What if I told you it is possible to launch an ecommerce store in Bangladesh with less than a day’s work and almost zero cash investment? It may sound ludicrous at first, but there is a startup in Dhaka that helps you exactly to do that.
Storrea, a Dhaka-based e-commerce platform provider, the Bangladesh version of Shopify helps entrepreneurs, SMEs, retailers, and anyone interested in selling or showcasing their products online to setup their online store easily.
Creating a store on Storrea does not require any prior technical knowledge of web development. The platform has payment mechanism, inventory management system, reporting system, SEO, and other basic business functionalities integrated into it. It also offers custom domain, a pool of themes, discount management, email marketing app, customer management for a small monthly fee.
Why that matter
There are a couple of ways to start an online/ecommerce business in Dhaka: a) open a Facebook page and start selling. The downside with this option though is that it is detrimental for the long run. b) You can build one yourself. You can hire a developer team and start building your platform. But this option is expensive and you need bags of cash to build a workable, professional looking ecommerce platform. Still, you will have to go through a lot of hassles of managing a website. c) Or you can use a hosted platform. This is where Storrea comes in.
b) You can build one yourself. You can hire a developer team and start building your platform. But this option is expensive and you need bags of cash to build a workable, professional looking ecommerce platform. Still, you will have to go through a lot of hassles of managing a website. c) Or you can use a hosted platform. This is where Storrea comes in.
c) Or you can use a hosted platform. This is where Storrea comes in.
“It is quite expensive and lengthy process to build a standalone ecommerce website,” says Al Arman of Storrea, “you need to make an upfront investment even before starting your business which is a challenge for many new entrepreneurs and small businesses. Moreover, if you want a professional and scalable platform you have to maintain a team which is impractical for many startups, SMEs, and retailers. This is where we come in. We help these people start an online store at no cost and they pay as they upgrade and expand their business.”
How it works
Opening a store on Storrea is quite simple. Go to Storrea website, create an account in a minute, a basic free theme is automatically installed, upload products, do some shipping configurations and you are ready to go. These websites created using Storrea platform are mobile responsive as well.
Storrea does not charge for a free account which gives you an online store that runs on Storrea subdomain, you can upload up to 25 products. You get other basic functionalities like inventory management, order management, store report etc.
Storrea calls this basic package Shopno (Dream) which is designed to help people start their online shop at no cost. But this does not allow you to have a custom domain or independent brand identity. Your shop runs on Storrea subdomain and you cannot add any payment options except for Cash on delivery (COD).
The startup follows a combination of freemium model and works like a SaaS product. Apart from the free package, there are other packages with more functionalities that cost you a monthly fee.
Shahosh (Courage), the second tier package, costs you BDT 1000 a month. It gives you an independent shop in your own domain name, no subdomain. You can upload 200 Products, 3 Image per Product, use 4 theme styles of 9 themes available on Storrea platform now. It also provides in-store SEO, Facebook store, and other management functionalities. You can also add bKash payment system.
Shofol (Success) package, that costs BDT 2000 per month, offers more advanced functionalities. You can upload 500 Products, 6 Images per Product. You can use all Storrea themes for no further costs, customize your theme, generate a discount coupon, allow product review. You can also add credit cards, bKash, and other payment gateways. The package also offers advanced SEO and Google Analytics integration, Facebook Store and email Marketing App.
While it sounds quite inflexible when you think about individual package and functionalities given that you might not have that designated package and thus those associated functionalities as well. But that’s not it. You can individually get a functionality without package upgradation. For instance, you can get your own domain for BDT 500 monthly while still using the free package and there are other breakdowns as well.
“We have worked hard to keep flexibility around packages and functionalities,” says Arman, “you don’t essentially need to upgrade your package to avail a specific functionality, you can get it for a small fee while still keeping your package”.
Storrea is now a team of 10 people with 6 full-time members and others are working as part-timers. The company started in late 2015 with a vision to solve the problem SMEs face when it comes to starting an online store. “We never wanted to change the world, says Arman, “ we wanted to solve a problem. We saw a problem and also an opportunity and thought we could solve it. Also, you could say we’re inspired by Shopify’s success and we felt the necessity of having a solution like Shopify which could serve the local businesses in a better way.”
The startup is co-founded by Al Arman, CEO, Shahnewaz Shawn, CTO, Hasib Mohammad Ibne Rafique, COO of the company, and Abdullah Al-Tarif, who looks after the marketing and liaison .
Storrea has been bootstrapping since its launch in December 2015. The team invested their own money into the company and now trying to be self-reliant by generating revenue. “Going forward we have plans to raise venture funding”, says Arman, "but for now the target is growth."
Technologically, Storreas uses Ruby On Rails framework, Heroku for hosting the application. Amazon Cloud Service powers Heroku, with 99% UPTIME guarantee. All stores data is stored on Amazon S3 Storage and served from Cloudfront CDN for faster website loading and ensuring layered security for the entire platform.
Growth, pains, and promotion
“Our growth is quite consistent now”, says Arman “and unlike early days we are attracting more serious users now.” Storrea now has 40+ paid users of its different packages and other 100+ users of its free package and add-on subscribers.
Initially, the startup targeted the small Facebook sellers who used to sell on Facebook and don’t have their own website. There are many small businesses on Facebook who value an independent brand identity and use Storrea’s service but the startup is now focusing on finding more serious players in the space and eyeing to onboard retailers who don’t have an ecommerce presence but can be benefited from one. “ We realized that we can serve a much larger audience than targeting small businesses on Facebook,” says Arman.
Storrea largely depends on digital mediums like Facebook to reach out to its audience but “we are planning to invest more into offline activities in the coming days,” says Arman. “We are also putting a lot of efforts into building partnerships with various stakeholders in the e-commerce industry.” The startup is also investing in content as well. It has a blog that talks about usage of Storrea features and nuances of running an online business.
“Market education remains a key challenge for us”, says Arman, “ people don’t understand the value of a brand identity or having a website other than a Facebook page. We are working with partners, creating content and talking to our clients to overcome this challenge”
eCommerce is a relatively new sector in Bangladesh. Although, it is seeing a quite interesting growth but a majority of sellers directly sell on Facebook and depend on the platform in many ways including promotion.
There is a market for such a platform in Dhaka. eCommerce is just getting started, smartphone and internet penetration is on the rise, online shopping is gaining ground slowly, and more companies are getting interested in ecommerce. Storrea, positioned well, can easily get a share of this change.
However, Facebook’s dominance remains a key challenge to Storrea given the heavy Facebook usage habit of our local users. Local player Ghoori and Facebook are among its rivals.
However, Arman claims that Storrea has competitive advantages over other available options since Storrea helps businesses to grow as a brand with full fledged website solution. “The need for an online presence with your own branded website would always be there no matter which channels you use to sell,” says Arman. “Moreover, there is room to play for a couple of players in this space given the market size in Bangladesh.”
Storrea’s platform is quite elaborate and incorporates many of the important needs of a potential user and it has also covered nuances of running an ecommerce website. In the coming days, the startup plans to add more functionalities to its platform including more advanced themes, logistics integration, blog for sellers, marketplace integration, and more marketing tools etc.
This is a big problem”, says Arman, “and there are tails to it. There are lots of areas to play but we have to get one thing right first”.