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PRAN’s Ecommerce Pursuit

PRAN RFL, country’s one of the biggest and fast growing conglomerates, launched its own ecommerce platform later in 2015. The platform, named Othoba.com, initially started with exclusively selling PRAN’s products online but today you can find almost every product on it. The platform also covers whole Bangladesh.

This is a new addition to the Bangladesh’s growing ecommerce frenzy. An increasing number of local companies are starting their own ecommerce platforms. Previously, we have seen Meena Bazar to launch its grocery delivery service, a potent competitor of Chaldal, and Fresh is also beta testing its ecommerce platform in Dhaka.

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PRAN, however, has a long-term plan for the platform, told several people familiar with the matter. The site now attracts around 33k visitors per month, according to SimilarWeb data. However, we could not find daily sales from the platform.

PRAN is one of the few companies in Bangladesh that has a huge distribution network in place. It has also shown very good capacity in launching and executing new businesses. The company’s ubiquitous Best Buy showrooms are available almost every corner of the country. This, if utilized properly, will give it an extra advantage over other ecommerce and will allow its ecommerce platform to promise faster delivery from its local shops. However, this will require significant investment in technology and data management.

PRAN is approaching ecommerce differently than other local companies that have launched ecommerce platforms. While most of these companies are looking at the ecommerce as another distribution channel and solely opening it as an extension for selling their own products, PRAN is treating it as an independent venture hosting products of other brands as well. This distinguishes PRAN’s vision for the platform in the long run.

E-shop/online shop is a common thing for companies globally. Most companies start these platforms to sell their own products and also as a signature of their online presence. However, grossly these platforms don’t carry much significance for most companies after a certain period of time except for high-value products.

It seems PRAN has chosen to part away from that conventional approach and decided to try Othoba as a stand alone ecommerce venture.

Ecommerce is largely a convenience business and investment-hungry in nature. It works around the idea of consolidation, optimization and service innovation. People tend to buy from a single platform instead of going to multiple small sites to buy individual products.

Similarly, operational excellence depends on scale and optimization, it is difficult to optimize if you don’t have scale. That’s one of the reasons why it is so hard to compete against Amazon in the US and probably the reason why a mere ecommerce extension would not work at the end once the market gets competitive. Said that, it is difficult to predict nature of ecommerce in this part of the world. Bangladesh is an entirely different market with different market drivers.

Ecommerce is a fast-growing market in Bangladesh. According to some statistics, it is around 400 crore market yearly and growing rapidly. However, the most interesting fact about the market is that there is almost no number one player yet. There are small e-sellers using facebook and there are ecommerce companies like Ajkerdeal, Daraz, Bagdoom etc but none of these is dominant yet.

There are other emerging trends as well. Mcommerce is going to be a huge thing in coming years where almost no player is focusing exclusively. Recent UNCTAD report has lauded Bangladesh for a fast maturing ecommerce ecosystem. Companies like Amazon and Alibaba are also considering to start their operations in Bangladesh market. All these are going to affect future of ecommerce in Bangladesh in significant ways.

But for now, Othoba, PRAN’s ecommerce exploration, looks like another candidate for your online money, no less deserving than others.


About the sponsor: This story is made possible in part by our friends at eCourier Limited, a next generation logistics company based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, whose generosity enables us to publish premium stories online at no cost to our readers. Thank you, eCourier, for teaming up with us in 2016.

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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