In the pre-pandemic days, all discussions about e-commerce were largely centred on promoting it as a way of doing business. With the physical movements severely curtailed during the pandemic-induced shutdowns, e-commerce or online business became the only way left open. Small wonder that compared to what it was before, this form of business has witnessed a 166 per cent growth during these pandemic months since the end of March. Seeing that it saves time and is relatively hassle-free, more and more people are choosing the online mode of transactions to get their goods or services delivered and work done. Considering e-commerce's increasing acceptance and popularity among the public, it is time its stakeholders and the government worked more closely to address the challenges facing this fast emerging sector. At the same time, they would need to take steps to remove the impediments to its growth and formulate policies to that end.
A recent online discussion event in the city saw business and government leaders, ICT experts, start-up pioneers as well as consumer right advocates turning the spotlight on these and other issues pertinent to e-commerce's continued growth in the country. First and foremost, for full realisation of the online business potential, a policy framework has to be in place that is business-friendly. It should also involve measures to improve ICT's present physical infrastructure, enhance pace of technology adaptation as well as extend the various fiscal and non-fiscal stimulus packages of the government to this sector that mainstream businesses enjoy.
Currently, the size of the online business is around US$2.0 billion and growing by 50 per cent annually. If the present trend continues, by 2023, this sector will be poised to grow into an industry worth US$3.0 billion. However, to facilitate its uninterrupted advancement, the government would be required to create a supportive environment for e-business to run smoothly. Easing conditions for issuing licence to an e-business entity and levying VAT and supplementary duties on it more rationally are some of the measures that will help this sector get mainstreamed. At the same time, a sound e-commerce marketing and advertising policy has to be formulated with an eye to the privacy of data. Also, better and stabler internet connectivity, easier and a user-friendly online digital payment system are some of the pre-conditions for its expansion at a faster rate. However, the key to creating a sustainable e-commerce ecosystem in the country is protection of the rights of its consumers. That would involve ensuring quality and reliability of service, evolving a standard product pricing policy and a secured payment system.
While formalising this sector, a line has to be drawn between e-commerce in general and its offshoot, f-commerce, that is, its facebook-based version. This branch of e-commerce needs to be brought under strict monitoring through appropriate regulation and mandatory registration so that bad players shall be kept out of the f-commerce market which is valued at around Tk 3.0 billion. Adoption of such regulatory measures has become essential. Notably, at present, some 36 million people are hooked to the social media of whom 8.4 million are facebook users. It has to be understood that e-commerce is not just one of the business sectors. With further advancement of ICT, it is going to be a major, if not the sole, mode of business in the future. So, the government should look at its development from that perspective.