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”.