully automated and so is the labelling.

The client base of Aquafresh is over 5000 comprising both domestic consumers and corporates including the United Nations’ Organization office, Sri Lankan Airlines, Nestle, Kingsbury, Softlogic, and international chains such as Subway, Burger King, Coffee Bean, Gloria Jean’s Coffees and Bread Talk all which have opted for the superior quality, smooth and refreshing taste, exclusive packaging and the exceptional service that enhances its value – attributes that have garnered  Aquafresh Sri Lanka to be the undisputed leader in the local bottled water industry.

The company engages in advertising campaigns on cable TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. In addition, based on a consumer educative concept, its Lorries travel across the island, are branded. Monthly promotions on selected locations in the Western Province and social media campaigns of Facebook and Instagram are also carried out. This propaganda consistently communicates the quality standards, certification and accolades of Aquafresh water.

 

In a move to repay nature for her bounty of pure water, the staff of Access Natural Water (Pvt) Ltd has planted trees around the area, established herb gardens which are diligently maintained and cared for, in accordance with environmental laws and regulations. But their gratitude to nature goes far beyond that. Since the area of its bottling plant is of great importance in maintaining the forest surrounding, the company deeply cares for its environment and strives to do what is best for it always.

Aquafresh 05
On Left – Mr. Shanil Perera – Chief Operating Officer On Right – Mr. Gamini Kalubowila – General Manager

Aquafresh is the only Sri Lankan brand of alkaline drinking water in the market. Alkaline water in known to contain many health benefits with the key element being that it works against acidifies in the body, contributing towards prevention of illness and disease. Director/Chief Operating Officer Shanil Perera states: “The uniqueness of Aquafresh is many. We have invested in the mechanisms required to provide the nature’s gift of pure water to our customers. We live by our slogan and intention; ‘bringing nature to life’. The natural vital minerals in Aquafresh, iron, calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate, sodium, potassium, sulphates, and silicon bring health benefits and goodness in every sip.

Seeking business ventures in uncertain times requires exertion of new super human strength of the organization’s director. Aquafresh of the Access Group of the companies has led a new course of sustainability while navigating changes in the now fast moving bottled water industry.

Demand is growing as a result with rising consumer confidence. Consumers see brands as a social status symbol; they want aspirational brands which create a window of opportunity for Aquafresh. All these factors make the market extremely attractive for the immediate future for Access Natural Water (Pvt) Ltd.

By: T.V. Perera
Photography By: Eranga Pilimatalawwe