From e-commerce skeptic to believer: Entrepreneur Abdullah Bawa’s change of heart, and fortune
When computing vendor Abdullah Bawa set up shop on daraz, it comprised just 5% of total sales. Now his storefront B-Tech is responsible for 50% of his business. This is his story. _____________________________________________________
Abdullah Bawa wasn’t really a believer in Pakistan’s nascent e-commerce scene. Not at first. Not until a friend from his alma mater IoBM, then in Daraz’s employ, happened past his outlet on I.I. Chundrigar Road at Techno City Mall- that labyrinthine knot of sweaty, congested commercial activity. Teeming with merchants and custom; salesmen and tea boys; hustlers and movers; we find the IT entrepreneur in the thick of activity, as his friend might have.
Upon completion of his Business Administration degree in 2012, Mr.Bawa opened and ran Bawa Technologies full-time. It was during his casual run in with a friend 2 years later that Mr.Bawa’s curiosity about e-commerce was piqued. Incidentally, he had a product the Daraz ‘hunting team’ could not source- an HP Celeron Laptop, he recalls precisely. His friend connected him to Daraz product procurement officers. The hunting team in pursuit of a product returned with a resource: Mr.Bawa was onboarded by the Vendor Acquisition Team year-end 2014.
Initially, orders moved at glacial pace: one every two weeks.Bawa wasn’t particularly focused on his online endeavour: ‘In those early stages, I felt Daraz was depending on me more than I was on them. As one of the first computing category vendors Daraz on-boarded, my vendor manager was more proactive than I. Daraz had everything to gain and nothing to lose from populating their computing cats with competent, skilled sellers’.
And with this steady determination, B-tech made gradual progress, order by order, week by week, until that fortnightly order turned into one every week. Mr.Bawa valued this incremental uptick for what it was and thought ‘I could get used to this.’
What certainly took some getting used to was how overwhelmingly successful Daraz Black Friday 2015 turned out to be. Moving 50 orders in a single day, it marks the turning point in Bawa’s Daraz journey. Expectations were at an all time high but a cloud of uncertainty also attended proceedings seeing as no brand had ever mounted a Black Friday campaign before, leave alone one so ambitious (audacious, even) in scope. With an unprecedented online sale event came unprecedented returns. Mr.Bawa credits Daraz with inspiring other retailers to take on the gauntlet of Black Friday:
When Daraz launched their precedent-setting Black Friday, brick and mortar stores followed suit as did various online shops. Daraz basically established ‘Black Friday’ as a viable, marketable moment retailers and advertisers would be foolish not to earmark in their commercial calendars.
Moreover, Mr.Bawa’s credits Black Friday 2015 with confirming people’s trust in Daraz’s capacity, and that of Pakistani e-commerce at large, to deliver goods with a guarantee of customer satisfaction. It was on Black Friday that Bawa made his first Daraz purchase and, rest assured, his parents, sisters and cousins followed right after. Starting off, they had reservations. Now, they have wishlists (Mr.Bawa is more than happy to fulfill).
But was it always this way? ‘Not at all’ Mr.Bawa underscores. The chorus of naysayers telling him to not waste time with what was perceived a fledgling, insecure enterprise also included the likes of his father. When first beginning his Daraz career, his neighbours at Techno City were skeptical of this online model, commenting to the effect of ‘kaun khwaar ho ga. Sale naheen hogi, payments naheen milein gi.’’ Mr.Bawa’s experience with the Daraz Seller ecosystem, however, has proven them wrong on both counts. Not only is Mr.Bawa well enabled by Daraz’s Seller Support, he insists Daraz has not given him any cause for complaint when it comes to fulfilling payment schedules.
As we meet Mr Bawa, a young, energetic guy- it appears he’s working the best of both worlds; playing his hand of cards on two tables. He’s at his laptop, switching back and forth between his e-mail and, a tab away- Daraz’s proprietary Seller Center system, ‘an excellent, user-friendly software that lets me remotely manage my shop on Daraz while also tending to my offline store.’ Absent of true business hours, e-commerce is always open to custom, and the Daraz Seller Center facilitates pricing and assortment decisions on the go; at the hour; over the weekends; on vacation. Sellers can also avail expert business intelligence and analytics helping them capture untapped market segments.
Once hesitant passersby now petition Mr.Bawa to refer their offline business to Daraz.pk. ‘Sure it took me some time to get set, but several of my neighbours at Techno City see my success first-hand & want in. They are coming to embrace the reality that with e-commerce conversions, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.’
B-Tech started off with just 35 SKUs, comprising a negligible 5% of Bawa’s total sales. Two and a half years & 150 SKUs later: 50% of Bawa’s sales are online. He started with laptops and has grown his inventory to include Virtual Reality Headsets & wireless keyboards.
When things in the offline world slow down, B-tech- the ace in his deck- picks up the slack and weathers the damage.
What’s trust got to do with it?
Is there one thing Mr.Bawa considers integral to e-commerce success in Pakistan?
‘Trust. Aitebaar. Between Daraz and its customers; between us vendors and Daraz’ he emphasizes.
Enter the Daraz Seller Summit, an event hosted in December 2016 where vendors could freely meet with key Daraz decision makers face to face. The Seller Summit is recognition of the reality that Daraz’s success, and that of vendors’, is tied together. When invested in, this is a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship that makes Daraz’s marketplace model sustainable. The organizational good-will is not lost on Mr.Bawa:
‘The Daraz team is eager to hear from sellers. For starters, you’re here! It felt rewarding being invited to this Summit. Alhamdulillah, proof of the fact that we are a marketplace community. It was a platform for us to address any concerns we might have and went a long way in making the e-commerce process more personable. The Seller Summit was not just an event, it was a gesture.’
For Bawa in particular, a salient part of this trust-building involves his initially skeptical father whom he is proud to have made a believer in e-commerce.
Bawa has his sights set on even further progress. He has earned Daraz’s trust and that of his returning customers and vendor managers, ‘aur jab koi rishta bhurose wala ho, to aitebaar ka damun naheen chorna chahye’.
And what do you do when you have won trust?
With that pithy resolve, he’s off for a final round of product inspections and QC. Where are these laptops headed? From the clustered shop galleries of Techno City to the heartland of Rural Punjab. Just another day in the life of an e-commerce merchant.
Join Bawa as he celebrates his #Progress and 70 years of Pakistan with Daraz on the 13th and 14th of August.