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Inside GP’s eCommerce Ambition

Facebook is on fire over the matter that GrameenPhone, the largest telecom operator in the country, has launched an eCommerce platform. The platform called GP Shop was launched in a press event on August 23. The company managed to pull off a great show that generated handful amount of shefies along with the attention from the industry insiders and media.

Many industry insiders are bullish about the prospect of GP Shop while others are doubtful. Nonetheless, GP aims high. The company made it clear during the launch event that it is here to stay and claimed has better services to offer than many existing ones. Two people familiar with the project told Future Startup that, this is not a mere e-Shop from a telecom brand, GP wants to build an Amazon for Bangladesh.

On the other hand, there are questions whether mobile operators can take part in creating content when they are the carriers. Fahim Mashroor, founder, and CEO of BDjobs and AjkerDeal, raised the question in an FB post regarding the net neutrality and operators continuous attempt to play a strong role in creating content.

Whether operators can take part in the content creation and thus in the business of content distribution is a different question to address that we may explore later, for this post our aim is to examine the launch of GP shop and how it is going to play out in the context of ecommerce industry.

GP’s digital pursuit

GP takes interest in Bangladesh’s digital ecosystem and rightly so. A strong digital ecosystem and available local content can help the company grow its data business significantly. It has already a couple of quite active services in the space.

GP's music streaming service, GP music, most active of two such services, has been doing quite well and now attracts around 80k users monthly, according to similarweb data. The company has a content app called Wowbox, offering a host of services including packages, news updates, jokes, lifestyle tips, games and more.

GP has a mobile ticketing service called MobiCash. It has also got into an agreement with DBBL and now marketing an MFS service called GP wallet. GP’s kidorkar.com, an ecommerce aggregator platform is also testing a myriad of services. Here is a list of prominent digital services by GP and its parent company Telenor.

GP's digital initiatives
GP's digital initiatives

Apart from these prominent services, GP has a plethora of other services in areas like daily mobile news services, job alerts, studyline, agro info services, games store and more. It means, GP, as a leading operator, already creates a significant amount of content for its users. However, this is not something devoid of examples, there are other operators in the country and abroad that do the same at different scales.

GP gets into ecommerce

Now, with GP Shop, the company formally gets into ecommerce business. GP Shop launches with hefty plans. During the launch, the company talked a lot about the problems of existing ecommerce shops and also pointed out how it could address those shortcomings. It plans to be the most powerful ecommerce platform in the country over the years, although the question whether a telecom operator can run a stand-alone ecommerce venture remains.

Currently, you can buy mobile phones of different brands, a couple wearable devices, GP internet modem and other GP offers from the platform. Going forward, the platform aims to add more diverse products and offerings, said two people familiar with the matter.

Yasir Azman, chief marketing officer of Grameenphone, speaks at the launch of GP Shop. Grameenphone
Yasir Azman, chief marketing officer of Grameenphone, speaks at the launch of GP Shop. Grameenphone

The advantages of GP Shop

GP boasts of a wide distribution channel across the country that, according to the project insiders, will help GP Shop with distribution and delivery. It also claims to make payment easy for its users by using its existing infrastructure.

A strong brand awareness helps it with trust issues that many regular ecommerce platforms face. Above all, it has a deep pocket to stay in the game for a longer period of time and a huge user base to whom it can reach out just via SMS at no cost.

Many of the existing ecommerce players don’t enjoy any of these advantages which gives GP Shop an edge over competitors. But having certain advantages over your competitors does not make you stronger by default, how you leverage those advantages makes all the difference.

Burden of being an ecommerce spin-off of GP

At the same time, it has apparent disadvantages as well. Positioning GP shop would be a tough call for the same reason it has advantages over other brands. eCommerce is a long game and it will take significant time to make it work in Bangladesh.

If we look at the examples of other corporate initiatives, there is a very good chance that GP would lose interest in GP Shop and would not apply continuous effort for that long. And there are regulatory issues that many industry insiders are raising and we don’t know the outcome yet.

Moreover, startups are an entirely different thing. Startups do not work like a big company. For big companies, where hired people start building a product, team change is often a regular process and when that happen it changes everything about a product.

The most important disadvantage is bureaucracy. In a big company, every decision is made through a process, whereas startup is all about speed.

The Takeaway

eCommerce is just getting started in Bangladesh. Only 2% of Bangladeshi shop online. Only 23% of total internet users, the total number of internet users is more than 58 million [until February 2016], shop online. It means the sector has a huge growth potential in the future.

There is already a host of strong players in the space. Well-funded companies like Chaldal, though in a different category, AjkerDeal, Bagdoom, PriyoShop are already working hard to break the noise. A couple of big corporate houses has also launched their own ecommerce spin-offs, PRAN RFL’s Othoba is prominent among them. Now with GP Shop, things have just got a lot more interesting.

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