Online shopping was bound to flourish anyway; but COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated its rise with more pace. Products are now literally just a few clicks away; however, problems do persist with the ease.
"Just the other day I ordered an off-white salwar but the delivered product was completely white. No resemblance with the picture on the website whatsoever," complained Maithili Benerjee, a regular online shopper. Another dissatisfied customer Samiha Rahman said, "I miss window shopping and getting the best deal out of the shopkeepers. And now I am stuck with the same products at twice the price."
Buyers always want to see what they are buying, compare prices with other shops and bargain the best deal out for them. New Market, Chawkbazar, Karwan Bazar and many other traditional local markets constantly remain packed because of the abundance of options for customers. But online shopping seems to miss the mark in most occasions. Majority online shopping platforms are based on megamalls and brand shops while the traditionally popular bargain markets are overlooked.
This is where Shophopper comes in with a whole new idea of establishing a bridge between customers and the shops and bringing all those local bargain and hawkers markets together online for a comprehensive shopping experience. Shophopper provides personal shopping guides who will check the products, give video calls, negotiate on behalf of the customers, conduct quality checks among various products so that the shopping experience can be elevated.
"Our goal is to provide the customers with the products they need, at the price they can afford, with real pictures and exact market prices with the social interaction they want," said Hisham Uddin Khan, CEO and co-founder of Shophopper.
How it all started
The idea was fully formed during this pandemic. On a regular day in lockdown, Hisham saw that his parents were hesitating to buy fish online with the picture on the screen. "What if they can actually see what they are buying and even bargain which they cannot do at present?" asked Hisham to himself. And the answer was Shophopper. "It was clear to us that winning people's trust is our first priority. Hence we started this entirely unique venture to let the buyers know exactly what they are spending their money on while checking the real picture of the products,'' said Hisham.
Shophopper was co-founded by Itmam Labib and Hisham Uddin Khan. While Labib graduated from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Hisham completed his BBA programme from IBA, Dhaka University. Hisham worked for a multinational company and a top gaming startup of the country for several years before coming up with this unique venture.
Innovation at its best
The main function of Shophopper is assigning a personal shopping guide or shophopper to a buyer who wishes to shop from a particular market. Shophoppers will show the buyers the actual state of the products via video call, compare the prices with other markets and even haggle on their behalf. "We go 'live-on-demand,' so that the customers can watch the products whenever they want," explained Hisham. An individual shopping assistant can cater to four to five customers simultaneously. From furniture to foods, guitars to groceries, Shophopper helps the customers buy anything and everything. This service is the first of its kind and it requires very little technological knowledge, making it convenient for everybody to use. In fact, most of their calls take place through WhatsApp and Facebook messengers.
According to Itmam Labib, co-founder and CTO of Shophopper, "As our country has one of the largest user base of Facebook, we want to use it to our advantage. One of main technical challenges of Shophopper is to build a platform with deep integration with Facebook and other prominent social media platforms while maintaining its unique and original flavour."
However, there are difficulties too. Since Bangladesh is yet to reach a start-up friendly atmosphere, says Hisham, gaining the trust from the investors and raising funds are not easy tasks. Providing proper service amidst the pandemic and ensuring safety for the shophoppers were also challenging.
A relief for the retailers
Pandemic, like any other businesses, affected the clothing business to a great extent, especially the retailers of traditional city markets like that of New Market. However, Shophopper accelerated their slowed-down sales once again and many are already finding it extremely beneficial. Jahangir Alam, a retailer from the city's Nurjahan Market is one such beneficiary who said, "The stock lot products that we had were quickly sold directly to a group of friends through a video call. I didn't first believe in this when they were pitching it to me."
Shophopper plans to expand throughout Bangladesh bringing all the local traditional products together such as 'Shitalpati,' 'Nakshi Kantha,' 'Tangail's Chomchom,' 'Cumilla's Rasmalai,' etc. that demand exposure from direct sources. "As we want to become a service tech company, we are planning to collaborate with e-commerce platforms in future so that we can reach more customers and cater to them," hopes Hisham. Shophopper is also coming up with an app with exciting features soon.
The world is slowly embracing the new normal and so is Shophopper. They plan to bring the offline shopping experience online and provide the real joy of shopping. "We have provided several wedding shopping services through video calls with Shophoppers. So, we are thinking of exploring many other shopping verticals through this model," said the CEO with a confident tone. "We hope to become a globally recognised social experiential shopping service provider," he added.
As parting advice to those who want to make a difference, Hisham said, "First identify a social problem; then work your way back into designing a solution or product" That's how Shophopper came into being and is now making a change. Readers may know more about it by visiting their website www.shophopperlive.com.
The writer is a student at IBA (DU). He can be reached at