E-commerce saves small business in Bangladesh

National lockdowns and restrictions on social interactions have increased the demand for e-commerce globally – including in Bangladesh, where most small businesses so far have relied on face-to-face interactions to sell their products. One of these businesses is owned by 34-year-old Ripa Akhter.

Mother-of-two Ripa started her business eight years ago with no support from her family. She creates and sells handmade garments and handicraft items and is also a mushroom farmer. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she sold her products in her own shop and at many regional markets and fairs. 

Ripa’s business was thriving until COVID-19 and the lockdown in Bangladesh forced her to close her shop and all fairs and markets were cancelled. Ripa lost her income overnight and was devastated. But luckily, she had already registered with YBI’s member organisation in Bangladesh, B’YEAH

B’YEAH delivers our Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era programme, funded by IKEA Foundation. A key component of this programme is the Digital Accelerator, which supports young entrepreneurs to develop the digital skills they need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing world of work. 

Through this programme, B’YEAH trained Ripa in e-commerce and Facebook commerce. Facebook is by far the most used social media platform in Bangladesh and therefore offers many business opportunities. Ripa created a website and Facebook page for her business with impressive results: soon after launching her pages, she received an order for 50,000 decorative flower items. This helped Ripa recover her financial loss and opened her eyes to the many opportunities and benefits of e-commerce. 

Ripa has now created three different Facebook pages for her business and joined various business-related Facebook groups. She has also sold her products at a couple of virtual fairs. With the money she has been able to save due to not renting a shop, she has reinvested in improving her products and diversifying her portfolio. 

Aside from the financial benefits of e-commerce, Ripa thinks it is a preferable business model for women in Bangladesh. To sell her products at fairs, she often had to stay out at night, which is culturally frowned upon by many and can be dangerous. Now, she can run her business entirely from home. 

Ripa has big plans for her e-commerce business. She wants to attract international customers and scale up her mushroom farm – her goal is to employ 50 to 100 people and ship mushrooms abroad. She is confident that e-commerce will help her achieve this goal. In Ripa’s own words:

“If I can have the entire world at home, why should I go offline?” 

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